OPINION: As slow as treacle, but …

Norman McFarlane

An enduring problem in our body politic has been the conflation of party and state, something which former president, Jacob Zuma, pursued assiduously during his nine-year wrecking-ball tenure at the Union Buildings, and with a great degree of success.

He managed to pull the teeth of every state institution that posed a threat to Project State Capture, save (thankfully) the judiciary and the office of the public protector. (In the case of the latter, that independence ended with the conclusion of Advocate Thuli Madonsela’s term of office.)

There was a time when irrespective of who spoke – party apparatchik, presidency or cabinet spokesperson – the gap between party and state wasn’t wide enough for a sheet of single-ply toilet paper.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa slew the dragon at Nasrec in December 2017, the stage was set for the essential division between party and state to be reinstated, and if what has unfolded since is any yardstick, the separation is now complete.

Seldom is an ANC spokesperson heard unctuously praise-singing or defending the president’s actions.

By contrast, what comes out of Luthuli House is often at odds with what comes out of the presidency.

But the 64-million dollar question must be: is this a good thing? Well, that depends.

The trajectory which President Ramaphosa is pursuing to curb corruption, despite the perceived lack of progress, is bearing fruit.

By way of example, SARS is back on an even keel with a competent commissioner at the helm.

The Public Investment Corporation has been largely cleaned out, and thanks to the efforts of Yvonne Mokgoro, the recommendations of the Mpati Commission are being implemented and a number of former directors and senior executives have received summonses to repay money taken illegally.

The terms of reference of the Zondo Commission, a carefully crafted balancing-act by Jacob Zuma to get the stories out, while protecting people’s right to remain silent, were amended in July by President Ramaphosa to allow evidence led in commission hearings to be used in criminal prosecutions.

This clears the way for the NPA to pursue prosecutions without reverting to square-one in the building of cases.

Earlier, during his Sona in February last year, President Ramaphosa announced the creation of a special investigative unit inside the NPA that will bear a marked resemblance to the long ago disbanded Scorpions, comprising both investigative and prosecutorial capabilities, and he alluded to the establishment of a more enduring anti-corruption solution in the future.

Since then, the unit was gazetted into existence, and it is headed by Hermione Cronjé, an appointment from outside the ranks of the NPA.

But without the necessary financial enablement, even this new institution would have been dead before it got out of the starting blocks, but thankfully, Treasury allocated it R38 million in October, a further R25 million to fund private sector practitioner assistance to the NPA, and
R102 million to fill vacancies at the NPA, of which over 800 posts were advertised in February and August.

The SIU, a non-prosecutorial division of the NPA, is mandated to recover public money through civil claims, and right now, it is indefatigably pursuing its mandate.

The rationale is simple: civil claims are dependent on the less strenuous test of “balance of probabilities”, easier to prove than the more arduous test of “beyond a reasonable doubt”, so it is easier to get back the money.

Having said that, once the money is recovered, criminal charges can, and usually do, follow.

In an effort to speed up the civil claims instituted by the SIU, President Ramaphosa instituted a special tribunal of eight judges under chairperson-ship of Judge Thami Makhanya to adjudicate these cases.

It has 22 cases presently before it, and the SIU has R14.7 billion in additional cases, ready to submit to the tribunal.

There is a great deal more underway, much of which does not find its way to the top of the news agenda, dominated as it is right now by the sensationalism of the global coronavirus pandemic, and although the much anticipated orange overalls are unlikely to appear in the near future, much of the ill-gotten gains of the plunderers of the recent past, is in the process of being clawed back.

While it is quite clear that President Ramaphosa has set the state on a clearly defined road towards combatting corruption, is the ANC likely to follow?

Earlier this month the ANC national executive committee (NEC) released a statement saying: “government (must) urgently establish a permanent multidisciplinary agency to deal with all cases of white-collar crime, organised crime and corruption”.

Perhaps the tide has finally turned in the balance of power stakes in that crucial body, between President Ramaphosa’s reformist faction, and radical economic transformation populist faction headed by the likes of ANC secretary general, Ace Magashule.

If it hasn’t, then the very real possibility exists that the pushback against Mr Ramaphosa’s reform agenda might result in him not enjoying a second term in the Union Buildings. We can but hope.