Spies, rogues, pa­tron­age – a soapie un­folds

CityPress - - Voices And Careers -

What’s go­ing on here? There was a spy unit at the SA Rev­enue Ser­vice (Sars), but it was not rogue – most rev­enue ser­vices have in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing ca­pac­ity be­cause of the scale, so­phis­ti­ca­tion and ef­fect of tax dodg­ing on their fis­cal po­si­tions. It was com­prised in terms of law and signed off by an ear­lier fi­nance min­is­ter, Trevor Manuel.

The unit largely went af­ter huge un­der­world money stashes such as those found in cigarettes­mug­gling em­pires (big busi­ness be­cause govern­ment has hiked sin taxes so ruth­lessly) and it went for mega tax dodgers like Dave King. But then it touched pol­i­tics and hit a political nerve – skirt­ing too close to the em­pires of cronies who are in pres­i­den­tial cir­cles. It’s no se­cret that the pres­i­dent is vul­ner­a­ble to cap­ture. This is why the act­ing com­mis­sioner, Ivan Pil­lay, was pushed out of Sars and re­placed by Tom Moy­ane, say sev­eral of­fi­cials.

Cronies en­gage in the prac­tice now called “state cap­ture” in South Africa. It refers to big money be­ing used to buy political sup­port for ev­ery­thing from cus­toms duty eva­sion to pol­icy cap­ture (nu­clear pol­icy is widely re­garded as be­ing made for in­ter­ests out­side the state). The term is used as a syn­onym for the busi­ness prac­tices of the pow­er­ful Gupta fam­ily that lever­ages political sup­port into busi­ness growth with sig­nif­i­cant acu­men. But it is much big­ger than the In­dian émi­gré fam­ily.

The bud­get’s em­pha­sis on paras­tatal re­form is a re­sponse to this cap­ture be­cause the large bud­gets com­manded by Eskom, Transnet, SAA and Denel, among other state-owned com­pa­nies, are re­garded as be­ing soft tar­gets for cap­ture. The Gup­tas, for ex­am­ple, op­er­ate at three of th­ese while Dudu Myeni and Yakhe Kwinana, di­rec­tors of both SAA and the Ja­cob Zuma Foun­da­tion, have SAA cor­nered. There are oth­ers. In the months ahead, the skir­mishes we saw dur­ing the tabling of Bud­get 2016 are likely to play out around Sars and the state-owned en­ter­prises.

I pre­dict much soap opera and drama.

– Fe­rial Haf­fa­jee

Ivan Pil­lay

Tom Moy­ane

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