SA CAN WIN THE WAR ON GRAFT
Kenyan-born and raised financial services consultant and editor KC Rottok, a long-time resident of SA, compares how the countries are faring against corruption
As a Kenyan, long resident in South Africa, I have watched the story of Nkandla and all that has followed with great interest. A question comes to mind: do South Africans realise that the system to oppose graft is working better than they think?
The Public Protector’s office determined that President Jacob Zuma benefited unduly from amounts spent on nonsecurity upgrades at his private home. The highest court in South Africa, the Constitutional Court, reaffirmed her recommendation that he should repay a reasonable amount to the state. He has apologised and promised to pay the amount, as determined by Treasury.
Zuma’s troubles extend to allegations of “state capture”, with recent reports about the Gupta family deciding on Cabinet appointments from their home in Saxonwold. Three banks and a big audit firm have parted ways with the Gupta-owned Oakbay Group as a result of the reputational risk.
However, in Kenya, former president Mwai Kibaki retired from office in 2013 and Treasury approved the construction of a post-retirement office at a cost of R100 million. In addition, the former head of state had a brand-new rural home built for him at a cost of R72 million in the central part of the country. A report in The Standard newspaper two years later indicated that the 83-year-old and his family rarely visited the residence.
The administration of Kibaki’s successor, President Uhuru Kenyatta, has been defending itself against one corruption scandal after another. The most significant is a failure to account for the use of about R36 billion raised on the Irish stock market through a Eurobond floated soon after Kenyatta’s election. For amusement value, look no further than the devolution ministry that procured 18 condom dispensers at R3 800 each and 17 ball point pens for R1 400 per pen. Even The New York Times reported on it. The constitutional body charged with investigating and prosecuting instances of corruption in Kenya is the Ethics and AntiCorruption Commission. It is highly ineffective, having failed to secure any highprofile conviction since the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010.
Late last year, a broker turned whistle-blower filed an affidavit with the police revealing his status as an agent of a judge of the Supreme Court in a bribery transaction. The Supreme Court’s Justice Kiptoo Tunoi is accused of having received a bribe of R30 million from current Nairobi governor Evans Kidero for a favourable decision in an election petition. Deputy Chief Justice Kalpana Rawal has had to defend herself and her family after their names appeared in the Panama Papers.
The head of the Supreme Court, Kenya’s chief justice, seems to be at his wits’ end. The highly respected head of the judiciary stated in a recent interview that Kenya is “a bandit economy run on the ethnic stock exchange”.
The Kenyan private sector is no better. A blogger recently remarked that the best way to rob a bank in this country is to own one. That appears to have been the strategy of Abdulmalek Janmohamed, the majority shareholder of Imperial Bank, which went under in October 2015. Court documents reveal that Janmohamed advanced himself huge sums of depositors’ money over several years. The remaining shareholders are now suing the bank’s auditors for professional negligence. An email trail between a spa resort in Thailand and Janmohamed’s office reveals he was responsible for some of the expenses incurred by the wife of the then central bank governor while she was on holiday in the Far East country.
When it comes to the intent and ability of institutions to discharge their mandate, there is a clear contrast between South Africa and the rest of Africa. While South Africa’s Treasury is assisting in the recovery of funds that unduly benefited a sitting president, Kenya’s Treasury sees no issue with recommending the construction of a brand-new home and office for a retired head of state. While the institution charged with checking mismanagement of public funds in South Africa is investigating and implicating the most powerful man in the country, Kenya’s equivalent can’t bring a procurement officer in a government department to book.
There is no better illustration of the independence of the South African judiciary than a ruling that does not favour the head of the executive. The judgment was a major win for the Public Protector, whom Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng described as “one of the most invaluable constitutional gifts to our nation in the fight against corruption”.
His Kenyan counterpart, by contrast, is despondent. One of his fellow judges in the highest court in the land is facing bribery charges while another, his deputy, faces a credibility crisis following the Panama revelations.
It would be unimaginable in Kenya that banks would refuse to provide services to business associates of the head of state. Indeed, politically connected institutions enjoy premium service.
There are many who moan that South African institutions are under threat from the unscrupulous. I disagree. I believe the recent events around Nkandlagate illustrate the strength that stands between our present enjoyment of social justice and the worrying state of affairs in other African countries. Rottok, a chartered accountant and auditor, is the managing
editor of The African Professional magazine
Former president Mwai Kibaki’s R72 million house
President Jacob Zuma’s R246m homestead in Nkandla