‘Fraudsters get away’
Scopa has bemoaned the lack of real consequences for corrupt public servants
Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) has expressed shock at learning that the majority of convicted civil servants received only a slap on the wrist in the form of fines and suspended sentences despite defrauding the state of millions of rands. This had poured scorn on the government’s claims of successful anti-corruption drives in a bid to thwart the scourge, the committee said.
These revelations were detailed in a 33-page document submitted at this week’s meeting of Scopa where the heads of the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and the SA Revenue Service, among other entities, briefed MPs on the national anti-corruption task team’s activities.
The briefing came two weeks after Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe launched the national anti-corruption strategy discussion document in an effort to reignite public interest in government’s fight against corruption.
Among the lenient sentences mentioned in the document were the cases of:
Sethlaka Kganakga, a senior project manager at the Industrial Development Corporation accused of awarding a contract worth R24 million to a company in which he was also a managing director without following proper supply chain processes. Kganakga was convicted of corruption and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment or a fine of R9 000 and a further suspended three years.
Sheila Gabuza, who was convicted of fraud involving R15 million after she and others unlawfully solicited money from PetroSA under the pretext that it was for the benefit of certain schools and crèches. Gabuza got a R8 000 fine or three years’ imprisonment, half of which was suspended for five years.
These are two of the 42 cases that outraged Scopa MPs who regarded the sentences as not fitting the crimes.
Themba Godi, Scopa chairperson, described the sentences as a joke that didn’t make sense. He lashed out at the senior officials involved, arguing that the sentences indicated a lack of consequences for the crimes.
“Are you satisfied that you have done a good job and that people have been sentenced in a manner that assists us to have deterrence against corrupt practices?” he asked. He also wondered whether there was value for money for the state when crime-fighting units were given resources to investigate, make arrests and ensure convictions, only for the culprits to get light sentences.
Godi said the public bemoaned the lack of consequences for public servants who do wrong.
“We look at you as that instrument through which government seeks to ensure that where there is criminality, people are made to pay for it,” he added.
The ANC’s Nthabiseng Khunou argued that rich criminals were getting away with light sentences or no punishment at all while ordinary South Africans were being sentenced to 10 years for stealing a loaf of bread.
“How does this Hlela person, who is involved in corruption of R1.3 billion get sentenced to only 10 years [which was then suspended for five years]. We are protecting the rich over the poor. These are the real criminals,” she lamented.
Hamilton Hlela is a former deputy national commissioner of the SA Police Service (SAPS) who was responsible for the supply chain management division at the SAPS national head office in Pretoria. The Specialised Commercial Crimes Court found him guilty of corruption involving R1.3 billion and he was fined just over R76 000, which was the amount by which he benefited from corrupt activities.
The IFP’s Mkhuleko Hlengwa pointed at cases of suspected syndicates which he said had stolen from the public and robbed the country of opportunities at advancing development.
“A lot of tenders that found themselves in the hands of the criminals here [in the document] were geared towards economic growth and development for the country and to create jobs,” he said. Director-general of justice and constitutional development Vusi Madonsela said the department of justice was only responsible for the administration of the courts and not the adjudication of matters. While the concerns of the MPs and the public resonated with him, there was nothing he could do as the decisions of magistrates and judges were not dictated by himself or the minister of justice, he said. Madonsela said measures such as introducing minimum sentences had not necessarily been the best safeguard as judges were able to depart from those based on the evidence placed before them. The task team’s investigations include corruption cases above the amount of R5 million referred to it by various government departments and agencies. The team revealed that since its establishment in 2014, at least 560 government officials had been convicted.
TALK TO US Do you support harsher sentences for civil servants found guilty of corruption and fraud?