This appeared in the EL Daily Dispatch recently
"Grain by grain the locusts are stripping our country
By MNCEDISI JORDAN on March 1, 2013 in Opinion · 0 Comments
In SOUTH Africa, corruption has become singularly orderly, militarily systematic and sharply focused.
When life becomes nostalgic and reminiscent of good old days instead of engendering optimism for a glorious future, something is amiss. Did poet Henry Vaughan have this feeling when he wrote: “Happy those early days, when I/ shin’d in my Angel-infancy!/ Before I understood this place/ Appointed for my second race?
Luckily in “those early days” I had fairytales from my grandmother of Dyarhibhulu homestead to entertain me, and little did I realise then that these fairy tales were meant to alert us to pitfalls we were to avoid in later life.
One such fairytale was of a king who had a beautiful daughter. So beautiful was the princess that, as she reached marital age, the king was jealous to give her away in marriage.
She connived that a bachelor w ould tell him a story or sing a song so entertaining that it (story or song) would send him to sleep!
Eventually came a commoner with a “lean and hungry look” and, as William Shakespeare tells us, such men are dangerous.
Forget what fatty fellows they may have become today because of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s gravy train – a lean and hungry look they once had.
Enough of that. This commoner narrated to the king a story of another king who stored his wheat in a very secure silo so the locusts couldn’t go in. As fate would have it, there was found by locusts an opening so small that only one locust could go in. Yangena Kumkani; yaphuma nokhozo. (In came one locust; out it came with a wheat grain.) Could this wheat silo be analogical with Adam Smith’s The Wealth of the Nation?
The moral of my grandmother’s tale is that successors to a corrupt throne will themselves always be corrupt. Which locust will come out without a grain if those before it helped themselves from the silo?
I can i magine children of a successor to a corrupt environment questioning father as to why he doesn’t drive a special-purpose vehicle when his predecessor did.
Part of the solution appears to me to be that successors to government must bring to book their corrupt predecessors.
In this way, the successors will be doing no more than following Jesus Christ’s injunction: give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. What is more, that they will know that as they leave office the same fate will befall them.
A key consideration is the reporting practices of tenderpreneurs. When even development institutions require regular submission of audited financial statements for any significant development loan, by what reason or rhyme can we as government not demand the same from our successful (lucky?) tenderers?
I would venture to suggest that these financial statements should be submitted to both the client institution and SARS so that, as government agencies, one hand knows what the other is doing. Not only will this measure discourage tax evasion, but it will assist the client institution to do post-audit work and sharpen its pencil for future similar tenders.
Corruption is sometimes a creature of statute. There are quite a number of state agencies in this country, established for just cause, which inadvertently encourage if not promote statutory oligopoly.
This they do by limiting supply whilst creating artificial demand, all resulting in a high cost to government.
A good e xample of this is the statutory Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB). It has a grading system based on the value of a tender. That is to say the higher the value the fewer the contractors who would qualify to tender. In a country where infrastructure has been identified as a priority – as was seen with the building of stadiums for the recent Soccer World Cup – very few contractors qualified in terms of the CIDB grading system. This resulted in huge demand relative to supply. In this supplier’s market, anything is possible.
Yes, the Competition Commission is there as a watchdog against collusive dealings. But this practice requires controls beyond its mandate.
Also, the language used in government accounting must be called to question.
An example is the so-called under- spending by departments and municipalities. For political reasons, every official fears this stigma more than its flip side – unauthorised expenditure.
The result is that, once it is imminent in any financial year, officials gallop into spending the budget injudiciously, or commit the worse sin of fiscal dumping.
What we should be guarding against are unfavourable output variances redolent of lack of delivery. For example, if the budget is to build 10 schools at R10-million each and only nine s chools are built at R10-million, there’s a lack of delivery of one school budgeted at R10-million.
However, is it not good financial management if a department ends up having built 10 schools alright but at R8-million each? In this way, there is a saving to government of R20-million which is negatively styled underspending when it is clearly a favourable price variance.
In the private sector, you would be hailed as a Messiah for this saving.
In my view a bloodhound against corruption that has been reduced to a watchdog is the Public Protector. Instead of that office being used to do work that belongs to the Auditor-General, the Special Investigations Unit , the Hawks, the Department of Monitoring and Evaluation and other agencies – it should exist to enforce charges against those corrupt officials that have been detected by these agencies. It should also act against those authorities who continue to shield them.
A question that we should be able to ask and answer is: with all the revelations (excuse the biblical language) by the Auditor-General, year after year, how many officials find their day in court?
Of all the Western democracies, we are the worst country in ignoring to the point of deploring the Auditor-General’s findings. The point is often made by Auditor- General Terence Mncedisi Nombembe, who shows his frustration.
If the Independent Electoral Commission were to declare that our general election was not free and fair, there would be chaos. Yet when he reports that the annual financial statements do not fairly present the financial position and financial results, nothing happens.
William Shakespeare was correct when he lamented: “to do harm is often laudable, to do good sometime accounted dangerous folly.”
Mncedisi Jordan is Professor of Accounting at Walter Sisulu University Mthatha"