Another week, another expensive inquiry — and this time into allegations of state capture, which public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan estimates has cost SA at least R100bn. At a cost of roughly half our annual health budget, it is not an amount to ignore. But is spending the estimated R230m for the first six months of deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo’s inquiry into state capture a case of throwing good money after bad?
Given SA’s track record with inquiries, it is hard to argue otherwise. Nothing has come of the findings of the inquiry into the Marikana massacre, which cost the state R157m and dragged on for four years, and the families of those victims are yet to receive a cent in damages. Judge Willie Seriti’s four-year-long probe into SA’s multibillion-rand arms deal cost R137m yet laughably found no evidence of fraud or corruption.
Zondo’s probe will be the most expensive in recent history and is likely to drag on for at least two years. History tells us it is likely to take much longer, which will be manna from heaven for the alleged perpetrators. As legal prosecution is unlikely to proceed while the inquiry does its work, the chances of successful prosecution down the line are slim. Justice delayed is justice denied — an argument defence attorneys will lean on heavily should we one day see the state-capture cases in court.
DO WE EXPECT ZONDO’S PROBE TO UNCOVER ANYTHING WE HAVEN’T ALREADY HEARD?
Few would disagree that the dirty laundry from the Zuma years needs to be aired, but do we expect Zondo’s probe to uncover anything we haven’t already heard? Do we expect anything than more denials from former Eskom and Transnet CEO Brian Molefe and his sidekick Anoj Singh? Who believes that the Gupta brothers will even bother to send an affidavit? Anyone willing to bet that there will actually be repercussions for not cooperating with Zondo’s inquiry?
What will former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor or former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas — who were allegedly offered generous compensation and ministerial roles by the Gupta family — tell Zondo that we haven’t already heard? Both of them first made these allegations public in 2016. While cases were opened at the police, sweet bugger all has happened with those since then.
SA has already spent millions on investigations into allegations of fraud and mismanagement, including the Dentons report at Eskom and the investigations by Werksmans and MNS Attorneys at Transnet. Add the evidence provided by the parliamentary inquiry into public enterprises and the leaked Gupta e-mails, and one would expect that the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) have more than enough to build winnable cases.
The cynics will argue that this is exactly what the governing party wants; it doesn’t want the money taps closed and it certainly doesn’t want its loyal cadres in jail. The optimistic view could be that the Zondo inquiry will buy us time to rebuild the capacity and stature of the Hawks, SA’s elite crime-fighting unit, the SA Revenue Service and the NPA, institutions that are key to enable the successful prosecution of commercial crimes.
Their capability to investigate sophisticated commercial crimes has been decimated, with Hawks boss Godfrey Lebeya admitting in parliament last week that the institution does not have sufficient personnel with financial or forensic investigative skills to deal with complex cases such as state capture and Steinhoff. This has been illustrated by the Estina dairy case, which involves allegations that millions of rand intended for poor black farmers in the Free State were siphoned off to Gupta-linked companies. It is supposed to be the NPA’s hallmark state-capture prosecution. Yet six months after Gupta family members and their business associates were first arrested, the case is likely to be struck off the roll this week as the NPA still has not been able to finalise the indictment, effectively killing the case.
Estina seems set to be the first state-capture case in which the defence lawyers successfully argue that the unnecessary delays threaten their clients’ rights to a fair trial. It won’t be the last.