Judge Willie Seriti chaired the 2016 commission of inquiry into the arms deal. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Judge Willie Seriti chaired the 2016 commission of inquiry into the arms deal. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

The government has spent more than R1bn of taxpayers’ money in recent years on commissions of inquiry into corruption without much to show for it, a non-profit organisation said on Wednesday.

“Overall, we think this is a rather poor dividend on the more than R1bn spent over recent years on various commissions of inquiry,” said Dear SA founder Rob Hutchinson.

Dear SA describes itself as a company established to promote and encourage transparent governance and aims to enable the public to “co-shape all government policies, amendments and proposals”. 

Since ascending to power in 2018, following the resignation of scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma, President Cyril Ramaphosa has established a number of commissions looking into graft allegations at state institutions. However, there haven’t been significant prosecutions to date with corruption allegations remaining rampant.

The ongoing commission of inquiry into state capture has catapulted corruption to the fore in SA amid revelations of grand-scale looting of parastatals. Tackling corruption is seen as crucial in the drive to stabilise SA’s finances and state-owned enterprises (SOEs), as well as attracting much needed investment to kick-start the ailing economy.

Hutchinson flagged the inquiry into state capture, which has been allocated an additional R130m to complete its work by March 2021. This is on top of the roughly R700m spent so far on the inquiry since its formation in early 2018. Despite some damning testimony, no-one has been jailed to date.

“To be fair, the Zondo commission has not completed its work and arrests will surely follow,” said Hutchinson.

In June, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, who is chairing the eponymous commission, asked the Hawks to account for the lack of progress made in recovering the R2.4bn paid by Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) to Swifambo Rail Leasing for locomotives that could not be used because they were too tall for the rail tracks.

Zondo has also summoned the Hawks to account for the lack of progress on this, and other, cases.

“South Africans are rightly outraged at the regular outpouring of corrupt tales from the Zondo commission of inquiry and others, and that few have been held to account,” said Hutchinson.

He also referred to the Marikana commission of inquiry, which cost the state R153m. The commission was set up in 2012 and sat until 2015 to investigate the killing of 34 protesters by police during a wildcat strike at Lonmin’s platinum mines, which also led to the injury of at least 78.

“Police say they acted in self-defence, but issued no apology to the families of the slain miners. There has, however, been a noticeable change in police behaviour in handling violent protests as a result of the Marikana massacre,” Hutchinson said.

The Seriti commission into the arms deal cost R130m. Corruption Watch and Open Secret, a non-profit organisation that exposes and builds accountability for private-sector economic crimes, accused judge Willie Seriti of failing in his duty to act impartially, failing to hold accountable those accused of corruption, and ignoring key evidence. In August 2019 the North Gauteng High Court set aside the findings of the Seriti commission for its “manifest failure” to hold those responsible for the arms deal to account.

Hutchinson also highlighted the Public Investment Corporation inquiry which cost R54.5m; the commission of inquiry into tax administration and governance at Sars, at a total cost of R8.8m; and the inquiry into National Prosecuting Authority officials costing R3.6m. He said while these recorded some successes, overall the over R1bn spent on commissions hasn’t yielded much.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za

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