Former president Jacob Zuma in court. Picture: SUPPLIED
Former president Jacob Zuma in court. Picture: SUPPLIED

Spare a thought for the jailed former president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye. Just last week she had a further eight years added to her 24-year sentence for graft, influence-peddling and corruption, bringing her total sentence to a staggering 32 years.

This is a spectacular reversal of fortune for the politician and former head of state, the first female president of her country. Park was ranked the most powerful woman in East Asia and the 11th most powerful female leader in the world. Today, she languishes in jail. Remarkably this all happened within the space of just less than two years. Park was impeached in the legislature in December 2016, criminally charged, then sentenced on the April 6 2018.

A government minister recently pegged the cost of state capture at about R1bn; imagine if these billions had, instead, been pumped into infrastructure

Contrast this to the situation SA finds itself, where it appears no consequences exist at all. It’s taken nearly a decade just to get former president Jacob Zuma anywhere near the dock to face up to the 783 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering. Almost two years on from the initial exposure of the state-capture network — with its tentacles that extended into the Union Buildings, through parastatals and government departments into provincial and local government — not a single person has gone to jail, not a single cent of civil recovery has taken place and not a single high-profile politician has been charged or held accountable.

Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu appears before the Esidimeni arbitration hearings probing the deaths of at least 143 mentally ill patients. Picture: ALON SKUY​
Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu appears before the Esidimeni arbitration hearings probing the deaths of at least 143 mentally ill patients. Picture: ALON SKUY​

Quite the opposite in fact, the very Cabinet ministers who found themselves exposed as being serial Gupta-enablers still serve in the "new dawn" Cabinet of Cyril Ramaphosa or the national executive of their party. Additionally, in the past few weeks, former Gauteng Health MECs Qedani Mahlangu, responsible for the Life Esidimeni tragedy, and Brian Hlongwa, fingered in more than a billion-rand looting of the health department, were both re-elected to the provincial executive of the ANC. When public outcry erupted, both were vigorously defended by the Gauteng ANC leadership.

This convenient inaction is not a new phenomenon, however, we’ve seen the same movie played time and again. From the arms deal, Travelgate to the Waterkloof landings, the trend has always been exactly the same: zero accountability, zero consequences. Just a few months ago, the last of the disciplinary hearings into the Nkandla scandal fell by the wayside. Again, no jail time, no civil recovery and no consequences for any of the key protagonists in the government and the private sector who colluded to rip off the South African public.

Line in the sand

This has to come to an end; there surely has to be a line drawn in the sand, especially when examining the devastating effect graft, corruption and maladministration is having on our struggling economy and our people.

There surely has to be a line drawn in the sand, especially when examining the devastating effect graft, corruption and maladministration is having on our struggling economy and our people

A government minister recently pegged the cost of state capture at about R1bn. There is, however, little doubt that when the final tally is counted it will be far in excess of that. Just imagine the true cost this has come at for SA? Imagine if these billions had, instead, been pumped into infrastructure, building schools and hospitals, hiring more teachers, nurses and police officers. Bringing water and sanitation to communities and providing bursaries for our young school-leavers, job centres and seed capital for small-, medium-, and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs). it the opportunity it could have created.

It doesn’t have to be like this and it is possible to turn the situation around. If we want to arrest the scourge of corruption, graft and maladministration it will require the will and determination to make some serious changes. South Korea passed a tough anti-graft and corruption law in 2016 in an effort to change the culture of corruption; it has started to yield some good results with government officials, politicians and private companies alike feeling its bite.

The reality though is that we don’t need a new law in SA. We actually have a raft of rather good legislation: the Public Finance Management Act, the Municipal Finance Management Act, the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, all speak directly to the fight against graft. They just suffer from the same fate of most legislation and policy in our country: a malaise of inaction and woeful lack of implementation. This means there are actually very few consequences for those who commit fraud, corruption or maladministration or abuse their position to plunder the public purse.

It would only take a few high-profile politicians, officials or corporates to be charged and jailed and for large civil recoveries to occur before the tide started to turn. A good start would be to bar any government official found guilty of dishonesty from further employment at any level in the public service — the possibility of having your career cut short is a very good incentive not to embezzle. Another would be to introduce a mandatory additional sentence for any police or security official found guilty of involvement in crime. This would send a stern warning to the custodians of the law that they should set the example.

Sadly without harsh consequences like these, it’s going to be nigh impossible to disincentivise the corrupt and stop the cancer of graft from emaciating opportunity and our state coffers even further.

• Steenhuisen is the DA’s Chief Whip.