Recovering stolen billions could rescue SAA and Eskom
The government aims to retrieve R14bn this financial year, but the total amount looted from SA since 1976 could be as much as R7-trillion
The quest by the government to recover R14bn from state capture this financial year, as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his state of the nation address, is a step in the right direction and must be applauded.
We should also acknowledge and congratulate Nigeria for eventually recovering $1.3bn looted by the notorious dictator Sani Abacha, of which about $800m was recovered from domestic institutions and about $500m in other countries, mostly Switzerland. Africa’s two leading economies must step up their efforts in recovering stolen assets.
SA is one of the most looted countries in Africa, according to various reports on illicit flows, transfer mispricing, fraud and corruption in general, yet it has been the least efficient at recovering these monies. Current efforts at recovering stolen assets, including the creation of a National Prosecuting Authority unit that will focus on Zondo commission proceedings and outcomes, may not be sufficient. From apartheid to state capture and corporate looting, SA has been dismal in recovering stolen assets. Yet we don’t need to have secured convictions to collect these monies, and we don’t need to wait until Section 25 of the constitution is reworded. What we need is a reinvigorated approach and political will.
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For example, the presidency should set up toll-free numbers for each category of looting so people with information can call and get protection from the state in return. In line with the technological age, we could even have online apps to the same end. There are patriotic South Africans who are eager to direct us to where the loot is hidden; Ramaphosa should give them the opportunity to tell us. The president also needs to appoint full-time stolen asset recovery (Star) envoys to negotiate on his behalf with tax havens across the world on all of the above categories of looting.
The World Bank and UN office on drugs and crime constantly update guidelines on Star, detailing where convictions have been secured. We are also signatories to various protocols against corruption and money laundering, and the only African representative in the Group of 20, which signifies the importance of SA leading by example in recovering stolen assets in Africa.
In 2005, anticorruption watchdogs estimated apartheid looting between 1976 and 1994 totalled about R500bn, though the actual number is almost certainly higher as much documentation was shredded before 1994. This means we have no record of what are undoubtedly gold bars locked in vaults in Switzerland, ill-gotten properties in SA and foreign countries, and stolen intellectual properties that may have generated billions of dollars. Evidence from seven countries exposed in Hennie van Vuuren’s Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit, published in 2017, is surely the tip of the iceberg. This is our inheritance from our honest hardworking forebears who toiled in this country and therefore cannot be ignored.
Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan is also on record saying state-capture loot estimated at R100bn has been transferred to places such as Dubai, and the Zondo commission is laying bare part of the looting paper trail.
Corporate looting is also being exposed, with billions apparently stolen in broad daylight through illicit transactions by multinational companies amounting to more than R10bn a year via mispricing and aggressive tax evasion. Losses from the Steinhoff scandal are estimated at R100bn due to fraudulent activities and manipulation of the currency, and evidence against many others is emerging through the work of the competition and Mpati commissions, among others.
The moving total of potentially recoverable loot could be as high as $500bn. With aggressive implementation of Star policy we would be able to pay off Eskom and SAA debt and have a surplus to kickstart SA’s mooted sovereign wealth fund and start investing in the next generation.
SA could also set an example to the rest of the continent on how to stop the looting and reverse apartheid and state-capture damage.
• Dr Mfeka, a former economic adviser to the presidency, is director at SE Advisory.