Whatever happened to the ANC's lifestyle audits?

Douglas Gibson says the proposal was mooted by the NEC a year ago, but since then...

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said on 26 March 2017 in an interview with the Sunday Times, “We must deal with the perception that we are all corrupt…the longer we delay the more we face the challenge.”  The “we” she referred to was of course members of the ANC cabinet. And what she was calling for was action on last year’s decision by the ANC to institute lifestyle audits for politicians and officials.

On 4 October 2016, just over a year ago, The Star carried a report from Baldwin Ndaba that, “The NEC has called for the introduction of ad hoc lifestyle audits for political leaders and public servants. The NEC has also directed that all allegations of corruption must be responded to and clarified as soon as they arise.”

The report continued, “Faced with a disenchanted electorate and damaging criticism for its lacklustre attitude towards corruption in its own ranks, the ANC wants to conduct lifestyle audits on all its senior leaders accused of irregularities.

“ANC members deployed in senior positions in the government and state-owned entities, including the troubled SAA and SABC, are expected to be subjected to the same scrutiny. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe announced the measures on Monday, following the governing party’s national executive committee meeting at the weekend.

‘“Self-serving and careerist politicians must be discouraged from our ranks and those who use the ANC for selfish gain acted against.’”

No action has followed the decision of the NEC of the ANC; nothing has been said by the ANC in response to Naledi Pandor’s call. The public could be forgiven for asking the obvious question: “Why not?”

This brings us to the allegations surrounding Minister Fikile Mbalula, minister of police. It was alleged by Eyewitness news (EWN) that the minister and his family went on holiday to Dubai for a week after Christmas last year and that the holiday cost R680,000.00.  The minister, a one-time ANCYL leader, is known for liking the high life.  Regarded by some as vulgar beyond words, a holiday costing around R100,000.00 a day would still be the minister’s own private business, until, that is, hard allegations surface about the source of the funds.

EWN alleges that at least half of the money was paid by a company that does significant business with the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC). Mr Mbalula was the minister of sport minister before his promotion to the police portfolio earlier this year. 

It was alleged that Sedgars, the company concerned, used another company it controls, Reimon Uniforms to pay R300,000.00 to a travel agent for Mbalula’s Dubai trip.  Two independent sources confirmed that Sedgars paid for at least half of the trip. Two payments were made from a bank account linked to Reimon Uniforms on 28 February 2017 – the first of R200,000 and then a further R100,000 – to Johannesburg-based travel agency, Munlin Travel. Reimon Uniforms appears to be an inactive company whose bank account accepts and channels funds from Sedgars-linked accounts to various other parties. It is not clear how or when the remaining balance on the trip was settled, however, it’s believed it may have been paid in cash.”

EWN reports that an official from Munlin Travel, who declined to be identified, would neither confirm nor deny booking the holiday for Mbalula or who paid for it, citing client confidentially.

When allegations as specific as this are made in blazing headlines in the media, it is unconscionable for the minister and his spokesperson to simply pooh-pooh the story, make jokes about it or hide behind the fig-leaf of “the matter is private.”  If they are true, the minister is guilty of a serious abuse of public office by accepting a huge gift from someone dealing with his area of responsibility in what can only be described at best as a “sweetener” and at worst as a bribe. If on the other hand, the allegations are untrue, the minister, Sedgars and Reimon have all been seriously defamed; their reputations have been damaged and they all seem to me to have a large damage claim against EWN.

Given the fact that a new scandal is revealed almost every day, some will be hoping that the Dubai holiday allegations will just get lost in the welter of dismal news about government corruption.  It is unacceptable, however, that President Zuma has taken no action concerning serious misconduct allegations against a member of his cabinet.  At the very least, he should call Mbalula in and ask him for an explanation as to where the money came from for the trip and enquire how it is that the media state that money came from Sedgars and Reimon.  If the president is satisfied with the explanations he should instruct the minister to make available the proof at a media conference.  If the president is not satisfied, he should fire the minister.

It is precisely here that a lifestyle audit would be appropriate.  It might exonerate the minister entirely or else damn him.  Ministers earn R2.3 million per annum.  The tax on that amounts to around R893,000.00, leaving the minister with about R1.5 million to spend.  Was he able to take nearly half that for an 7day family holiday?  Or did his wife pay for it?  Perhaps she did, but then we need to know that. She is reportedly under investigation by the Hawks about a billion Rand housing project in the Free State.

Minister Pandor talked about colleagues of hers living beyond their means, some in thirteen-bedroom homes in fancy areas, while others had only three bedrooms.  She wondered how they did it and wondered too whether they were in receipt of money “that is not above board.”  Let’s find out the truth and institute lifestyle audits for those who are there to serve us, the public, before serving themselves.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and ambassador to Thailand.

This article first appeared in The Star.