An Ace housed in a chapter nine institution is our top card in the war on corruption.

12 November 2022 – 11:34 By Paul Hoffman

Will SA get an Ace with which to ace Ace?​ Suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.

Ace is a short, sweet and very versatile word in the English language. As a noun it refers to the top card in games of cards as disparate as contract bridge and poker. A domino end with one spot is an ace. In golf an ace is either a hole-in-one or a score of one stroke on a hole. In tennis an ace is a service that the receiving player is unable to touch, let alone return. As a transitive verb ace means to score or have a hidden advantage over someone, to hit that unreturnable serve, to make a hole-in-one in golf, to earn a high grade or perform extremely well. As an adjective ace means of high quality or of first rank.

These pearls of wisdom about aces are taken from the first of seven definitions of “ace” contained in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The term is used as an abbreviation in various contexts already and has been used in argument in South African courts to stand for anti-corruption entity, its most relevant acronym for present purposes.

Consider this acronym and abbreviation-riddled sentence concocted to illustrate the point:

“When the ANC’s interminably suspended SG, ‘Ace’ Magashule is aced by the Ace, instead of the oft repeated postponements of the NPA’s corruption prosecution against him, his impunity will end in the issuing of orange overalls.” In full: “When the ANC’s secretary-general, nicknamed ‘Ace’ is aced by the anti-corruption entity instead of the oft repeated postponements of the National Prosecuting Authority’s corruption prosecution …”

Most of the pressing issues in SA – the poverty, the inequality and the joblessness, which are all at record levels – are attributable, at least in part, to the rampant corruption in the land.

As matters stand at this delicate stage of its history and development, South Africa needs an Ace that is effective and efficient as much as if not more than the country needs reliable supplies of electricity and water. If corrupt activities in Eskom and the department of water & sanitation are eliminated by an effective Ace the lights will stay on longer and the water will flow more reliably.

Indeed, most of the pressing issues in SA — the poverty, the inequality and the joblessness, which are all at record levels — are attributable, at least in part, to the rampant corruption in the land. Address the corruption well and the other big issues will become progressively smaller. Failure to counter corruption puts in peril the survival of our constitutional democracy. Our new order, so carefully cobbled together in the wake of the National Accord that was forged in the early ’90s, will fail.

The spectre of greylisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) looms large in February. Pre-emptive and decisive moves by the government are needed if greylisting is to be avoided. The FATF’s main problem with the current state of play on money laundering and terrorism financing in SA is that we do not enforce our laws. We already have adequate legislation to counter both forms of crime. The government’s response has been to create more laws, not more enforcement. The chances are high that SA will be greylisted and will thereafter have to make a plan to put in place an effective Ace that efficiently counters corruption in all its forms, efficiently enough to lift the greylisting.

The smart move by the government at this stage is to pre-empt the greylisting by wholeheartedly embracing the establishment of an Ace of the type the Constitutional Court has already prescribed in binding terms. The main criteria for the Ace are achievable if the right political will is brought to bear. The court has ruled that the Ace should specialise in anti-corruption activities. The personnel need to be highly trained and appropriately skilled. They must enjoy secure tenure of office and must be structurally and operationally adequately independent to perform in ace-worthy style. Their resources must be guaranteed at a level equal to the task at hand.

South Africa can do all these things. We proved that with the high success rate of the Scorpions who were dissolved at former president Jacob Zuma’s behest in 2009. Their achilles heel was their lack of security of tenure, a weakness that is easily cured by giving Chapter Nine Institution status to the Ace. The Scorpions were closed down by a simple majority in parliament, to do the same to a chapter nine institution requires a currently unattainable two-thirds vote.

Whether or not South Africa is greylisted, moving ahead with the new Ace is vital to the survival of constitutional democracy under the rule of law in South Africa.

An announcement by the cabinet that it has resolved to move forward with the establishment of an Ace to prevent, combat, investigate and prosecute serious cases of corruption in which the amount involved is (say) in excess of R5m and that the necessary legislation is being treated as urgent should persuade the decisionmakers at FATF that greylisting is not necessary. Whether or not South Africa is greylisted, moving ahead with the new Ace is vital to the survival of constitutional democracy under the rule of law in South Africa. Whether the reform is tackled before or after greylisting, the need to cease as soon as possible with doing without the effective and efficient Ace required by the Constitutional Court in the Glenister litigation remains the first and most pressing priority of responsible governance in South Africa.

The need for an Ace of this kind needs to be impressed upon political decisionmakers. The delegates to the ANC elective conference, if they behave responsibly, will insist on this necessary reform. So will voters in the 2024 general election require the party or independent politician of their choice to make an Ace that is effective and efficient as a plank in their campaign platforms.

The leadership of the Hawks and NPA need to acknowledge that they do not have the wherewithal to do the work of the Ace. Both institutions were gutted by state capture wickedness. They are infested with what are called “saboteurs” (by them) who lurk in dark corners and make it their business to see to it that the kleptocrats and their fellow travellers continue to enjoy impunity.

The patriots in the NPA need to oppose the cabinet’s plans to make the Investigating Directorate a permanent feature of the NPA. Instead they should get behind the DA and IFP (and even the ANC NEC resolution of August 4 2020) by insisting on the best practice solution to the ongoing corruption issues in SA. That solution is the proper and wholehearted implementation of the decisions made by our highest court in the Glenister litigation. Not only is this required by the rule of law, it is what SA deserves after the long dark night of state capture and the nine “wasted years”.

An Ace housed in a chapter nine institution is our top card in the war on corruption.

* Paul Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now

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