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The unfinished business of 2020

Opinionista • Paul Hoffman • 3 January 2021

The most urgent item on the agenda of unfinished business of 2020 is the need for South Africa to roll out vaccines in an equitable fashion to avoid unfair discrimination in their allocation.

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There is something troublingly symbolic about the initial failure of the presidential efforts to light a Candle of Hope at the Khayelitsha Hospital on New Year’s Eve. 

The idea of lighting the candle was announced before Christmas, by the president himself. Some saw the announcement as a warning of load shedding to come; and come it did. 

Others, less cynical, were prepared to embrace the cleansing symbolism of bringing light into a dark place and calling that light Hope. At the dawn of a new year, SA is indeed a dark place in need of hope. Not only is Eskom incapable of keeping the lights on, the entire public service, including most SOEs, is dogged by corruption, lack of capacity and an inability to prioritise that which requires urgent attention in 2021.

Whether coincidentally or by design, as the president struggled to light his widely heralded candle, the strap at the bottom of many television screens around the nation announced that Algeria will be rolling out a Russian-made Covid-19 vaccine this month. Algeria. This month.

Algeria is not a rich country. It is not a member of the much-vaunted BRICS alliance. Algeria has been able, in 2020, to do that which is obviously necessary in relation to the procuring of vaccines several months before SA. When it last conducted a census in 2017, there were 42.5 million people in Algeria, 1.5 million of them nomads of the country’s desert interior.

The most urgent item on the agenda of unfinished business of 2020 is the need for SA to roll out vaccines in an equitable fashion, avoiding unfair discrimination in allocation. Ideally, vaccines should be available to all who want them, as close to simultaneously as is humanly possible. 

Canada has ordered 901% more vaccines than it has people; SA is reported to be aiming at providing 10% of the population with vaccines. 

So much for the WHO’s notion of “equitable distribution”. Pleading national poverty is hardly credible at a time when a vanity project, such as SAA surely is, has over R10-billion of taxpayers’ money earmarked for attempting to raise our national airline from the dead.

The second task that ought to have received attention last year, but hasn’t, is the ending of the illegal practice of cadre deployment by the ANC in the public administration and in SOEs, where most big knobs are recycled ANC politicians. The incompetence on display when the president was handed a firelighter that did not work, with which to light his candle, says all there needs to be said about the effects of cadre deployment on the constitutional imperative to provide services in a manner which involves the efficient, effective and economic use of resources.

Nearly all deployed cadres find themselves in a bind due to their divided loyalties. They owe their positions to the selection/recommendation work of the cadre deployment committees in Luthuli House, but they are bound by law to implement the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

The conflict of interest that is inherent in being loyal to the ANC’s National Democratic Revolution on the one hand and enforcing the duty of the state to respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights guaranteed to all on the other, explains the paralysis and lack of capacity that is in evidence wherever the ANC governs. 

Serving two masters, as different as the revolution and the Constitution, is an impossibility. Those deployed cadres who remained true to the Constitution are rare and endangered birds indeed. Advocate Vusi Pikoli prosecuted without fear, favour or prejudice. He was suspended for charging Jackie Selebi, the crooked police chief, and removed from office for going after Jacob Zuma, then a private citizen with big political ambitions. Professor Thuli Madonsela properly understood and implemented the independent role of the Public Protector; it is due to her work that the State Capture commission is able to open the various cans of worms that have emerged during the hearings presided over by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

There is a crying need for an anti-corruption machinery of state, of the kind envisaged by our Constitutional Court. Well-trained specialists working in a properly resourced environment who are secure in their tenure of office and sufficiently independent (structurally and operationally) to be free of all forms of influence, interference and control are urgently needed.

It is within the power of the Cabinet and the Public Service Commission to require every last public servant and all employees and board members in the SOEs to pledge allegiance to the Constitution in a manner that is along the lines suggested by Accountability Now years ago.

Taking the pledge is the first step towards a meritocratic public administration in which integrity and accountability are focused on constitutional obligations, not revolutionary pipe dreams. Putting an end to the debilitating effects of cadre deployment and replacing it with sound human resource management practices is part of the unfinished business of 2020.

The president has identified the malaise, but he has not acted decisively in addressing its ill-effects on the trajectory of service delivery, constitutionally compliant procurement of goods and services as well as governance that is generally open, accountable and responsive. Loyal revolutionary cadres, appointed and promoted to positions beyond the limits of their qualifications and capacity, have to be weeded out if the public administration is to end its paralysis.

The third major area of unfinished business still hanging over from 2020 is the need to address grand corruption, State Capture and kleptocracy in all the many and varied ways in which they manifest in SA. 

There is a crying need for an anti-corruption machinery of state, of the kind envisaged by our Constitutional Court. Well-trained specialists working in a properly resourced environment who are secure in their tenure of office and sufficiently independent (structurally and operationally) to be free of all forms of influence, interference and control are urgently needed.

The ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has worked on this glaringly obvious need in the post-Zuma era. On 4 August 2020, it announced that it had instructed Cabinet to establish, as a matter of urgency, a single stand-alone agency to “deal with” corruption. This is very much what the ConCourt pronounced on the topic of countering corruption back in 2011. 

The Hawks have not proved themselves equal to the task of investigating corruption and the NPA has been so compromised, hollowed out and weakened by the ravages of State Capture that it is not in a fit state to mount the complex commercial cases that will see the likes of Marcus Jooste, Brian Molefe, the Guptas and Angelo Agrizzi in the dock.

The new agency envisaged by the NEC is our best hope of making 2021 the year in which orange overalls are actually issued, instead of just being discussed.

Inexplicably, nothing further has been heard in public about the fate of the instruction to Cabinet issued by the NEC. All members of Cabinet, with the exception of Patricia de Lille, are deployees of the ANC. Why the necessary constitutional amendment and enabling legislation has not yet seen the light of day, given the urgency demanded by the NEC, is hard to fathom. 

A fightback by the Zuma-aligned faction is a possible explanation, but a fight of that nature has to be won by those favouring the reform of the criminal justice administration. For the country to survive as a constitutional democracy under the rule of law, it is imperative that the culture of corruption with impunity must end. The president knows this obvious fact, but he does nothing proactive.

Acting on the NEC’s resolution announced on 4 August 2020 ought to be high on Cabinet’s agenda for January 2021. The fiscal health of the country can be enhanced considerably if muscular effort is expended on taking back the loot of State Capture wherever it has been hidden, worldwide. It is estimated that more than a trillion rand is involved. That is too much to hide successfully, whether or not the political will to recover it can be generated as it should be. DM

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