I’m no saint and I’ve never been in a position to be offered any form of sizeable bribe, but it still never fails to shock and outrage me somewhat when I read or hear about the scope and scale of fraud and corruption that takes place on a seemingly regular basis. The greed and lust for power that overwhelms whatever higher and better sensibilities those entrusted with the public or shareholders’ trust possess gives credence to that time-worn dictum ‚Äòpower corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.
South Africa emerged from apartheid as something of a beacon due to the leadership and beliefs of Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, who along with many others worked so diligently to forge the foundation for an inclusive, pluralist and democratic society. Unfortunately, it appears that Pres. Mbeki and the embattled African National Congress that reigns over the country’s political system falls far short. In the run-up to national elections, word of ANC corruption, scandals, blind loyalties, misinformation and politically motivated slander emerge on a regular, almost daily basis.
Even worse, such press coverage has rankled the feathers of ANC bigwigs, raising the specter of a state-controlled media that casts a shadow across one of the key checks on abuse of power and influence and one of the pillars of any truly open, inclusive and democratic republic: a free and independent press. Newly minted billionaires with close ties to the ANC along with agents of Pres. Mbeki himself are bidding for control of Johnnic Communications, one of the country’s leading media conglomerates.
Fraud and Embezzlement at the Land Bank
There’s certainly no shortage of one or more of the myriad forms corruption in evidence almost daily in various forms, to varying degrees and at various levels of society. At times in particular situations it may even be said to serve as a vent and coping mechanism that enables a society to function in the face of repressive regimes and despotic oppression.
Evidence of corruption runs like a current through world history, particularly in countries striving to develop modern economies. It seems to run rampant in centrally planned economies weighed down with overly large bureaucracies, in dictatorships and other forms of autocratic societies, as well as centrally planned economies, as well as during economic booms, as became clear in the wake of the Internet stock boom and bust ended with the turn of the millennium.
African countries, with their particular troubles, challenges, tendency toward dictatorships and susceptibility to the cult of personality have a sad and unfortunate record in this regard, one that has cost the continent huge losses in human life and potential, as well as in monetary and environmental terms.
News of the latest case of widespread corruption in South Africa broke last week. Top Land Bank officials appear to have embezzled more than R2 billion, equivalent to some 300 million US dollars, to fund purchases of luxury golf and equestrian estates, residential developments and even a sugar mill.
Unlike the case of Enron and other large-scale corporate frauds in the US, auditors were on the ball. The massive fraud was revealed to the ANC cabinet in a forensic audit conducted by the South African arm of Deloitte and Touche initially delivered to the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs, Lulu Xingwana. The Cabinet, to their credit, has taken swift action, calling for the firing of the Land Bank Board and for criminal charges to be brought against top management implicated.
As of last week they had been issued suspension letters and immediately ushered off Land Bank premises by security guards.