When last did you hear of someone being prosecuted for contravening the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA)? Or for looting municipalities? Or of corrupt officials being disciplined for maladministration? Or of assets or cash bought or acquired through corrupt means being permanently seized by the state?
The short answer is not very often.
In an interview with City Press this week, Special Investigating Unit (SIU) head Advocate Andy Mothibi said the overwhelming majority of the 686 criminal cases his unit has forwarded to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for action since 2013 have been left to gather dust. The NPA, however, says cases from the SIU have to be referred to the Hawks because only the police are mandated by the Constitution to conduct criminal investigations.
But a look at the SIU’s annual reports will reveal that almost all of these referrals to the NPA are for offences related to the PFMA, the Municipal Finance Management Act, the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, and the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.
This is the looting machine that plagues this country, which leaves services undelivered, bridges unbuilt and the poor and marginalised to suffer. It also means that 686 people involved in oiling its wheels are being allowed to continue with impunity, knowing the chances of them being prosecuted are extremely slim. Others wishing to climb on the bandwagon stuffed with ill-gotten gains can also join, knowing that they will probably get away with it.
But the NPA is not the SIU’s only problem. Mothibi says they are experiencing the same issues with accounting officers – directors-general of government departments and the boards of state-owned enterprises – who are similarly failing to take steps against officials the SIU has referred to them for disciplinary action.
This situation begs the question: Why does South Africa even have a body like the SIU if its referrals are ignored? The unit is staffed with forensic investigators, accountants and lawyers who, Mothibi insists, know well how to spot when a crime is being committed. Taxpayers are footing the bill for this unit, which appears to be working into the ether with little tangible result. If only the dossiers they forward to the national director of public prosecutions were treated with seriousness, we would see many more corrupt officials in court.