Voices

Opinion: Business acts on capture. Government does nothing

2017-09-25 23:25

The onward march of corruption and state capture has alarmed and angered most South Africans. Society, quite rightly, demands zero tolerance, and we as business leaders are required to lead from the front.

This is why, last month, we announced our Integrity Pledge, which sets out the values of Business Leadership SA (BLSA) and its members, including commitments to zero tolerance of corruption wherever we encounter it.

That is the backdrop behind our decision to suspend KPMG’s membership pending a full independent inquiry into its involvement in activities relating to state capture.

BLSA must live its values, and that starts with our members. KPMG’s conduct, by its own admission, fell well short.

It showed poor judgement, over a long period of time, extending through a range of different situations.

It allowed itself to become implicated in work that was part of the fabric of the state capture project. In the process, it caused great harm to South Africa, and to the broader reputation of business.

In saying this, we must also recognise the considerable effort the firm has made to atone, including far-reaching leadership changes, as well as its commitment to changed values and practices.

These, and the commitments we have heard from the new leadership, potentially bring KPMG into better alignment with BLSA.

It is also regrettable that the actions of the few have tainted the firm more generally. At BLSA, we do not doubt that the vast majority of the 3 600 people working at KPMG are talented, honourable and committed people, and the firm remains an important asset to the country.

Unfortunately, there remain too many unanswered questions and too much public interest for KPMG to simply be allowed to mark its own homework, hence the call for an independent public inquiry.

Also, it is not enough for senior people to step aside. If offences have been committed, they should face the law.

The very public travails of KPMG stand in stark contrast to the total lack of accountability we witness every day in government and state-owned enterprises.

Thanks to whistle-blowers and intrepid investigative reporting, the public record is groaning with details of corrupt transactions that reach the highest levels of government. Yet the culture is not one of accountability, but of impunity.

There could be no clearer evidence of this than the fact that it is now nearly a year since former public protector Thuli Madonsela sounded the alarm in her State of Capture report, and recommended that the president establish a judicial commission of inquiry.

The #GuptaLeaks emails have deposited a further tranche of incriminating evidence into the public domain. But we wait in vain for any signs bona fide intent to pursue these matters by the responsible bodies such as the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority.

Corruption, of course, is unacceptable wherever it shows its face. But the suggestion that all government corruption has a private sector counterparty is to introduce an unwarranted and spurious symmetry. Business makes its mistakes, and KPMG is one such instance.

But there is no parallel between occasional instances of private sector malfeasance, which are met with accountability, and the top to bottom corruption that we now witness in government.

This is the real scandal in South Africa. Corruption and state capture are cancers eating away at the heart of our society.

BLSA is committed to being part of building a South Africa that works for all its citizens, which is why we have embarked upon our #BusinessBelieves campaign, and have committed to a contract with South Africa.

But we have also made it clear that, unless we take steps to crush corruption, this vision will remain a chimera.

One reason for calling for an independent inquiry is the hope that it may help produce information that will finally allow the public sector to be more accountable.

KPMG could do society a considerable service if it helped lift the lid on state capture by making a full disclosure.

At BLSA, we will continue to energetically assert the case for business. State capture is a sad tale of government for a privileged few.

What South Africa needs is government for the many. It is this project to which BLSA and its members are committed.

Our #BusinessBelieves campaign is a public commitment to harness the power and expertise of business to deliver a better society for all its people.

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September 23 2018