President Cyril Ramaphosa recently said he is considering roping in the State Security Agency (SSA) and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to conduct lifestyle audits on government officials.
However, Accountability Now Director Advocate Paul Hoffman told Newzroom Afrika that it is a plan that will not work and that the President has “dithered” to implement lifestyle audits for years.
Ramaphosa first mentioned lifestyle audits for government officials in his reply to the State of the Nation Address debate in 2018.
“It is time that we implement our resolutions on the conduct of lifestyle audits of all people who occupy positions of responsibility, starting with members of the executive,” he said.
However, Hoffman said the President’s suggestion of using the SSA and SIU to conduct these audits is not viable financially or structurally.
“The problem with the SSA is that it was captured during the nine wasted Zuma years that the President is fond of referring to,” he said.
“As a captured institution, it does not have the institutional capacity to bring an independent investigation to bear on the lifestyle of members of the executive branch of government.”
“As for the SIU, it does not move an inch unless the President gives it a proclamation to move, and it has no capacity in the criminal justice administration.”
“It has no capacity to do lifestyle audits at all, and it would need to be paid a great deal of money to do that.”
He said a more logical decision would have been to assign this task to the office of the Public Protector, which is already set up to investigate maladministration and misconduct in the affairs of the state.
There is existing legislation that puts the Public Protector’s office in charge of the ethics of the executive branch of government at the national and provincial levels.
“Why the Public Protector should not be given this job by way of a small amendment of the relevant legislation if necessary just beats understanding,” said Hoffman.
“Why an independent Chapter 9 institution is not chosen for this job, I really don’t know.”
He said the President’s hesitance over the past five years to go through with this plan and his suggestion that incapable institutions be used points to a lack of political will to conduct these audits.
Hoffman said there are several “red flags” in the executive, with many members living inexplicably beyond their means.
“That sort of red flag exists in so many corners of the executive already that the President fears what might happen if proper lifestyle audits are conducted,” he said.
“SARS has been conducting lifestyle audits of respective taxpayers for many years very effectively and has managed to collect a lot of taxes that would otherwise have been avoided because a lifestyle audit is such a clear way of seeking explanations for unexplained wealth.”
“When it comes to the executive, the lack of political will is attributable to the fact that too many members of the existing executive have been named and shamed in the Zondo Commission report.”
Therefore, instead of empowering a “clean” institution with the necessary independence to do the lifestyle audits, the President picked the SSA, which the Zondo Commission discredited.
He said it is crucial that an independent institution conducts the lifestyle audits because, otherwise, public perception will be that this is “just another trick, another instance of lip service to reform when, in fact, it’s the same old same old”.
“Many people are saying now that state capture barely missed a beat between the end of the Zuma era and the present,” he said.
“It’s the way that government is functioning in South Africa, and it will be the death of all of us if we don’t actually take a strong stand and keep useful work like lifestyle audits on the back burner or assign it to people who we know won’t do the job properly.”