Accountability Now Director Advocate Paul Hoffman said state capture has become how South Africa’s government functions and corruption will be “the death of all of us” unless that changes.
Hoffman told Newzroom Afrika that many believe state capture did not stop at the end of the ‘Zuma era’ but has continued into the present.
“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 take a strong stand,” he said.
He advocated for accelerating useful work like lifestyle audits, which have been kept on the back burner by assigning them to people who won’t do the job properly.
His comments come in light of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s suggestion that the State Security Agency (SSA) and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) be roped in to conduct lifestyle audits on government officials.
Hoffman said this plan would not work since the SSA was captured during Jacob Zuma’s presidency and does not have the institutional capacity to conduct an independent investigation.
In addition, the SIU “does not move an inch unless the President gives it a proclamation to move” and has no capacity in the criminal justice administration.
The topic of lifestyle audits was brought to light after the Register of Members’ Interests for 2023 was published last week, revealing that some government officials were living far beyond their means.
For example, Deputy President Paul Mashatile declared two properties – a 600 x 800 house in Sandton and a 1,000 x 1,200 house in Midrand.
The second property is reportedly worth R37 million. The Deputy President has said the house belongs to a company directed by his son and son-in-law, and he merely lives there.
“Lifestyle audits are a primary way of finding out why it is that a particular member of the executive lives in a house that is worth R37 million and has never done any job in his entire life that would suggest that he could amass R37 million to pay for such a house,” Hoffman said.
He said SARS has been conducting lifestyle audits of certain taxpayers for many years, which has allowed the revenue service to collect a lot of taxes that would otherwise have been avoided.
This is because a lifestyle audit is a clear way of seeking explanations for unexplained wealth.
However, the government has been dragging its feet in establishing lifestyle audits for executive members, which Hoffman believes is due to a lack of political will.
“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.
“There’s no doubt that there’s a complete lack of commitment. There’s lip services paid to reforms that address corruption.”
“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 also discredited, Hoffman said.
He said an independent institution must conduct 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”.