Helen Zille: Dear Pravin – A corruption filled election Govt can’t afford

2016 is an election year and I’m sure we’ll see a lot more cases unfold, whether it be the ANC, Democratic Alliance, Economic Freedom Fighters or others involved, the significance of controlling municipalities is paramount. A recent piece by Paul Whelan spoke about how the country can’t be managed from the countryside and the importance of running the cities. In any election, spending becomes a priority, something Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has said government simply cannot afford. Zille said a recent meeting with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan drove this point home after he said budgets would at least for the next three years be harshly pruned, even asking for money suggestions. And not a week later she was alerted to an incident in the Beaufort West region where local government is calling for an injection of funds, and asking for control over procurement processes, to help drive the election campaign. Zille says it’s just blatant corruption. Below is her take on what’s happened over the last couple weeks. Some say there’s always fire where there’s smoke, but let’s be assured that the upcoming elections breed a type of politics that only the brave can survive. The countdown to May has begun. – Stuart Lowman

By Helen Zille*

A week ago today, President Jacob Zuma summoned provincial premiers to the Union Buildings in Pretoria for a briefing by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on the parlous state of our economy and government finances.

We were told that budgets would be harshly pruned for at least the next three years, and asked for money-saving suggestions in our administrations.

Helen_Zille_WC_Cape
Western Cape Premier Helen Zille

The scale of the projected cuts make it inevitable that front-line service delivery will be affected. I returned home to the province determined to find every way possible of trimming each non-essential cost item.

The provincial cabinet met and compiled a list of suggestions for achieving the savings required, starting with the Auditor-General’s findings in relation to the fruitless, wasteful and unauthorised expenditure in government departments across the country. The bottom line is this: We can save billions if we rein in financial mismanagement and corruption.

A few days later a letter crossed my desk which reminded me that 2016 is an election year. Despite the constitutional separation between political parties and the state, election years have a profound impact on government budgets for legitimate and illegitimate reasons.

Read also: Analysis: By-election trends suggest DA to govern Joburg, Tshwane in 2016

Every election we see state funds being bled into the ANC’s election campaigns, either through state advertising in party colours, the production of T-shirts with both departmental messages and party slogans; the use of vehicles and state personnel in campaigns;  siphoning of funds from parastatals to fund the campaign, and the state-sponsored distribution of food parcels.

It is often difficult to find “proof” of such abuse.

So it was very interesting to learn last week that siphoning of state funds for election purposes has become so routine, that a senior political office bearer actually wrote down his request, on an official letterhead and appended his signature to it before sending it to a state institution in the search for election funding.

The background to the story is this: The Construction Education and Training Authority (C-SETA) has plans to build a Skills Development and Trade Test Centre in the impoverished municipality of Beaufort West in the Western Cape. This is one of the few local authorities governed by the ANC. It routinely gets a qualified audit.
Truman Prince, who shot to national notoriety when he was filmed soliciting under-age girls in the town, is the Mayor of Beaufort West.  He wrote a letter to the C-SETA about the procurement processes required for the major construction project.

It is a truly unbelievable letter (in the real sense of the word). The very fact that a senior politician could actually write this down and sign it, demonstrates how routine this kind of activity must be.

Mayor Prince’s letter was addressed, and hand-delivered to Mr Raymond Cele, the Chair of the Board of the Construction, Education and Training C-SETA at their offices in Midrand.

The letter expresses concern that the C-SETA is using its own procurement process to source service providers for the project to build the Centre. Mr Prince wants the municipality’s procurement process to be used.

He motivates his request to a (supposedly independent) state institution as follows:

“We are an ANC led municipality, we are therefore in need of financial injection for our 2016 Local Government Election campaign and therefore will also want to see construction companies sympathetic and having a relationship with the ANC to benefit in order for these companies to inject funds in our election campaign process

”We are seeing this project as a mechanism that will help us regain lost ground to the opposition towards our campaigns, we therefore would want to see our own construction companies constructing this centre, construction companies who would create local jobs and have the money revolve around our people.

“We do believe that as cadres and activists yourselves, you would understand why we would want to manage the procurement process ourselves, obviously with your people also being involved in bid adjudication processes.

“We are as a municipality pleading for your understanding in this regard and see the importance of allowing us to manage the procurement processes using our supply chain processes”.

Read also: Michael McWilliams 2nd Open Letter to the ANC – Real trouble lies in local Govt.

In plain language Mayor Prince is saying: The ANC needs money for its 2016 election campaign to prevent the DA taking over Beaufort West. They therefore need to control municipal procurement to ensure that companies that get the contracts are ANC-aligned and willing to give us a significant cash injection for the ANC election campaign.

The implication is clear: if the municipality runs the tender process, they can overlook inflated prices on the understanding that the additional amount will be filtered back to the ANC to fight the election.

I have sent this letter to Minister Gordhan, and I will watch with interest what happens to Mr Truman Prince and whether he will once again be nominated as the ANC’s mayoral candidate.

If he is not held to account, it will be a clear indication that the ANC is not serious about corruption, which is bleeding South Africa’s fiscus dry.

Read also: Montalto: ANC helpless against ‘junk’. Zuma’s managed exit post May 2016.

It is time for the tax-paying public, and government structures that are awarded financially unqualified and clean audits, to draw the line, and demand that fiscal shortfalls be recovered from those government institutions found to be corrupt and engaging in fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

The worst of all possible outcomes is cutting funding to governments that receive clean audits while “bailing out” those that are corrupt and mis-spend their money. This has happened repeatedly in South Africa.  Circumstances are now serious enough for us to take pre-emptive action to avoid this happening again. We will be watching the response to Mayor Prince very closely.

*Helen Zille is the Premier of the Western Cape