The Big Read: While your back was turned

06 January 2015 - 02:05 By Justice Malala
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How do you bury a news story? You make sure it breaks during the summer holidays, when the power brokers and the movers and shakers, are on holiday.

Even if there is noise about the latest scandal exposé, it will be so minimal that few will get to hear of it. If you are a politician, you pray that your main scandal breaks between December 20 and January 5. The only news that really matters then is the matric results, which we can all pretty much predict.

This is why it was interesting that some of our key institutions were imploding during the festive season. The Hawks investigative unit, which replaced the feared Scorpions, found itself in uncharted waters on Christmas Eve when its head, Anwa Dramat, was suspended. Why? Why at Christmas?

Then, in the week before Christmas, the SA Revenue Service was rocked by scandals that included the suspension of its top brass. Why? Why at the very end of the year, when no one was around to point out that something fishy was going on at the most respected and credible institution in South Africa, SARS?

The scandals that rocked these two institutions came soon after the implosion that is rocking Eskom, a parastatal that has now been handed over to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to oversee.

At SAA, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene is now in charge.

At the SABC, chairman Ellen Tshabalala - who still has not produced the degree she claimed to have received from Unisa - resigned without a whimper from any quarter. She made so many bad decisions that the place is now a joke.

Among her bloopers was the appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the man who lied about having a matric qualification.

Let us consider the case of the SA Revenue Service. There is perhaps no institution in South Africa that has been as praised as highly as SARS over the past 15 years. Under the leadership of Pravin Gordhan, who went on to become finance minister, the place went from just another wing of the government to being one of the top tax collection agencies in the world.

Why is it rocked by these scandals now?

It should be of interest to all of us that allegations have emerged that President Jacob Zuma's controversial legal adviser apparently tried to get SARS to clear ANC T-shirts through customs without the requisite duties being paid. It should also be of interest that there have been allegations that the new commissioner of the revenue service has been brought in to get the team to bow to the president's will.

These are mere allegations for now, but they are worrying because, without an efficient revenue service, we can shout until the cows come home but no money will be collected.

If no money is collected, no children's or old-age grants can be paid to the poor and desperate across the country.

With poor tax collection the government is forced to borrow. If it starts to borrow the ratings agencies get worried. When they get worried they downgrade South Africa. When they do that we borrow at higher interest rates, meaning we get deeper into debt faster. Here lies Zimbabwe.

I have always been suspicious of the Hawks simply because I have never believed that the organisation is sufficiently independent of the executive wing of our government.

If it were, then why did the ANC move so fast and so ruthlessly in 2008 to get rid of the Scorpions?

My suspicions were buttressed by the Constitutional Court ruling of November 27 on the independence of the Hawks.

The case was brought by Hugh Glenister, the businessman who fought against the disbanding of the Scorpions way back in 2007. The court ruled that the Hawks must have "adequate" independence and that suspending the head of the unit should not be at the sole discretion of the minister of police.

Instead, prescribed the court, the police minister must notify parliament and a committee of the National Assembly must consider the proposed suspension before it can be effected.

The minister did not comply with the court's ruling when he suspended Hawks' boss AnwaDramat on Christmas Eve. Worse, allegations have surfaced that Dramat was removed so that an acting national head of the unit could dispense with the Hawks boss in KwaZulu-Natal, where powerful ANC MECs are under investigation.

So what? Well, tell me this: Which institutions in South Africa are working at full steam right now? Why is it that the best institutions in South Africa have all come under so much pressure that they are buckling at the knees?

Who is next? The public protector?

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