According to the ANC, its Youth League president, Julius Malema has ‘broken no law' by tendering for state contracts and in so doing becoming a multi-millionaire. Of course they are correct because there is no law which prevents members of political parties or their spouses from doing business with the state. In addition, the ANC has no such internal party regulation. We know also that the ANC itself via its front company, Chancellor House has tendered for and won many lucrative state contracts. There have also been questions swirling around about Minister of Communications, Siphiwe Nyanda's business interests, to name but one other. That the ANC is able to respond in such a narrow, legalistic manner is however unhelpful. It seems entirely contradictory for it to speak out about a culture of acquisition and greed when its office-bearers and members are themselves using the state as the means to accumulate wealth rapaciously. The time has come for the ANC to grasp the nettle of the impact which money is having on the values of the party. Both former secretary-general, Kgalema Motlanthe and now, Gwede Mantashe have pointed this out in different ways and have tried to start a discussion within the party about declaration of members' business interests and conflicts of interest.
It is simple: senior members of the party and office bearers from branch level to national level should declare their business interests and there should be a ban on them or their spouses tendering for government contracts. In addition, the ANC should not be tendering for government contracts via Chancellor House.
Finance minister, Pravin Gordhan talked at length about ‘value for money' in his Budget speech last week. If the ANC does not institute internal party regulation, will the perception not continue to be held that the contracts awarded to Malema's companies were not the best ‘value for money' and were merely granted to his companies, because of who he is and / or undue influence being placed on officials to grant a senior ANC member contracts? One of the major stumbling blocks at local government level has, according to government's own report, been cadre deployment and the use of local government as a source of patronage to members of the ANC. Here is a moment for the ANC to follow its words with actions by creating rules of the game.
In addition, it is also time that government prioritized a centralized database for tenders ensuring full transparency in relation to who won what and who lost out and why?
Cosatu's idea of a ‘lifestyle audit' of ministers is a good one but it might not get us to the bottom of the reason for the excess which marks the lifestyles of many government ministers and party officials. Malema's lifestyle, quite apart from raising questions regarding the sources of his income goes further than simply ‘being bling'. It sheds an uncomfortable light on the shallowness of a political culture which provides a platform for the display of such an embarrassment of riches as a reward for mediocrity.
But there are also other worrying signs of excess around us. The arrest of Chumani Maxwele for raising the middle finger at the President's convoy, is an infringement on all of our right to freedom of expression. Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa has said that the student has laid a complaint and so the legal processes should be followed. This is an insufficient response. From the facts in the public domain, it was the heavy-handedness of the President's VIP unit which caused someone to be arrested - allegations are that a bag was put over his head and his house raided. The headlines seemed very reminiscent of the days when citizens in this country lived in fear of arbitrary police conduct. The moment is over-due for accountability in relation to the ‘blue light brigade' which takes over highways endangering ordinary citizens' lives while transporting politicians. This is a matter for Parliament to exercise oversight on urgently. It should use its powers to call the minister and those within the VIP Unit to account for the incident that day. It is also a matter which the President needs to provide clarity on. Is he aware of the incident which was committed in his name? If he is, does he believe that he is more equal than other citizens in this country? What are his views on the right of every citizen to freedom of expression?
The UCT students who last week protested against Maxwele's arrest were doing the right thing. The excesses of Malema and the President's VIP unit have in common an air of the ‘untouchable' about them. Both are stumbling blocks to the advancement of the right to equality as well as of a culture of accountability and must be resisted.
Written by: Judith February, head of Idasa's Political Monitoring and Information Service.
This article first appeared in the Cape Times on Wednesday, 24th February 2010.