Business organisation Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) CEO Busi Mavuso has addressed the criticism directed at the organisation and herself over the stance taken on one of its members, consulting firm Bain, following the publication of the first part of the Zondo Commission’s report into State capture.
“Much of this has been ignorant of the facts, poorly informed, sensationalist and not even vaguely constructive. I completely understand there is much anger at Bain following the Zondo Commission report, as there should be. What Bain did at [the] South African Revenue Services (Sars) was highly damaging and every South African is right to be angry. But we need to channel this anger properly,” Mavuso asserts.
She says the criticism has claimed variously that BLSA has “embraced” or “defended” Bain following the Zondo Commission, but Mavuso disputes this.
Rather, she states that the facts are that, in 2018, following revelations at the Nugent Commission, BLSA suspended Bain, adding it to previous suspensions related to State capture, including KPMG, Transnet and Eskom.
“That suspension was directly in response to the actions of Bain at Sars – the same actions that the Zondo Commission has highlighted in its report. BLSA acted swiftly and publicly condemned the misconduct over three years ago.
“This was certainly no embrace or defence. It reflected our absolutely clear view that our members must reflect the high standards of the integrity pledge that they made to fight against corruption,” Mavuso emphasises.
She questions why the majority of the criticism does not acknowledge BLSA’s actions in response to what Bain did.
Mavuso says that, in the two-and-a-half years after Bain’s suspension, BLSA had several engagements with Bain in which it set out its views on what the company had to do to regain the trust of BLSA.
Among the steps it required was that Bain pay back all the fees it received from Sars with interest, she notes.
“It has been said that was not enough – there are damages that should also be compensated and we agree. At no point did we say refunding the fees should be the end of it and those who suggest so are tilting at windmills,” Mavuso says.
She states that, in mid-2021, Bain met with the BLSA board and outlined all the institutional reforms it had undertaken.
“Bain convinced us that these were material and would allow it to again meet the standards we expect of it. The question was whether Bain could meet the requirements of our integrity pledge and our view, which was not developed lightly, was ‘yes’. That in no way detracts from the issues at Sars.
“To say that an institution now has in place the appropriate processes and structures obviously does not amount to a claim that it always did and that it somehow should be absolved from consequences for past acts. We have, on numerous occasions, said the executives who were involved in the State capture project should be brought to book,” Mavuso highlights.
Mavuso says BLSA fully supports the Zondo Commission’s recommendation that Bain’s contracts with the public sector be investigated and all legal remedies pursued.
“Is there fair criticism that should be made of us? Of course there is – our actions don’t always lead to the outcomes we want. But such criticism must be realistic about what our capabilities are.
“We do not have any of the powers of the criminal justice system – to investigate or punish transgressors. We are a business organisation and fundamentally forward-looking. We expect high standards of our members and we act when evidence comes to light that they do not live up to them. We did that in the case of Bain.
“BLSA is certainly not here to vouch for Bain – it must speak for itself. But I can say that BLSA interrogated and continues to interrogate members to ensure they comply with the standards we expect. We may not know all the material facts and we always welcome information that will help us in this mission. As new information comes to our attention, we will act again,” Mavuso assures.
She says BLSA strongly endorses the recommendations made by the Zondo Commission.