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DON’T NEGLECT THE SIGNS

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A South African-authored book, ‘The Unaccountables’, reveals how powerful politicians and corporations profit from impunity and provides valuable lessons from which we can build resilient structures to avert a possible collapse of not just our economy, but also the moral fibre of our society. The book traces the source of the endemic corruption and economic crime carried out by various decision makers in politics, the government, SOEs, auditors and banks within the continent’s biggest economy, which is currently engulfed by an electricity crisis at power utility Eskom.With up to 80 per cent of our goods imported from South Africa (SA), the rise or fall of our neighbour’s economy makes it inevitable that we always catch a cold when it sneezes.

One makes reference to this book and its content for the numerous similarities that can be made with what seems to be prevailing in Eswatini, which, if allowed to continue on without firm action to curb it, could lead us down a path best travelled by failed States. If the structures and rules in place to ensure transparency and accountability in the use of public funds were without blemish, we shouldn’t have to question a E12 million tender awarded to Slomoes for the local government elections when other bidders, such as the Royal Science and Technology Park (RSTP) was at E800 000 and Wiz Tech at E1.2 million, were competitive bidders.

However, the lack of faith in the relevant structures and their officials is why Members of Parliament (MPs) have called for an investigation into the award of this tender, which reveals a significant discrepancy in pricing for the scope of work. It gives reason to why the public deserves a clear explanation in order to comprehend whether spending this amount of money is justified when only 28 000 people are enrolled to vote for councillors.
Adding reasonable cause for concern is what the Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Prince Simelane, allegedly informed the Chairperson of the Ministry of Housing Portfolio Committee, Manzini South MP Thandi Nxumalo. She told lawmakers that the minister voiced alarm about the ‘rot’ within the ministry. What rot?

Faith

We need to know this, especially because the ministry appears to have lost faith in its own institutions, such as the RSTP, where millions of Emalangeni have been invested to develop what should be our go-to place for any technology-related answers. The institution is led by a CEO with more degrees than a thermometer, and the bid valuation reflects the availability of the necessary expertise and staff at RSTP capable of carrying out the assignment.

Are we to believe that such an investment is still far from fulfilling its mandate, or that the institution displayed incompetence when it conducted the by-elections for the Siphofaneni Inkhundla, in which LaZwide triumphed? From some of the documents reviewed by this publication on this tender, the main reason seemed to be that the RSTP lacked ‘experience’. These questions would not arise if tendering processes were more transparent, especially when ministries have the flexibility to use single source tendering or waivers.

The country has spent heavily in structures geared at safeguarding taxpayers against corruption, but they are useless if those responsible with making them effective shirk that obligation. In these circumstances, what good is ESPPRA? Following multiple instances of public funds being committed to expenditure that was not budgeted for, the Ministry of Finance had to issue a notice to ministries reminding them of the need to adhere to procurement regulations.

Dominate

Not to mention the ongoing violation of the Public Finance and Management Act, which has seen irregular expenditure dominate the auditor general’s annual reports, which are utilised by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to hold the responsible individuals accountable. However, despite some success by the PAC in collecting taxpayers’ money, the punishment has failed to reflect the offence or serve as an inhibitor, so the rot persists. These are the signs and symptoms found in some of South Africa’s economic crime cases, as detailed in the book ‘The Unaccountables’, which is largely committed to ensuring that the sheer number of scandals in that country, as well as those who should be held accountable, are not forgotten.

To quote the book in part: “The looting of Transnet and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) relied on ministers, Board members at SOEs, global rail companies, global and local banks, mega consulting firms, businesspeople, auditors and politicians to pull it off. They all got a lucrative cut and walked away from the carnage while members of the public bore the great cost.”It also emphasises that the situation they are in is not hopeless and that it contains potential avenues for accountability, as well as the applicable regulatory agencies or law enforcement that would make accountability possible. Can we say the same thing about Eswatini? We must act right away, before it becomes too late.

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