THIS time of year a great deal of online and print column space gets used up to cast one eye back to the year that was and another to the new one about to begin. Opinions of all kinds get shared on a variety of digital media platforms and resolutions get made, revisited and recast with the hope of implementing them more successfully in the new year.
The year 2015 ends on a very sour note for many South Africans, especially those increasing numbers of us who have kept an interested eye on the often unbelievably brazen conduct of our country’s leaders. It is therefore worth looking back at the kind of confidence- and reputation-eroding conduct many South Africans would rather not see again in 2016.
Our five deadly sins:
While this is easily found across the entire spectrum of our society, it seems to ooze with particular ease from every pore of increasing numbers of our politicians, especially those in the ruling party. Could this be the result of too many easy electoral victories since the dawn of our democracy, too much political power concentrated in too few hands? Have our politicians reached the dangerous, delusionary point typical of despots who have enjoyed too much power for too long?
2. Corruption (common variety)
This is what, unfortunately, has become normalised in our society. It often involves middle management in institutions and this is where, fortunately, people get caught out from time to time, arrested and taken through internal disciplinary processes.
Some even end up being criminally prosecuted in our justice system. But much more should be done to stem the tide and stop the cancer from metastasising further into the system.
3. Blatant, brazen corruption
This is usually committed at high levels of our society and involves politically connected and protected individuals. It often involves hundreds of millions of rands in tenders, diversion of funds, new SABC studios or Nkandla-style deliberate overcharging on major projects, etc, all committed by or to benefit highly-placed individuals and groups.
It is particularly outrageous when the prime suspects can easily take to the podium to preach against corruption, promising to do something about it yet constantly doing everything in their power to frustrate and undermine standing regulations and institutions established to ensure that we all stand equal before the law.
Because of their prominent positions in society, the conduct of such individuals is particularly harmful to our national brand and can lead to high levels of public mistrust and, potentially, social unrest.
4. Disregard for expertise, tested skills and integrity
The list of reported stories of ill-equipped, politically connected individuals “deployed” to executive and specialist positions in state institutions is mind-boggling. We’ve even heard of dodgy individuals representing us in South African embassies around the world.
One wonders what their hosts say of such ‘diplomats’ who have been deployed to either get them out of the way or to reward them for some form of malfeasance on behalf of their powerful principals here at home. Their host governments, our country’s foreign partners, must be laughing behind our collective back each time they have to deal with such individuals representing South Africa.
Here on home ground enough has been reported about known, shameful deployees who remain stubbornly entrenched in places like the SABC and SAA. Many educated, skilled and experienced professionals spend their time walking the shadows, some of them virtually unemployable after accepting golden handshakes that came with the condition that they never ever talk publicly about what they witnessed while employed in government departments and state-owned entities.
Their skills remain lost to the country after they were booted out for refusing to sanction irrational or corrupt actions.
5. Absence of transparency
There are still many government decisions that seem to be taken in rooms filled with smoke and mirrors. Examples of these are high-level procurement processes that often end up being challenged in our courts after being judged irrational, unlawful or otherwise running counter to the spirit of fairness as stipulated by Public Finance Management Act procedures.
The protracted, brazen disregard for wise counsel that we experienced around the attempted procurement of new wide-bodied planes by SAA, incorrectly sized locomotives by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, a R40m television studio by the SABC, the steam generator replacement project at Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power plant and several other cases have left a very bitter taste in the mouth indeed.
Those tasked with the management of the latest and biggest of them all, South Africa’s nuclear new build programme, will come under huge scrutiny by observers, here and abroad, who are keen to know if the process will be transparent and if all key steps will be meticulously followed.
The various nuclear vendors will keep an eye on the process to satisfy themselves that they are not unfairly left out of the gravy train about to leave the station. The International Atomic Energy Agency and similar bodies will want to know that all accepted international certification and safety standards are met. The global anti-nuclear lobby, part of which often doubles up as a pro-renewables brigade, will also keep careful watch on the process, looking for any sign of wrongdoing and reasons to use protest action and the courts to stymie progress on the procurement process.
We, the ordinary South Africans, will also be following developments around the process with keen interest, wanting assurance that we are not being led blindfolded into vendor relationships that will tie us unfavourably to foreign powers for decades to come.
If we manage to learn from our past and to think of our reputation, 2016 might yet be a better year than the nightmare that was 2015.