South Africa has so many problems, with the coronavirus the latest crisis to add to our recession woes, that I’m sure many people sometimes feel overwhelmed. So when I tell you that more than R100m is estimated to be lost to the fiscus every day due to illicit trade in goods, the intention is not to tip you over into full despair and to give up on the country.
Similarly, don’t despair at the slow pace of prosecutions coming out of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). The important message is that tackling each challenge in a methodical, sensible manner is the way to overcome each one. And strong moves are afoot to tackle all facets of crime in SA.
Given the pressing need to address government over-expenditure and social welfare needs, it was not too surprising that finance minister Tito Mboweni’s allocation of an additional R2.4bn to the NPA, the Special Investigating Unit and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation went almost unnoticed.
The increase is important for many reasons. I’ve been a strong advocate for consequences for the criminal behaviour that took place during state capture. I’ve shared the frustration of many that we are not seeing the arrests and prosecutions we know should be happening. But the ruin of the NPA was a big part of the strategy of the architects of state capture and it is taking time to repair it.
The extra budget allocation will be a big help.
Of the R2.4bn, R1.8bn is going to help the NPA increase its compensation budget and improve capacity in asset forfeiture and specialised commercial crime units, among others. These are critical functions needed to tackle not just the egregious theft of public resources by those working for the state, but also corruption in the private sector, such as the Steinhoff and VBS Mutual Bank sagas.
I am confident that while it may take longer than all of us would like, national director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi, NPA investigative directorate head Hermione Cronje and the rest of their teams will bring the culprits of state capture to court.
Cronje explained to parliament’s justice and correctional services committee last week why prosecutions are taking so long. She said critical issues needed to be solved first, such as building the directorate’s cyber capability and data analytics capacity to establish evidence. “There are no quick fixes, no short cuts,” she emphasised. On top of that, Batohi explained that there was so much corruption across the government, including at municipal level and in state-owned enterprises, that it was necessary to prioritise.
Confronting malfeasance in the private sector is every bit as important as confronting it in the public sector — and it is this area where we as a country are perhaps lacking. The history of prosecuting criminal behaviour by the private sector is not a proud one. Tigon’s Gary Porritt, for example, has still not faced consequences 14 years after his company collapsed, owing investors millions.
The SA Revenue Service (Sars) has implemented measures within the tobacco industry to tackle illicit trade and there have been improvements in the amounts declared. However, what we have seen is that crime patterns move: once you address one modus operandi of committing crimes, a different one pops up. The government needs to be flexible to respond to changing crime patterns.
Business Leadership SA, under the auspices of Business Against Crime SA (Bacsa), is driving interventions to reduce illegal vehicle imports. Actions undertaken include the training of customs and police officials and improving public awareness and education.
This illicit trade is not solely a state or business problem. It is a national problem and there is absolutely no way Sars can achieve the necessary results on its own. We are going to have to get citizens, in particular the buyers of this merchandise, educated about the impact of this illicit trade, as it directly affects their employment opportunities.
Bacsa is also acting to address wider criminal issues that directly affect the security of citizens through the Eyes and Ears Initiative (E2), an official joint crime-fighting initiative with the police and the private security industry.
The important part of this initiative, which has already been launched in the Western Cape and Gauteng, is that it draws in the wide geographical footprint of the private security industry. The main goals are to share information and enhance response times to crimes, but there is a host of other benefits from pooling resources in a noncompetitive manner.
As slowly as they seem to be turning, the wheels of justice are grinding inexorably onwards.
As big Business we are working tirelessly to stem the rising tide of crime, and it is for this reason that under the auspices of BACSA, we will be holding anti-corruption dialogues titled: Cost of illicit trade on the Fiscus, with the first event taking place in Johannesburg on the 10 March 2020 and the other in Cape Town on the 17 March 2020.
Busi Mavuso is CEO of Business Leadership SA