OPINION: What is the price for silence on corruption?
This past weekend Netwerk24's editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson asked a morally pertinent question, "Why does nobody care about Jurie Rouxgate?". He was referring to the nation's silence around serious allegations of financial mismanagement levelled against South African Rugby Union (Saru) chief executive Jurie Roux. Netwerk24 has revealed that a KPMG forensic report contains claims that Roux siphoned off R35 million from Stellenbosch University's rugby programme while he was the institution's financial director. Basson's concern over the stark silence is warranted given how he and the 'media' have often been accused of ignoring corruption in the private sector and the so-called blue-collar corruption which more often than not has a white face. And thanks must go to Basson and his team for highlighting this omission in the public discourse, which needs to be brought back on the national agenda.
This resounding silence over the Roux matter shines the light on our double standards in how we approach and react to stories of corruption. It would seem that our voices are loudest when corruption involves the state (and rightfully so, because state corruption has a ripple effect on the poorest of the poor, democracy, and the rule of law is compromised). But corruption is corruption, be it state corruption, private sector corruption or blue-collar/white-collar corruption. It erodes the moral fibre of society.
So why should we care about 'Rouxgate'?
While Roux was a financial director of the University of Stellenbosch, he was the president of the Maties Rugby Club where, it is alleged, he bypassed the university's financial systems to move money into the rugby club. This was before his appointment at Saru in 2010.
These revelations were made three years into his job as Saru CEO in 2013 when a KPMG forensic report, commissioned by the university, was released. It was revealed that millions of rands - about R35 million - was irregularly transferred from the university's reserve funds to the rugby club. He allegedly 'manipulated' financial management systems in which technology was used to hide the transactions. In 2014, the Hawks confirmed that it was investigating the matter after the university reported it to the authorities.
Not only this, but a supplementary KPMG investigation was conducted, this time revealing allegations of self-enrichment with the aid of Chris de Beer, who was then the tertiary institution's deputy head of student fees. So rogue were their activities that when he and De Beer were directors of Stellar Africa Rugby, they acted as agents who collected a commission every time a player was awarded a bursary by the university. Players were awarded bursaries courtesy of the two.
De Beer was fired in 2012, while Roux is now facing a civil claim from Stellenbosch University to recoup the money. One can only wonder where he will get the cash. He apparently wrote to de Beer saying that he would one day win the lotto and "pay back millions". He is challenging the civil claim.
In his article, published in the City Press, Basson notes the general silence on the matter, and more specifically the silence of the Minister of Sports and Recreation, who is yet to respond to the story. It is intriguing that the ruling ANC, which has in numerous instances in the past claimed to be the victim of conspiracies to tarnish its image, has said nothing about the assertions made. For a party that has always pressed upon the public that there is a concerted effort to highlight corruption only if it involves the state, one can only wonder why the ANC has not made more noise about this.
In January, the DA called for the suspension of Roux. Its spokesperson for sports and recreation, Solly Malatsi, is said to have written a letter to Oregan Hoskins, the president of Saru, to this effect. As he rightfully says, "The administration of rugby in South Africa cannot be led by someone who is caught up in serious allegations of financial management". How Saru has handled the matter is disturbing in light of these serious allegations and the ethics of corporate governance.
Hoskins was reportedly outvoted by rugby bosses to have Roux suspended. According to_ Rapport_, if Roux is suspended there could be 'far-reaching financial ramifications' for the governing body and he also stands to walk away with a R15 million golden handshake if he is expelled before the trial is completed. Not only that, the president of the governing body breached a confidentiality agreement with the university in 2014 when he handed over the KPMG report to Roux and his lawyers.
It is also worrying that Saru's sponsors have not publicly weighed in on this matter, nor taken action in light of how Saru has handled the allegations. This is a man who earns R3 million per annum, excluding bonuses, and presides over an entity that received about R700 million per annum. One would think that some would worry about the financial security of administrative money. What are we to make of the sponsors and their silence given the activism we have recently witnessed from Corporate South Africa, from termination of contracts to the firing of staff members who put companies into disrepute? Surely it would be in the spirit of impeccable sound corporate governance if action is taken against Roux?
Graeme Joffe broke the story in 2013, and years later Saru is still dilly-dallying with Roux's fate at the body, amid fresh allegations of 'self-enrichment'. In a Saru statement, Saru says it will consult a corporate governance specialist to advise the body on governance processes and the 'correct application of fiduciary responsibility'. It boggles the mind why one needs to consult a specialist when the right thing to do is obvious. Pending the release of the final report, surely the right thing to do is suspend the man. One must also consider that this is a forensic investigation and so Roux's explanation cannot trump that of an investigation of this nature.
What is more troubling is the silence from corruption-fighting body Corruption Watch. One can spend hours looking for a statement from the NGO and find nothing. Corruption Watch has been fighting corruption since 2012, was recently in the Constitutional Court as _amicus curiae _(friend of the court) in the application by the DA and EFF to enforce the Public Protector's findings on Nkandla. Corruption Watch's silence on Roux is deafening.
As Corruption Watch rightfully states, "South Africans are no stranger to corruption at any level", be it in sports, state or corporate South Africa. These past few weeks, while the spotlight has been on Nkandlagate, Rouxgate remains invisible. Why has nothing been said? What are we to make of the silence from the National Anti-Corruption Forum and the United Action against Corruption? Do we count the number of strikes before we chant #PayBackTheMoney or #RouxMustFall or #RugbyUnionMustFall? Can anyone be surprised that the ANC speaks of an 'agenda' and third forces?
When the Hansie Cronje scandal erupted, there was an unquestionable feeling of shock, dismay and disappointment. Then there were the cases of Glenn Agliotti and Schabir Shaik, both of which were met with disgust and abhorrence. Then there is Truman Prince, who is alleged to have sought to influence a municipal procurement process and got away with a mere slap on the wrist. He will be running for municipal elections, and there is just silence, save from the DA. Not even the IEC has weighed in on this matter. It does not matter if the issue does not fall within its ambit, surely there should be rules on those who break the Municipal Financial Management Act and Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act of 2004 (Precca), a prosecutable offence, running for elections.
Mention Nkandlagate and it would seem as though the nation, on cue, goes into default mode and anger fuels the loud voices because of the amount involved, how it was allowed to spiral out of control, the cover-ups and the secrecy.
Many have advanced the argument that we need not concern ourselves with private sector corruption because it is private money. We need to care about the Rouxgate matter because the majority of universities, including Stellenbosch University, are subsidised by the state, so it's our money that was channelled into funding a rugby club. We also need to question the integrity of Saru.
The Rouxgate matter and the Truman scandal only demonstrate the inconsistency in how we respond and react to stories of corruption. One can only ask, "What determines what makes us angry?"
What we need to do is think long and hard about what the price of our silence is, does silence negate corruption, whose corruption matters, whose accountability matters, what criteria is used to determine this? Is it the amount involved? The people involved? We need to question our complicity as a society in the scourge of corruption. This is yet another test on how serious we are about tackling corruption, and fulfilling the national development plan's vision of zero tolerance for corruption in South Africa. Andiswa Makanda is a content producer for the John Robbie Show on 702 for which she won a 2015 MTN Radio Awards. She is currently doing her MA in Media Studies at Wits University.
Andiswa Makanda is a content producer for the John Robbie Show on 702 for which she won a 2015 MTN Radio Awards. She is currently doing her MA in Media Studies at Wits University.
Editor's Note: The columnist erroneously stated the incorrect details regarding the who broke the Jurie Roux story and when. We apologise for the errors. They have now been corrected.