On the international front, there’s no doubting that that unnecessary war in Ukraine is on everyone’s minds. No matter where we are in the world, acts of war of this magnitude have a negative impact on the global economy. Almost everyone is affected, and we can only hope that a resolution is found sooner rather than later.
On the home front, February was another busy month for civil society, which kicked off with the release of the Zondo Commission’s second part of the state capture report, followed shortly by the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA). Two weeks after that, the Minister of Finance, Enoch Godongwana, delivered his maiden budget speech. Thrown into the mix was the announcement of another 10% price increase for Eskom and the introduction of an expensive online vehicle and driver’s licensing system.
We expected February to be the month of a final Cabinet decision on e-tolls, but neither SONA nor the budget speech made any mention of this. Ten years after civil society raised its collective voice against the system, we are still no nearer to resolving the impasse, even though less than 15% of the road users are paying and Sanral has no way of enforcing compliance. Had government adopted OUTA’s proposal for a ringfenced 9c addition to the price of petrol in 2012 for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), the upgrade bonds would have been paid off by now, with money left to do even more.
There is another reason this February is a big month for us at OUTA: we celebrated 10 years of civil activism, and you can read an overview of this decade elsewhere in this newsletter.
“Godongwana sprinkles green shoots over JZ’s scorched earth” is how Daily Maverick journalist Ferial Haffajee described the 2022 budget speech. Certainly an apt description for a budget in which government is trying to start the hard work of undoing the debt trap created by the Zuma regime, with some semblance of heeding to calls by OUTA and other organisations to not increase the general fuel levy and road accident fund (RAF). We are also pleased that Minister Godongwana promised a review of the petrol price structure and announced lower personal and company taxes that will provide some welcome relief to taxpayers.
However, we remain concerned that so much of our taxes are still being wasted on bailing out non-core failed state-owned entities (like Denel and SAA), and that very little mention was made of structural reform that can assist in economic growth. SOE bailouts are a direct consequence of mismanagement and lack of accountability and transparency. To date, we have heard a lot of talk regarding more robust procurement practices and zero-based budgeting, but very little in the way of implementation.
On the topic of accountability, OUTA has noted the comprehensive second report of the State Capture Commission (SCC), which vindicates the hard work of whistleblowers, the media and civil society organisations in exposing the grand scale plundering of the fiscus. In doing so, DCJ Zondo echoes society’s call to see people criminally prosecuted for their role in the destruction of our economy. The hard work by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to investigate the corruption and the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) doesn’t go unnoticed, but we are looking forward to 2022 being the year of many prosecutions by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), with the long-awaited State Capture report acting as a springboard for their work. The much anticipated third part of the report is expected to be released on 1 March 2022. The final part of the report will be delivered to the President by the end of April 2022.
President Ramaphosa’s undertaking of action against state capture and Cabinet failures on national security were the most important part of SONA 2022, but rapid and significant delivery on these promises is desperately needed. The ‘removal’ of the National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole certainly bodes well, and we trust he will be replaced by a competent new leader to turn the tide against crime and lawlessness. Similarly, we hope that the appointment of a new head for the Investigating Directorate (ID) will provide much needed impetus into the investigation of state capture crimes.
The war in the Ukraine might be thousands of kilometers away from us, but it will be sending many organisations’ leaders back to the boardroom tables to review their risk profiles. With the price of oil surging to above $100 for the first time since 2014 and the weakening of the Rand due to the volatility of the markets, we must brace ourselves for a steep increase in the price of fuel, which will have a knock-on impact on food prices and the daily cost of living. All of this gives impetus for government to take bold steps in ensuring all obstacles for economic growth and job creation are tackled sooner rather than later.
OUTA extends its gratitude to each and every supporter, for making our work possible and taking us beyond the e-toll challenge, to the organisation we are today: shining a stronger light on corruption and maladministration that pervades the corridors of power in government. Without your support, no matter how small, we don’t exist - you are OUTA. Thank you!
Wayne and the team