Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
8 April 2010

The end of democracy?

“Hard-core pornography.” wrote Justice Potter Stewart in a celebrated US Supreme Court case of Jacobellis v. Ohio, was hard to define, “but I know it when I see it”. Corruption is much the same. Regardless of our race, political affiliations or cultural background, we can identify corruption when we see it.

When we hear about a friend who paid a traffic cop R200 to avoid getting a speeding ticket, we know he was party to a corrupt activity. When a colleague uses funds from the company to buy household appliances for her sister, we know that she is corrupt. When we see evidence that successful arms deal bidders have paid millions of Rands in “commissions” to well connected and powerful people, we know that corruption was involved. Decent people know what corruption is. They avoid getting involved in it and they expose it when they are made aware of it.

Sadly, many South Africans – of all races and political persuasions – are not as decent as one would have hoped. They either engage in corruption or condone it when it happens. This permissive attitude towards corruption eats away at the fabric of our society and subverts our system of government and our democracy.

We therefore do not need the Public Protector to tell us that the ANC has become infested with corruption. Through its investment company, Chancellor House, it will profit handsomely from the building of power stations by Eskom. News reports suggest that the ANC stands to make between R1 billion and R5 billion from the deal because the ANC owns a 25% share in Hitachi through its investment arm, Chancellor House, and Hitachi had been awarded the tender to build boilers for the Medupi power station.

The Public Protector found that former Eskom chairperson Valli Moosa acted improperly when the utility awarded a contract for the Medupi power station to the Hitachi consortium. Former Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana found that Moosa failed to manage a conflict of interest arising from the 25% stake of African National Congress (ANC) investment company Chancellor House in Hitachi Power Africa. And now the World Bank is poised to grant Eskom a loan that will help it to build the power station from which the ANC will profit.

The ANC, deploying the kind of twisted logic used by crooks all over the world, said it would drop its stake in Hitachi Power Africa only if funding rules were changed for all political parties in the country. This statement suggests that someone else is responsible for the funding rules applicable to political parties. But this is utter nonsense. The ANC dominated Legislature can change the funding rules for political parties at any time. All the ANC has to do is to pass legislation imposing strict rules about the funding of political parties and about transparency of political party funding. This it promised to do a few years ago when it was taken to court by Idasa to reveal its sources of funding. Sadly that promise turned out to have been false and nothing has been done.

There are good reasons for the reluctance of the ANC to change the funding rules. As big business and the ANC has learnt to dance the dance of corruption, and as it has become apparent that this legalised corruption will entrench the power of the ANC, the party has realised that it would be mad to act in a manner that would be in the best interest of the voters. Who cares about saving democracy or serving the interest of the poor if one can entrench one’s power and make money?

What no one with two brain cells can ever dispute is that the ANC – like any other political party – has absolutely NO business in doing business in South Africa. Although it is presently not illegal for political parties to engage in business – at least not when that business was not based on the awarding of contracts by the state in a seemingly corrupt manner – it should be illegal.

Unless the involvement of political parties in business is made illegal the political process will be completely corrupted by big business and money. In the long term the fat cat capitalists and tenderpreneurs will benefit while the ordinary working poor and the jobless will suffer. As the interests of big business and the big business interests of the governing party takes precedence, those who vote for the ANC will suffer while the average DA voter (who will benefit from the cosy relationship between big business and the ANC) will not really be affected.

There are at least four reasons why political parties should never be in business. First, if a political party – especially a governing party – is involved in business it WILL use its power and influence at some point to try and profit from government contracts. The end result is corruption, the inevitable increase in the cost of delivery of services and a decline in the quality of those services. The Hitachi deal demonstrates this very clearly.

Second, a governing party will be tempted to make policy decisions based not on what is good for the people whom they have to serve, but rather on the basis of what is good for their business. For example, they might actively or tacitly support huge hikes in electricity prices to help pay for the building of power stations from which they will make billions of Rands. Ordinary South Africans will then suffer from sky-high electricity prices in order to subsidise the party in power. Ordinary people will be helping to pay for the elections campaign of the governing party and will help to keep the very corrupt party in power who has failed to arrest the price hikes that made us poorer. 

Thirdly, the power of incumbency will provide a political party involved in business with ample opportunities to become corrupted by private business who will try to cosy up to it and might offer the party’s investment company lucrative business opportunities in order to prevent the governing party from adopting any policies that would not be in the interest of big business. Thus, our democracy will become corrupted as the needs of ordinary voters are superseded by the needs of big business. 

Pharmaceutical companies or other companies involved in health care may entice the governing party with business opportunities, say, to ensure that the governing party never introduces a National Health Insurance scheme which might hit at the profits of those companies. The result is that more poor and destitute people will needlessly die because of a lack of proper health care. This corruption that will follow from political party involvment in business could therefore literally be deadly.

Lastly, a governing party who makes billions from business will be able to buy elections. Once one party has billions of Rands at its disposal to buy votes, we might as well scrap elections altogether. As we know from the US example, money plays a decisive part in who wins and who loses elections. If the system is rigged to benefit the incumbent party, we would have reached the end of any semblance of competitive elections and thus we would have witnessed the death of democracy.

In his State of the Nation address President Obama directly condemned the U.S. Supreme Court over a decision allowing corporations to contribute to political advertisements. Where the political party in power has itself became a big corporation that rakes in millions from government contracts and other deals with big business (whose interests it will be bound to protect), democracy dies. No other political party will be able to compete at election time and the election would become no more than a vote buying exercise.

Troubling in all this is that Cosatu and the SACP has not made more noise about the involvement of the ANC in business. In the end, the involvment of the ANC in business will bring it closer to big business and will force it to abandon Cosatu and the SACP. This WILL lead to the marginalisation of Cosatu and the SACP and will ensure that the tenderpreneurs and nationalists take full control of the ANC. Can the end of the Alliance and of any influence for the left on our politics then be far off?

Will it be too late before we notice that the inevitable corruption that accpompanies political party involvement in business has killed our democracy? I suppose we will only know it when we see it.

SHARE:     
BACK TO TOP
2015 Constitutionally Speaking | website created by Idea in a Forest