State Capture Watch

State capture about to become complete?

Team Hulley & Zuma
Team Hulley & Zuma.jpg

As President Jacob Zuma gets sucked in deeper and deeper into the social grants mess, the ANC is poised to put the final seal on state capture.

At the very least, by allowing a toxic conflict of interests mix to develop in his office, President Zuma has allowed private individuals to misuse their relationships with him.

And now, the top African National Congress leadership has revealed plans to strengthen the centralisation of power in President Zuma’s offices even further – including limiting the discretionary powers of the Treasury.

The role of Mr Zuma’s personal lawyer, who just happens to also be his official main official legal advisor, Michael Hulley, has become highly controversial.

It came into focus how Hulley has over the years, played a prominent role in the development of an illegal relationship (according to the Constitutional Court) between the South African Social Services Agency (Sassa) and the company Cash Paymaster Services (CPS).

An article on the front page of The Sunday Times revealed how Hulley had attended meetings between Minister of Social Services, Bathabile Dlamini and other Sassa officials about the payments of grants. Some of these, more recent, secret meetings resulted in attempts to, at least in the interim, extend the contract between CPS and Sassa.

A look at archival material, however, reveals that Hulley’s involvement dates back to the time of the original abortive tender/ngotiations process which landed CPS the contract in 2012.

Late afternoon, early evening, on Sunday the Presidency in an apparent attempt to put distance between itself and Hulley’s role in the Sassa-sage – which threatens the payment of social grants to 17 million poor South Africans come 1 April – issued a curt 65-word statement on the matter.

The statement just “noted” the Sunday Times report and responds with a one-liner: “The Presidency is not aware of the said meetings.”

Misuse of president’s name

If this statement does reflect the full truth, considering that it refers just to the “Presidency,” and not Mr Zuma personally, his name might have been misleadingly used in some of those vey meetings anyway.

Also on Sunday, AmaBhungane reported how Minister Dlamini at one of those meetings between her and officials of Sassa, when Mr Hulley pitched announced, said that “people should stop questioning Hulley's role as there was nothing wrong with him as he is President Jacob Zuma's legal adviser.”

"But Magwaza (Sassa CEO) asked the minister to explain what was Hulley's role and mandate on the Sassa matter. She took her bags and left," an official is reported to have said.

Reflective of the tensions that have been developing recently between some members of Mr Zuma’s inner circle in the cabinet and the Treasury, she is also reported to have “accused Magwaza and some of the officials of stabbing her in the back by having meetings with the Treasury.”

In this regard, it is important to note that Magwaza, as CEO, is the accounting officer of the agency and therefor accountable to Treasury.

Judged against Mr Hulley’s history of litigation against the Treasury, dating back to 2014 when illegal import of ANC T-shirts for that year’s general election by a company to which he had ties, we might just be seeing a strategy aimed at shifting some of the blame for the Sassa-debacle onto Treasury.

Hulley’s lasting “untouchable status” is also difficult to understand against the background of a 2014 report that “Ministers are gatvol with Jacob Zuma's lawyers.”

Ominous policy document

Against this background there is an ominous ring to a policy document released by the ANC on Sunday for discussion at its policy conference in July and its national conference in December.

According to the Minister in the Presidency and head of ANC policy, Jeff Radebe, budget reform is proposed in which the Presidency would lead in determining what are the main priorities of government, in line with the National Development Plan, followed by Treasury allocating finances according to the determined list of priorities. 

Analysts immediately interpreted the proposal as an attempt to clip the wings of Treasury, that has until now held the power for finance allocation.

The document suggests a substantial shift towards centralising power in the office of the president by Radebe stating: "The Presidency must be strengthened as the strategic centre of power in the state and must drive the National Development Plan, planning and policy, resource allocation and enforcement."  

Also read: Can SA parliament fend off creeping autocracy?

                    South Africa beware – Big Brother is coming!

This move comes at a time when not all the recommendations of the Public Protector’s the state capture report at the end of last year have been implemented  yet – notably a judicial inquiry.

As we argue in another article, as things stand, South Africa is already drifting into becoming at best an “autocratic democracy.”

A policy aimed at having all the core functions of state policy and planning, resource allocation and prioritisation, co-operative governance, public administration and performance enforcement, as part of core functions of the Presidency, as Radebe indicated, would make the autocratic state a fiat a compli.

Also Read:  South Africa’s state governance imploding

by Piet Coetzer

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