The adage “failing to plan is planning to fail’ accredited to Benjamin Franklin is a common one. Yet, I will attempt to argue failing to plain in this instance could have been planning to gain. In the week that South Africans remembered Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela who left us on the December 5, 2013, the Public Protector Busi Mkhwebane released her report and findings on the investigation into “unauthorised, irregular and fruitless and wasteful expenditure” of hundreds of millions spent on the part of those who had mandate to arrange the funeral.
Mkwhebane’s report delineates the evidence of gross derelict evident in poor planning, irregular expenditure, inflation of prices, misappropriation of funds, and disregard for supply chain regulations, amounting to crimes. When the story around the Mandela funeral irregular expenditure initially broke in 2014, the amounts touted around were R22 million and R65million, however Mkwebane’s final figure is much higher at R300million.
The report highlights four critical aspects that resulted in her findings. These are a lack of properly coordinated planning, the overcharging on the part of service providers, the corrupt relations some in government shared with some service providers and the blurring of lines between party and state. Naturally these four aspects constitute a toxic cocktail that can only end up in a manifestation of corruption.
It is important to appreciate that the Eastern Cape Government notwithstanding its claim of an “emergency” as advanced by the provincial planning and treasury head Ms. Marion Mbina-Mthembu, knew as far back as 2008 that it was the designated province for Mandela’s expected burial, failed to facilitate a detailed and coordinated plan for such eventuality. Such planning at a basic level includes the timeous saving of resources with a detailed benchmarked budget item list and clearly articulated role player designations as to who is responsible for what and how that will be executed.
Mkhwebane underscored this poor planning when she categorically states, “Despite the fact that there were earlier discussions and a plan at a national level for the funeral of [former] president Mandela, it did not translate into advanced and coordinated planning in the Eastern Cape.”
A proper plan would also include the delineating of designated role players across the three spheres of government. Mkhwebane raises this when she asserts, “There was no properly coordinated plan for all different role players in the funeral and related activities from the level of national, provincial and local government and public entities.”
This then can be interpreted as the province and its leadership either failed to plan or had from the start intended to let a crisis emerge from which the opportunities to materially benefit be afforded space. One could be accused for being harsh in claiming that its was intentional, yet when one appreciates the reality of corruption in the Eastern Cape setting, it may not be that far-fetched to imagine that the failure to plan was deliberate to ensure a crisis which would by extension afford less scrutiny after all it was for Madiba. Exactly who will dare to ask questions on spending on the icon? This complete failure on the part of the province to plan, therefore speaks to an unpreparedness on the part of the host province which resulted in a unacceptable situation that lends itself to abuse by the unscrupulous on the part of both government (politicians and officials) and business (service providers).
The second aspect which naturally flows from the poor planning reality is the attitude of services providers to inflate their costs. This group either by themselves or in cahoots with willing officials and politicians must have seen saw an opportunity to exploit the situation in charging exorbitant amounts for products and service that plausibly may not have been delivered at all. Mthembu told the Public Protector during the latter’s interviews that she considered Mandela’s funeral an “emergency”, which necessitated the diversion of funds from the R330 million infrastructure fund in accordance with the province of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). This claim by Mthembu is rejected when the public protector concludes the act of doing so remains “irrational and unlawful”.
The third aspect highlighted by Mkwebane is the internal government corruption anchored by unsavoury relationships between officials and some of the service providers. It is a given that in any corruption there will be role players of the government and business in agreement. The Mandela funeral expenses and how these were incurred is not exempted from this symbiotic relations of mutual benefit for both officials / politicians and those in the private sector however defined as service providers.
Considering the fact that there was no clearly coordinated plan the funeral became a crisis, and crisis or in the moment planning affords plenty opportunities to breach the standard procedures therefore violating the standard procurement requirements. It therefore appears Mandela’s funeral intended to be meticulously planned exercise since time was afforded with at least a 5year window period was made a crisis that afforded ample space and opportunity for the squandering of state resources for self-enrichment and material gain.
The fourth aspect Mkhwebane raises is the blurring of party and state lines. According to the Public Protector’s findings the Buaffalo City elected leaders or councillors placed the interest of the party as more important to that of the municipality. Her report also found that public funds were spend on ANC activities and materials. An example cited was the securing of a public address system for the ANC Women’s League programme. Again the issue of a separation of party and state regardless of moment is a critical aspect not to be sacrificed in expediency of crisis. The roles of the two are not in question its how these interact and what assumes the circumferences of them that defines the blurring. The crisis therefore would present the ideal circumstances for that blurring.
The Public Protector’s remedial action includes: “the issuing of a proclamation for the Special Investigating Unit to investigate unlawful appropriation of funds and expenditure on Mandela’s funeral”. Her remedial action also includes “further investigation by the Eastern Cape provincial treasury and the Municipal Council of the Buffalo City Municipality.”
Mkhwebane cautioned that future state funerals should not be allowed deteriorate into this as is seen in Mandela’s case. She recommends, ‘by ensuring that proper plans are made in advance, funds are accordingly appropriated and the activities of everyone involved is properly coordinated and monitored”. Certainly it should not have been a case of the public protector having to lecture senior officials and politicians on the basics of planning.
Mkhwebane states the following on her impressions of the poor planning “As far as the poor planning is concerned, it is very scary, I must say it is very concerning…You find an email being sent to the ECDC (Eastern Cape Development Corporation), telling it to pay R11million by 11’ O’ clock and the documents will follow”. Clearly an irate Mkhwebane asks “How do you pay R10 or R11million without receiving any supporting documents?”
In the case of the ECDC role on this, we heard last year through a penned open letter by Xolani Xala to former deputy minister Mcebisi Jonas then serving as MEC for Economic Affairs and Tourism for the Eastern Cape, how the latter is accused of being complicit to what Mkhwebane finds as irregular expenditure. Xala categorically stated “…But the most troubling incident has got to be your implication in the misappropriation of the Mandela funeral funds. R65million was spent without following proper procurement procedures. In this regard, funds appeared in personal bank account triggering the hawks investigation… once again you and your allies saw and opportunity to help yourselves with funds supposed to be utilised to rest our first democratically elected President in peace.”
We must remain vigilant and attempt objectivity not to rush to any conclusions on who exactly may have been responsible in this what I have deemed an orchestrated crisis. Therefore while no one including Jonas is charged on the Mandela funeral claims, Xala reminds us of how Jonas as former CEO of the ECDC was suspended and later resigned after being arrested by the Serious Economic Crimes Unit for fraud relating to the R9million sale of Mpekweni Resorts. He tells Jonas the situation was so serious that, following a forensic investigation, the Provincial Economic Minister Andre de Wet, subsequently sacked the entire board. Xala goes further to remind Jonas of the of the allegations of corruption made against him and three others senior politicians, while Jonas was the MEC of Economic Development and Tourism in Eastern Cape. He also reminds Jonas of the Judge Ronnie Pillay Commission report that revealed how Jonas and his family pocketed R200m and that an additional R250m simply disappeared from the Province public coffers over a decade.
It would be important to get to the root of this created crisis of a Mandela funeral and to find those responsible and those who ultimately benefitted from the lack of due planning guilty. People like Mthembu and Jonas who are constantly accused of being party to this insult of Mandela’s legacy warrant to explain their asserted roles. It is particularly important since Jonas despite this history of claims as CEO of the ECDC and MEC in the Eastern Cape, is held up as a moral beacon and champion against corruption. His word on being offered R600 million by the Gupta’s is taken at face value as the gospel truth and he is not questioned by mainstream media for these allegations against him. Even in the ANC he is not questioned by those who side with him. The Public Protector’s report now compels a thorough investigation by the due authorities to redeem a pristine moment from being tainted forever.
Reading through Mkhwebane’s scathing findings on how the Eastern Cape as designated host province for the funeral failed to plan and therefore acted outside the parameters of what makes for standard requirements and procedures on the usage of public funds by incurring of expenses, one is led to conclude that the Mandela funeral was unnecessarily made a crisis situation which became the prolific soil for unlawful expenditure and ultimately corruption that makes up R300million.
With the public protector’s findings now made known, it remains a darn shame and utter disgrace that those who were responsible for this expected funeral through their failure to properly plan for it, allowed it to become an ‘emergency’ and a crisis. Perhaps a crisis of convenience that always had personal gain and monetary benefit as central. An orchestrated crisis at the expense of the poor and all this in the name of Nelson Mandela.