Former finance minister Tito Mboweni says it is imperative that perpetrators of corruption are pursued and face the full wrath of the law.
Mboweni, who was delivering an online lecture hosted by Rhodes University, described as a great betrayal the looting of limited resources that the government had pulled together to fight Covid-19, while referring to those who stole the funds as “rats and mice”.
“It is great betrayal that our efforts to save lives and support livelihoods were undermined by shameful and exploitive acts of corruption,” he said. “We put good systems in place to the best of our ability but the rats and mice always found a way to overcome this.
Mboweni was delivering the 7th Archbishop Thabo Makgoba Annual Lecture on values-based leadership on Monday night.
“Sadly, there are too many people in positions of leadership and power throughout the global political, economic and financial system who do not seem to realise the consequences of participating in or condoning corruption,” said Mboweni.
He said years of poor governance and leadership failures had compounded the economic crisis that has impeded the growth and advancement SA had envisaged in the early years.
“In SA and indeed in many other parts of the world, greed and corruption have created a credibility crisis in government at national, provincial and local level,” he said.
This was apparent in many spheres of the state, including the police and sections of the intelligence services, to the detriment of national security.
“We are faced with completely broken and dysfunctional municipalities and state-owned enterprises. This frustrates what should be our common objective to grow the economy,” he said.
Mboweni, who left government in August, said the pursuit of wealth rather than a commitment to serving the people has created a malevolent culture in society that is becoming more and more difficult to undo.
“I have just exited from a position of heavy responsibility in the heart of government. I once again feel like a war veteran, having had to lead the fight to protect public resources from abuse and waste.
“This was not an easy responsibility. The demands on the fiscus in SA, as is the case in other parts of the world, are immense, particularly in the context of high unemployment and poverty levels,” he said.
“We constantly have to balance the responsibilities to serve and protect the people of our countries in general and particularly the poorer sections of our societies with our broad objective to grow the economy and the tax base.”
He said one of the most surprising things about being finance minister were demands being made on the expenditure side of budget and very few suggestions being made about what to do on the income side of things.
“So spend, spend, spend, but where is the income going to come from for that expenditure, because the result is more borrowing, which means more debt, high debt service costs and getting the country more towards a debt crisis.”
Mboweni was tough on corruption in his speech.
He said the Covid-19 pandemic not only revealed the interconnectedness of the world, but that greed among countries and people was rife.
The rich countries sought to accumulate and hoard the vaccines for themselves and starve poor and developing countries from gaining access to these vaccines, and long struggles had to be fought before the vaccines began flowing to poor countries, he said.
“Within most countries, the greedy and corrupt saw an opportunity to enrich themselves through various schemes of looting.”
He said the pandemic had forced the government into taking difficult decisions to reallocate budgets to fund the fiscal relief package and support the health system. He said it was a great betrayal these efforts were undermined by shameful and exploitive acts of corruption.
Mboweni credited his upbringing in the Apostolic Faith Mission Church and Sunday school teachings for helping to guide him in distinguishing between right and wrong.
“Our consciences always tell us when we violate them and this happens more often than not. If your conscience says this is not right, it is most probably a bad thing you are about to do.”
“Do not steal!” should constantly ring in the head of anyone in a position of responsibility, he said.
If any leader in the national, provincial or local government, a company, or in a church, sports or any other community organisation used their position to steal, they contributed to the erosion of society.
Mboweni said political, social and class struggles around the world were characterised by values-based leadership, self-sacrifice and human solidarity, but from time to time those values were neglected or forgotten.
“In our formerly progressive organisations we witness political and factionalism with formerly good comrades adopting a scorched earth outlook — not due to a desire to serve our people better, but to abuse positions of power to plunder public funds.”
He said it was highly disturbing that many people who get caught out in the looting sprees resort to dangerous and populist rhetoric with some claiming victimhood while others see fit to incite violence.
“Such people are not leaders. History is replete with instances where countries descended into chaos due to the treachery by some people with corrupt intent exploiting their followers,” he said.