It is notable that this payback offer was not accompanied by an admission of guilt, with government spokespersons describing the travel arrangement as ‘unusual’.
By now it is common knowledge that pressure from the official opposition led to a public admission by the ANC that they abused state resources by catching a lift with the defence minister on an official flight to Zimbabwe.
The media reaction to the ANC’s payback offer was sadly predictable. Finally, there was something positive and redeeming to say about their beloved ANC. They would be proven right in their dearly held belief that the ANC is self-correcting. Yet it is notable that this payback offer was not accompanied by an admission of guilt, with government spokespersons describing the travel arrangement as “unusual”. Not corrupt or an abuse of public funds, but “unusual”.
Unfortunately, the matter is more complicated than writing a cheque, and many more questions need to be answered. Apart from the obvious moral outrage and serious questions about ethical conduct on the part of the minister, a simple transactional analysis will reveal the difficulties in implementing the promise of “paying back the money”.
So how exactly will this money be “repaid”? The ANC will need some sort of a source document as a basis for effecting a payment from their own coffers. Is it possible for the department of defence to raise an invoice? Even if it is okay for an army to invoice someone for their services, (it is NOT) how will this trip be costed? Will the ANC be charged per seat, by flying hours, for the fuel used, or for the total time they hired the SANDF to do their bidding?
Let us say, for argument’s sake, that the ANC receives an invoice from the SANDF for a million rand – how will they pay it? As a political party, their books are subject to scrutiny by auditing authorities. If they did not budget for this invoice it will be marked as unauthorised expenditure. If they budgeted for it but did not derive any value from the expenditure, it will be deemed fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
This expense was certainly unplanned for the ANC. Up until the DA exposed the jiggery-pokery, there was no provision for this type of expenditure in their budget as they had no intention of “paying back” what was free to begin with.
Even if they try to pay this “invoice” from, say, the travel expenses line item from the parliamentary caucus budget, it would still be irregular because the SANDF is not a vetted supplier of travel services, and certainly no regular procurement process was followed to incur this expense.
Perhaps they could simply make a donation to the DoD in lieu of services rendered. Seeing as though party-political funding is supplied by the taxpayer (Section 236 of the Constitution requires that political parties represented in national and provincial legislatures must receive public funding), this would mean that you and I will have paid for the Zimbabwe trip twice – the first time when the DoD budget was appropriated, and the second time when the donation was made from party funds.
As civil society, we need to be far more rigorous in holding government, the ANC and the media to account. There is simply no physical mechanism by which the ANC can pay the DoD without setting off an entire audit trail – and they are hoping their promise to the South African public will be enough to get them off the hook.
I challenge the ANC to explain to us ordinary citizens exactly how this repayment will be done, using which resources, and in accordance with which supply chain management regulations. Once they can do that, they might as well prepare a long list of repayments due because they will have set a precedent from which they will not recover, financially or morally. DM
Ina Cilliers MPL, DA Gauteng Spokesperson for Standing Committee for Public Accounts (SCOPA).