He might not be much of a lawyer, his independence and integrity are questionable and his lack of personal responsibility is glaring.
But you have to hand it to Shaun Abrahams, the national director of public prosecutions: he has a great sense of humour and – given the comedy of errors he presides over – an exquisite sense of timing.
By choosing Monday to announce that he will no longer be prosecuting Pravin Gordhan and two other former SARS officials, he picked Halloween Day for his version of “trick or treat”.
He also performed the greatest somersault since pint-sized gymnast Simone Biles of the US won an Olympic gold medal in Rio in August.
It was said of Biles that “her physical genius means she answers to different physical laws”. But in the book of lawwhich Abrahams is meant to bring to our courts, he is in a league of his own and a world champion in double standards and hobbled accountability.
On charges against Gordhan, which were legally thin and politically motivated, he led the pack. That lasted less than 20 days before his stunning flip-flop two days ago. But on the legally competent criminal charges (certified by the high court no less) which have been knocking around Jacob Zuma, Abrahams has moved heaven and earth not to prosecute. And those charges were first delivered almost nine years ago, in December 2007!
Readers of this newspaper might recall a headline just days after Abrahams’s first press conference, on October 11, announcing the decision to charge Gordhan. It screamed “Rand losing its hubcaps” and noted that after this decision our currency had moved from best to worst-performing currency in the emerging world.
Just to put a number on Abrahams’s first announcement to prosecute the finance minister: foreign investors – unwelcome though they are to some of the Zumaites but vital to fund our widening budget deficit – sold off R143-billion in bonds and stocks. Analysts cited “concern that Gordhan may lose his job”.
But, of course, Abrahams heads an “ineptocracy” – defined as a system of government “where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing”. It seems an exact fit for both the prosecutions chief and the man who appointed him, Zuma. This ineptocracy sees the same so-called independent head of the NPA report to the headquarters of the ruling party to obtain instructions. But you are also meant to believe that not a word about the most discussed legal case since Oscar Pistorius was mentioned there. As the great Van der Merwe once joked: “I might be stupid but I’m not a fool.”
In the Halloween magical world of this ineptocracy, Abrahams is not responsible for that financial bloodbath. Just as, presumably, he is not responsible for checking first on the facts he magically discovered over the past weekend which led him to withdraw the prosecution, which were available to him when he green-lighted it three weeks ago.
So Gordhan stood his ground and one good man survives to fight another day. He, the hapless Abrahams and the compromised Zuma have also, as a side benefit, roused civil society to new heights of engagement. Even the timid business leadership of the country decided to end its quiet ways, and nearly 100 CEOs signed a call to action to save South Africa from the predators.
The mass march apparently continues in Pretoria today – and the Zuma/Abrahams duo have achieved another feat: they have united against them key members of the ruling party, business big shots, communist insurrectionaries, EFF fighters and DA blue-shirts. Quite an achievement, perhaps another Olympic medal here, this one for unintended consequences.
But before we paint the principled and brave Gordhan in saintly robes and not the Halloween horror garb worn by others in the ruling circle, do take a closer look at last week’s mini-budget which he managed – between his legal challenges – to present to parliament.
He couldn’t – in his politically besieged condition – announce one significant economic reform to boost near-zero growth, and government debt is now out of control. Just repaying the interest on it consumes more of the budget than any other item, from education to social grants and infrastructure.
And the same currency markets that punish the idiocy of Abrahams and his merry gang will push that debt into the stratosphere should the widely anticipated credit downgrade happen at year-end.
Judge Dennis Davis, who chairs the tax commission, recently warned of a possible taxpayers’ revolt. And Gordhan, unable to balance his books, announced further pillaging of the pockets of the relatively few personal taxpayers – fewer than fivemillion of us – with huge future tax increases. He pencilled in additional tax increases of R13-billion next year over and above the R15-billion announced in February and another R15-billion coming in 2018-19 – a total of R43-billion.
A few weeks ago, the National Treasury’s chief procurement officer, Kenneth Brown, revealed that R240-billion of government procurement is lost to fraud, inflated pricing and other “tainted expenditure”.
In the wake of the budget last week, DA finance maven David Maynier looked under the hood of the expenditure ledger and found some alarming items.
These include new ministerial vehicles for our communist Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and others totalling about R10-million; while another R1-billion goes to our free-spending and often disgraced foreign diplomats, and more than 122 foreign missions – some of utter strategic uselessness. Most ironic of all, the Department of Defence earns another R47-million for “guarding services”. One thought that’s what soldiers can actually do; according to the budget they can’t.
Maynier identified R1.18-billion of wasteful expenditure in this budget, with which the taxpayers will be socked.
The civil society which has impressively mobilised in defence of Gordhan should stay mobilised against his budget excesses as well. It’s more trick than treat for the taxpayers.