Editorial Comment: Walk the talk, let looters restitute

The message being sent by Government through the decisive handling of the National Social Security Authority debacle is that the era of the corrupt official is over. In the same manner the imminent signing into law of Section 20A (4) of the Banking Amendment Bill which will create room for incarceration of bankers who fail to repay depositor’s funds due to recklessness, gross negligence, fraud or other criminal conduct also serves to demonstrate a new approach to tackling corruption.

This comes soon after announcement of investigation into State Procurement Board operations long after the Auditor General’s office highlighted that there were anomalies. The media has also highlighted some of the irregularities, including unbelievably high remuneration for the board chairperson.

The country has grown tired of hearing about mismanagement and downright criminal activities in public and private institutions only to watch the perpetrators walk away, often with golden handshakes. While the media has worked hard to expose the rot at high levels, it has often appeared as though the worst that can happen to the people presiding over the mess is to be fired. In some cases the miscreants remain firmly in place amid mutters of contracts or deafening silence from the responsible authorities.

It is high time that people holding such high offices become accountable. Moneys that belong to the public such as pension contributions, State coffers and bank depositors’ money should be held in the most sacrosanct trust. Criminals cannot be allowed to play Russian roulette with such funds and escape unscathed just because they are highly educated and or connected. In fact, they should face punitive and deterrent punishment because they are not desperate people breaking the law in a bid to survive, but privileged people who deliberately set of out to steal from the public.

The NSSA bosses made bad decisions with public funds. Those decisions directly impact on some of the most vulnerable members of society as they determine the lifestyle standards of the aged and other pension beneficiaries. The bad investments made by NSSA over the past few years mean that they have compromised their core mandate of paying their contributors decent pensions. NSSA has an obligation pay out decent pensions and that means that the beneficiary should be able to afford a dignified life which is hard to do on a monthly income of less than $100, even for the most frugal of people.

NSSA bosses spent almost $70 million on questionable corporate acquisitions, almost $30 million in non-profitable loans and forfeited properties worth over $11 million dollars to local authorities after failing to develop them. As if that was not enough, they then decided to award themselves high remuneration of over $40 000 monthly and dubious interest free housing and car loans, all at the expense of that poor pensioner who cannot afford to live comfortably on the meagre monthly stipend that NSSA is paying out.

It is not clear where gross incompetence ended and criminal self-aggrandisement began. Yet those very same people expect the authority to grant them hefty exit packages. Yet it should be clear that they are owed nothing because they failed to execute their core duties and therefore broke the contracts that they signed.

Forcing looters to pay back what they owe is the right way to go. It hits them where it matters; in the pocket.

We hope that Government will really walk the talk on white collar crime and prohibit other potential looters from going the same route. If any fraudulent activities were carried out by the fired managers, they must be prosecuted in addition to making them pay back what they owe.

If corruption is rooted out from the top, all public enterprises and institutions would become focused on delivering their core mandates and things would improve greatly all around.

Thus the message that the country is ready to stop rewarding incompetence and criminal activity is a great tone setting one for 2016.

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