Open letter to Judge Zondo: Please resume Commission hearings

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Raymond Zondo. (Felix Dlangamandla)


Raymond Zondo. (Felix Dlangamandla)

Dear Judge Zondo,

We write to you as
concerned members of the Civil Society Working Group on State Capture, which
comprises more than 20 civil society organisations.

In February 2020, we
presented an Agenda for Action to the Commission, which is based on detailed
submissions made to the Zondo Commission by organisations of the Working Group,
covering the widespread impact of state capture on lives of people in South
Africa. The Agenda for Action summarises recommendations made by members of the Working Group with the
aim of strengthening the Zondo Commission’s ability to make firm findings that
lead to systemic reform in the struggle against corruption and state capture.
This is in line with the mandate of the Working Group which is both to support
and strengthen the work of the Zondo Commission while maintaining oversight
over the Commission in the interests of the public.

The institution of the
national lockdown in March 2020 has been disruptive to society and the economy.
Members of the public and organisations have had to adapt and develop different
ways of engaging with one another to ensure that their mandates and duties are
fulfilled.

We commend the Commission
on the work that it has completed to date. However, we note with great concern
that since the enforcement of the lockdown, there has been minimal information
shared by the Commission with the public about the steps that it has taken to
continue with its work and activities. To illustrate, the website only contains
a directive dated 16 April 2020 postponing appearances scheduled during the
month of April 2020 until further notice.

Whilst we understand the
position within which the Commission finds itself during this pandemic, it is
of the utmost importance that the public is provided with regular updates as to
when the hearings will resume. Currently, there is no information regarding how
the Commission is making use of this time to meet its mandate, which is
scheduled to come to an end in March 2021. We, therefore, urge the Commission
to take the public into its confidence and provide regular updates on its work.

We also reiterate our
earlier call for the urgent release of interim findings by the Commission based
on the evidence it has received. We believe that an interim report with findings
will help to facilitate accountability and strengthen the work of our law
enforcement agencies.

The Working Group is
concerned that the pandemic and lockdown may increase opportunities for
powerful networks to abuse the state’s resources. The Commission’s work is of
particular importance now when emergency procurement processes may present
potential avenues for corruption, patronage and ongoing state capture.

The Covid-19 pandemic has
prompted different sectors and institutions to adjust how they operate while
paying heed to measures to flatten the infection curve. In this regard, we note
that our courts and Parliament are successfully making use of virtual platforms
to carry on with their duties during this period. In view of the limited time
left for the Commission to complete its work, we suggest the following:

  1. That the Commission releases an interim report with findings and recommendations;
  2. That the Commission urgently reconvenes its hearings with the necessary health and safety precautions, as permitted by the Regulations made in terms of the Disaster Management Act, and completes its tasks within the given timeframes;
  3. That the terms of reference or the rules of the Commission are adapted to include the use of virtual platforms for the hearings; or, now with Lockdown Level 3, exercise social distancing protocol and reduce audience participation whilst continuing with in person hearings;
  4. That the Commission makes use of secure virtual platforms similar to those used by National Parliament and the courts which can be live-streamed or uploaded at a later stage on various platforms for ease of access by members of the public;
  5. That information about the business of the Commission is regularly published on the Commission’s website in order to keep the public updated and instil public confidence; and
  6. That regular updates are provided on the progress made by the Commission until the end of the hearings.
  7. We note that the rules of the Commission allow for these suggestions. In particular, Rule 4 makes provision for the hearings to be held in public, while Rule 5.2 allows for the Chairperson of the Commission to direct that hearings are held at a venue different to that of the usual venue. In addition, Rules 12 and 13 provide for the issuing of practice directions and amendments to any of the rules.

We believe that the
suggestions highlighted above are in the interest of openness, transparency and
accountability for the public as afforded by the Constitution. Although the
Covid-19 pandemic has presented numerous challenges in the way that various
organisations conduct their work, there is a need to adapt in order to ensure
that the work of the Commission is concluded timeously before the end of the
granted extension.

In sum, given the
importance of its work, we call on the Commission to provide regular public
updates, without which we cannot measure the performance of the Commission and,
where necessary, support its work. This includes the urgent release of an
interim report to enable other sectors – for example state anti-corruption
agencies – to work with its initial findings. Finally, we believe it now urgent
that the Commission reconvenes its hearings, as other institutions have
successfully done, in view of the end of its mandate in less than a year.

We believe these steps are
all imperative to the success of the Commission in exposing state capture
networks that continue to present a fundamental challenge to the wellbeing of
South Africa and those who live in it.

We would be grateful if
your office could provide us with a written response within the next 10
business days (9 June 2020).

Yours sincerely,

This letter is endorsed by
the following organisations:

Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

Black Sash

Centre for Change (CHC)

Centre for Complex Systems
in Transition (CST)

Corruption Watch (CW)

Council for the Advancement
of the South African Constitution (CASAC)

Dullah Omar Institute (DOI)

Equal Education (EE)

Equal Education Law Centre
(EELC)

Helen Suzman Foundation
(HSF)

Legal Resources Centre
(LRC)

MyVoteCounts (MVC)

Open Secrets (OS)

Organisation Undoing Tax
Abuse (OUTA)

Public Affairs Research
Institute (PARI)

Right2Know (R2K)

SECTION27

Southern African Faith
Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI)

Originally published on
GroundUp.

 



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