Did U.S. Meddle with Zuma Corruption Investigation? There’s a new Sheriff in Town

Ex-Public Protector Criticised for Accepting American & German Funds in Effort to Stamp out Government Fraud

Ms. Thuli Madonsela, her immediate predecessor, has denied the claims: “It’s a lie that we used consultants. It’s a blatant lie that we used USAID money, ever.”  The American government, however, acknowledged quite freely its financial support of the Public Protector’s work.  In the USAID’s own words (PDF):

USAID support was designed in collaboration with GIZ, the Department of Justice, and the Public Protector of South Africa (PPSA), to provide technical assistance to specific areas of the PPSA’s five-year strategic plan, and, through it, assistance to the African Ombudsman and Mediator’s Association (AOMA). The assistance was designed to build the capacity of the PPSA to use its own resources more effectively as it faces the challenges associated with an increase in the number and complexity of complaints investigated by the office. It supports the PPSA with training needs for investigators, specifically in investigation skills, anticorruption and fraud, alternative dispute resolution and report writing, all of which will increase their effectiveness and help to standardize practices across the PPSA. The PPSA has also highlighted a need for training in human resources, and also, assistance with outreach activities to reach rural and marginalized people will be supported to enhance accessibility. Assistance to the AOMA would be beneficial to the stature and respect accorded to the office and will contribute to strengthening good governance and democratic principles around the continent.

Andreas Stargard, an attorney with Pr1merio Africa advisors, points out the glaring questions that arise from the facts known thus far:

The independence of the OPP is at the heart of the agency’s mission.  Foreign funding can be quite innocuous, or it can indeed present a thinly disguised opportunity for another nation to meddle in domestic affairs.

Here, the discrepancy between Ms. Madonsela’s denial and the official USAID release is a bit hard to swallow.  Apparently, PriceWaterhouseCoopers were retained by the Office to help compile the Report on President Zuma’s entanglement with the Gupta family within the narrow 30-day window of time that was available to the Public Protector.  It is not clear to us whether U.S. funding was actually used, but there are good arguments on both sides.

Even more interestingly, the $500,000 total in foreign funding claimed by the media needs to be unpacked in greater detail: the half-million dollar amount was “identified” by USAID in 2015 “in reprogrammed funding to commit to democracy and governance programming.”  Yet, it was (1) made jointly with the German government‘s equivalent of the USAID (GIZ); (2) committed at only the 50% level until now (the final $250,000 tranche was to follow, supposedly, in “mid-2017”); and (3) signed merely on August 19, 2016, purportedly after “several months of program design involving all project stakeholders.”

The new Sheriff in town

The new Sheriff in town

A U.S. embassy spokesperson was quoted by media to say that the money thus far donated via the GIZ collaboration had been widely discussed within government circles.  The former Public Protector’s detractors, however, claim that the U.S.-backed funding renders her office’s independence doubtful, according to one of her critics, the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association: “America cannot fund you without putting their interests first.”

Ms. Madonsela’s final Report, has not been released publicly, as both President Jacob Zuma and Cooperative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen applied for and obtained judicial intervention, preliminarily enjoining publication of the so-called #stateCapture Report‚ which was to be released last Friday.  The Gupta family ties certainly may have played a role in the officials’ expressed desire for privacy.

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela says no government institution has received foreign funding directly. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

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