WHO WILL GUARD THE GUARDS?

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Introduction

I have a passion for leadership development, a desire to engage current and future young leaders on the challenges that confront us as leaders, the choices we make and the consequences of such choices. Such engagements normally involve stories or case studies to illustrate the key lessons for our discussions.

The challenge is to make sure that we spend less time on the stories themselves, or the characters in the story, but on the lessons arising from the story. It is inevitable that sometimes, some readers, or participants, in our engagements, adopt a pro or anti approach to either the narrative of the story or the main players in the story. This is always unfortunate as the aim is not to pass judgment on individuals, but to tease out lessons through strengths or weaknesses identified in a leadership context. I continuously encourage my readers to internalise the lessons, debate them and see what they can do in their own environments.

In cases where I see a failure in leadership, I give my views as fairly, objectively and respectfully as I can, and hope the readers or participants in our discussions can give their perspective as well –that is the joy learning and sharing in a conversation on leadership. The two cases I will use have to do with two highly topical subjects, one in South Africa, and the other in Mexico where I visited for a couple of days. I found the two stories relevant and instructive on the theme of this conversation. Although they involve political players, this is not meant to be a political commentary, but a deep and intrusive discussion on leadership and what is expected of us. I leave the political commentary to political pundits; they are better qualified to engage in such matters. I hope to engage further on the leadership issues that arise from these cases without being sucked into a narrow partisan political dialogue.

This is because the leadership discussions go much beyond political affiliations; they go to the heart of stewardship, to what it means to be a custodian, a leader, and a guard of the interests of a community, an organisation, or a country. When we have honest, reliable, brave and trustworthy guards looking over us, we feel much safer and we can entrust those guards with our resources, institutions, and the future of our children. Once we have some doubt, then we sleep with one eye open…in case the guard is asleep, or worse still, the guard is part of those breaking in.

The conversation is divided into three parts, Chapter 1 is focused on failure of leadership on the issue of a private home (The White House) of President Nieto in Mexico. Chapter 2 deals with failure of leadership in South Africa in dealing with security upgrades in President Zuma’s private home in Nkandla; and Chapter 3 deals with the leadership lessons and deep personal questions for each of us from both the Nkandla and White House scandals.

As always I look forward to your feedback and most importantly your own reflections about what you would do differently if you were faced with the same or similar set of circumstances.

Who guard the guards?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Literally translated, this Latin phrase means, “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

This is an issue that arises when those entrusted with power and responsibility conduct themselves in a manner not befitting their role. In South Africa this was brought to the fore in a major court judgment regarding the role of the Public Protector as the “guard to guard the guards”.

The Chief Justice of South Africa, Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, aptly described this role:

The Public Protector is thus one of the most invaluable constitutional gifts to our nation in the fight against corruption‚ unlawful enrichment‚ prejudice and impropriety in State affairs and for the betterment of good governance. The tentacles of poverty run far‚ wide and deep in our nation. Litigation is prohibitively expensive and therefore not an easily exercisable constitutional option for an average citizen.

For this reason‚ the fathers and mothers of our Constitution conceived of a way to give even to the poor and marginalised a voice‚ and teeth that would bite corruption and abuse excruciatingly. And that is the Public Protector. She is the embodiment of a biblical David‚ that the public is‚ who fights the most powerful and very well-resourced Goliath‚ that impropriety and corruption by government officials are. The Public Protector is one of the true crusaders and champions of anticorruption and clean governance.

Hers are indeed very wide powers that leave no lever of government power above scrutiny‚ coincidental ‘embarrassment’ and censure. This is a necessary service because State resources belong to the public‚ as does State power. The repositories of these resources and power are to use them on behalf and for the benefit of the public. When this is suspected or known not to be so‚ then the public deserves protection and that protection has been constitutionally entrusted to the Public Protector. This finds support in what this Court said in the Certification case: ‘“[M]embers of the public aggrieved by the conduct of government officials should be able to lodge complaints with the Public Protector‚ who will investigate them and take appropriate remedial action.”

In this seminal judgment, our Constitutional Court described in great detail the reason why our guards must be guarded. This judgment should be a compulsory read for every public official, politician and civil servant, and even those in the private sector, business and civil society, who deal with elected officials. Let us examine two case studies; the one involves President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico and President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma in South Africa.

CHAPTER 1: LESSONS FROM MEXICO

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s White House Scandal

Spending a few days in Mexico exposed me to that country’s White House scandal, which bears remarkable similarities to South Africa’s Nkandla scandal. I was fascinated by the leadership lessons from these two scandals and saw potential for these to form part of my discussions with young leaders.

In a stunning climb-down after months of denials, a cover up and a bogus investigation, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto last week asked for forgiveness for the La Casa Blanca (White House) scandal involving him, First Lady Angelica Rivera, Minister of Finance Jose Luis Videgaray, and Juan Armando Hinojosa, a prominent businessman.

The scandal broke in 2014, when journalists uncovered the existence of a luxurious mansion, protected by the Presidential Guard, belonging to the Mexican head of state and his family. Valued at around $7 million US dollars, the mansion was designed to accommodate all the current President’s needs. It was built and paid for by Juan Armando Hinojosa, an entrepreneur who has seen his fortune grow from contracts obtained during President Nieto’s terms as governor of the State of Mexico and later as President.

In his widely publicised apology, the President said, “I apologise for the White House, I made a mistake. A mistake that affected my family and damaged the institution of the presidency.”

Such shows of repentance are very rare in Mexican politics, although the president was still rather vague about what exactly he was apologising for.

If one looks the role of the President as the First Citizen, what did the apology really mean, what was the President really apologize for? It seems to me, that the apology, no matter how sincere, was an act of repentance without consequences.

In most democratic countries, under the legitimate rule of law, the Mexican President would have been impeached, an independent investigation would have been undertaken, and he would very probably have been forced to step down. In Brazil, after 15 hours of debate, senators voted 59-21 to put the suspended President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, on trial for allegedly breaking fiscal rules. President Rousseff will have an opportunity to defend herself in a process outlined in the Brazilian Constitution. Will this happen in Mexico, will the apology by the President bring an end to the matter? What does this to to public confidence in the government?

The background to the scandal and the government

Although President Peña Nieto has now apologised, he has always vigorously denied there was any conflict of interest involved in the construction of the mansion, since the scandal broke out in 2014. He initially insisted he did not include the property in his declaration of assets because his wife Angélica Rivera was buying it. He also argued that all suspicions should have been discounted after she uploaded a YouTube video in which she gave details of the deal she had made with Hinojosa’s Grupo Higa and said she had paid for the house with a lifetime of hard work as a telenovela star.

When this did not quell the noise, the president announced an investigation into the case that duly absolved him of any wrongdoing. The probe was widely ridiculed because a personal appointee of the president called Virgilio Andrade headed it. The six-month probe gathered testimony from 111 public officials to investigate possible corruption or conflicts of interests between the President, his family and business people who are beneficiaries of government contracts.

In his report, in August 2015, Andrade said that Rivera and Videgaray were not public functionaries in 2012 – though Videgaray was part of the president’s transition team – when they bought homes from a contractor, Grupo Higa. Grupo Higa’s founder, Juan Armando Hinojosa wasn’t interviewed, Andrade said, though he enjoys a long friendship with President Peña Nieto.

No explanation was given as to why the federal government cancelled a high-speed rail contract, in which Grupo Higa was part of the winning bid, on the eve of an exposé on Rivera’s home. Clearly Mr Andrade did not play his guardian role, he resigned after the President’s apology and his reputation is now tainted by this scandal. Could he have done things differently?

Response to the government investigation

Mexicans took to Twitter to express their indignation over the results of the investigation.

“Summing up Virgilio Andrade’s report: ‘Not my boss nor my friend is corrupt, nor did they incur conflicts of interest. Really, really,’” tweeted Gerardo Esquivel, economics professor at the Colegio de México.

Rodolfo Soriano, a Mexico City sociologist, added his voice to the debate, “Our elites, political, religious, business, intellectual, simply refuse to understand the concept of conflicts of interest,” he said via Twitter.

Manuel Molano, adjunct-director of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness think-tank, echoed this: “Impunity is high in Mexico and it’s the highest in the political class – they’re a noble caste unto themselves, like medieval royalty.”

Alejandro Hope, a prominent commentator, tweeted: Virgilio Andrade surprises the world by concluding that there wasn’t, isn’t, and never will be any conflict of interest in the Higa case.”

The tweets don’t do justice to the anger from ordinary Mexicans you speak to in the taxis, shopping malls, gas station, airport terminals and hotel lobbies. The social media, the overall media and daily talking points have been about this scandal and the anger is palpable.

The voters had the last word

The results when Mexican citizens from 12 of the country’s 32 states went to the polls to elect new governors on 5 June 2016 were telling. A sweeping – and surprising – victory went to the centre-right National Action Party (PAN), consequently dealing the ruling party, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), its greatest loss. The magnitude of the PRI’s loss is far from trivial: Once the elected governors take office between September and February 2017, the PRI will be governing less than 50% of the population at the state level for the first time in Mexico’s modern history.

These results show that Mexicans are in an angry mood and obsessed with corruption. The PRI lost seven states, including four where the party had wielded power for 86 years straight, and where governors were accused of gross human rights violations, mismanagement and corruption.

According to Federico Estévez, political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, the voters were very clear about their reasons for voting out the PRI in key states, “Clearly the voters are into kicking the bums out. And they are bums. Two-thirds of the states switched governments. That’s a very high rate in a democracy.”

Although he was not on the ticket, President Peña Nieto took much of the blame and voters’ scorn. He is now regarded as the most unpopular Mexican president in the past 20 years, in spite of achieving a suite of structural reforms in areas like education, energy and telecommunications.

Changing public sentiment

What changed to make Mexicans so upset about corruption is uncertain, but anecdotal signs of discontent are abundant.

In exit polls, we used to ask, ‘What issue is important to you, the economy or security?’ Now we also ask about corruption because people would spontaneously say it,” says Francisco Abundis, president of the polling firm Parametría. Exit polls this year showed 12 to 24% of voters, depending on the state, listing corruption as the most compelling issue in the recent elections, second only to insecurity.

In the meantime, Mexicans are taking to social media to expose bad behaviour, abuse of power and corruption – with the hash tag #Lord and #Lady trending every time there’s an excess – such as #LadyProfeco, whose father headed the country’s consumer protection watchdog (Profeco) and tried to close a trendy eatery through inspections after being denied a table. In another case last year, a quick-witted neighbour busted the director of the National Water Commission using a government helicopter to fly his family to the airport for a ski vacation by uploading photos to social media sites.

Public shaming is taking the place of an inept justice system – a trend some analysts see as producing results (however modest) and another sign of the country’s increasing intolerance for impunity and corruption.

 

Public shaming can be more powerful than whatever penalties or fines are imposed on these people,” says Arturo Franco, the Atlantic Council fellow and author of the book Merit: Building a Country that is Ours

We live in a culture where no one respects the law, where the law is merely seen as a suggestion, where everyone who can break it, breaks it.”

When people do not trust those in authority, they organise their own defence, the social media phenomena is a new way of new guards who guard those are meant to be our protectors. Through naming and shaming, they become society’s ears and eyes who guard against wrongdoing. This will become the new normal in society.

The cost of corruption

Whatever the reason for it, Mexican society appears to have lost patience with corruption – an old vice that has only been worsening since the country cast aside one-party rule in 2000. Anti-graft watchdog Transparency International puts Mexico at No. 95 in its annual Global Corruption Perception Index, down from No. 63 in 2004.

To be sure, corruption costs the country billions. The World Economic Forum estimates corruption costs Mexico’s economy 2% of GDP. An Ernst & Young survey says corruption costs Mexican firms 5% of sales.

Transparencia Mexicana, the Mexican arm of Transparency International, says corruption hits the poor hardest as extra-official payments – everything from mordidas (small bites) paid to police to involuntary tips given to garbage collectors and letter carriers – chew up 14% of poor households’ incomes.

But curbing corruption is no small matter in Mexico, where expressions like: “Si no tranzas, no advances” (“If you don’t do something shady, you won’t get ahead”) are common. A 2012 exposé in the New York Times showed Wal-Mart de México bribing its way to becoming the country’s biggest retailer.

Impact on PRI, the ruling party of Mexico

The PRI, born in 1929 after a decade of post-revolutionary turmoil, maintained stability for decades through a vast political machine that pervaded Mexican life, using patronage and sweetheart deals to tame unions, bureaucrats, peasant groups and intellectuals, while keeping the media and dissidents largely muzzled through coercion or force.

It was often difficult to tell where the party stopped and government began. Around election time, operatives would show up in impoverished communities toting bags of cement or installing power lines in a familiar ritual of vote-buying. In case that wasn’t enough, PRI hacks paid residents for their votes or simply stuffed ballot boxes.

Mexican writer and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz dubbed the PRI a “philanthropic ogre”. Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa called it “the perfect dictatorship.”

Historian and commentator Enrique Krauze, who was part of a student movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s that was violently put down by Mexican security forces said: “It was a very ingenious – some might even have called it genial – system, but for me, the main thing is that it was not democratic.”

Though booted from the president’s mansion in 2000, the PRI still governs more than half of Mexico’s 2 440 cities and towns, and 20 of 31 states, owing to steady gains at the polls since 2009.

“It lost the presidency … but it didn’t lose everything,” said Rosa Maria Miron, a political science professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “It’s important to remember that the PRI was not totally defeated.”

The PRI’s long-standing nationwide reach gives it a presence in even the tiniest Mexican village, much like Coca-Cola and a brand of Mexican bread known as Bimbo. This provided the foundation for its 12-year rebuilding project.

The PRI started to win back the confidence of the Mexican electorate to such an extent after 12 years, that Enrique Peña Nieto was elected President of Mexico, bringing the PRI back into power. Things have, however, gone quite badly for the PRI since, leading to the disastrous 2016 election results.

Eduardo Huchim May, an expert on the Mexican political system and former counsellor in the Federal District Electoral Institute (IEDF), argues: “The biggest loser of the election is named Enrique Peña Nieto.”

He said: “The PRI, led by Manlio Fabio Beltrones, had to paddle against the current in this June 2016 election, because its main figure [President Peña Nieto] heads a government in which there are justified suspicions of corruption. Where there is a conflict of interest involving the ‘white house’ [built and financed by the Higa Group, major government contractor, for purchase by the president’s wife], even though the Secretary of Public Administration does not see that conflict, and also the notorious preference it has for… the Higa Group.

“In addition to these problems, there is also corruption accompanied by impunity and the incompetence of the federal government in its public policies, both in matters of security and the economy, where we have a significant debt that reminds me of past, of true economic disasters for the country.”

According to Jorge Chabat, Researcher at the Centre for Research and Teaching of Economics (CIDE): “[PRI’s] power is eroding and it has received a punishing blow as a result of bad governments. The population finally decided to change and chose the option that seemed most viable, in some cases the PAN [National Action Party] in alliance with the PRD [Party of the Democratic Revolution]. It was just exhaustion from the bad PRI governments, a punishment vote. It’s the normal thing in a democracy that punishment votes are cast after so many years under the PRI governments that were increasingly bad, all the wear and tear of Veracruz, Tamaulipas, and collusion with drug dealers. The people are fed up.”

Meanwhile, Sigue cayendo Peña Nieto

Despite this, “Sigue cayendo” Peña Nieto (“Keeps falling”) screamed the headlines in Mexico last Friday, as the President Peña Nieto’s approval rating has fallen to an all-time low, according to a poll published on Thursday, and he is seen as being punished for lacklustre economic growth as well as his failure to crack down on corruption and on-going drug violence.

The Mexican president’s approval rating decreased to just 23%, down seven percentage points since April, according to local newspaper Reforma – a record low that reinforces the public’s dissatisfaction with the ruling PRI. The figure marked the lowest approval rating for a Mexican president since the administration of then president Ernesto Zedillo in the second half of the 1990s, the newspaper said.

The poll, conducted by Grupo Reforma, said that more than 60% of those surveyed felt security in the country had worsened, while roughly 70% thought that poverty and violence had increased in the past year.

Some 55% of respondents said corruption in the federal government had worsened, compared with 40% in the paper’s previous poll in April. A majority of people believe that corruption, violence, poverty, the economic situation and public security have worsened, and their opinion regarding the manner in which Peña Nieto is handling a variety of themes, from health and education to organised crime and corruption is not favourable.

Most importantly, the president’s surprise apology on 18 July 2016 did nothing for his public standing. Only 14% thought the apology was believable and an equal number thought it was sufficient. Only 20% felt he had abided by the law.

The White house saga shows a colossal failure in leadership by the President of the country. Although the words sound sincere, they are not matched by actions – the Head of State has to be the most trusted, honest, reliable guard at the country’s gate. Can he remain at the gate as the main guard? Where is Congress in this, will they hold the President to account in an open forum? What will the PRI do, side with the President or the constitution and the country? What lessons can we draw from this story?

I leave the last word to the Pope, who said the following in recent remarks to President Nieto and other Mexican leaders:

“Experience teaches us that each time we seek the path of privilege or benefits for a few to the detriment of the good of all, sooner or later the life of society becomes a fertile soil for corruption, the drug trade, the exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death. Mexico’s leaders have a ‘particular duty’ to move past corruption and violence and work for the collective good.”

CHAPTER 2: LESSONS FROM SOUTH AFRICA

The Nkandla matter – Where were the guards?

A headline report by the late Mandy Rossouw in December 2009 revealed buildings at Nkandla, the private homestead of South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma. Her article reported that the President was expanding his family homestead at Nkandla for a whopping R65million –and the taxpayer was footing the largest chunk of the bill. This was met with denials from the Presidency, and so began a long saga of accusations and counter accusations. If we pause here for a second, did the media here play its role as a Guardian? I think so, and Mandy Rossouw has been vindicated, and the pictures taken by Chris Roper are there for everyone to see. The key question, where were the other guards, how could this be allowed to continue, from 2009 up to 2014 when the Public Protector issued her final report?

After numerous denials and media reports, including debates and questions in Parliament, the matter was reported to the Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela. The Public Protector released her report, “Secure in Comfort” in March 2014, in which she found that the President and his family had unduly benefited from the non-security upgrades at Nkandla and decided on a number of remedial actions for the President. By the time of her report, the estimated costs of the security upgrades were R246 million. The report created a firestorm – with criticisms of the Public Protector, public debates about her motives, and various court cases and debates in parliament about the powers of the Public Protector. The biggest questions were not asked, how could this balloon from R65m to R246million from 2009 to 2014? Where were the guards during this time? Who was asleep at the guard post?

In response to the report, President Zuma appointed the Minister of Police, Mr Nati Nhleko, to determine what he was liable to pay. After an investigation the Minister found that the President was not liable to pay any costs for the non-security upgrades. At about the same time, Parliament also conducted its own investigation, and its ad hoc committee also found the President to have no liability to pay. The National Assembly passed a resolution to that effect along political party lines. At this point we need to think about the role of the President as the Head of State – was the President thinking about his oath of office, an oath that makes him the main guardian of our Constitution, the chief Protector of its institutions and the Defender in Chief of our Constitution? Where were his advisors to whisper in his ear and counsel him about his solemn oath?

As for the National Assembly, the Speaker of Parliament, the members of the ruling party in the Adhoc Committees, if they were to go back to Hansard and listen to every word they said in defence of the President. When they reflect on those words, some harsh, some bitter some directly attacking a Chapter 9 institution, how would they see their role? Were they true guardians? Did voice boom loudly like the honourable guards of the old days, who would shout, “ who goes there?” or were they words of partisan encouragement? Those who gave legal and professional advice and those whose companies benefitted and participated in the massive looting to the tune of R246million, what would they tell their children?

To those who participated in the parallel investigations, who peddled lies and falsehoods on national television about “ fire pools” etc., were they guardians, were they being professional, have they learnt anything from this? I ask these questions because all the parties involved have told the nation that they will reflect on these matters. I hope their reflections and decisions will be shared with a public that is now numb from the lies and deceit. There was massive failure of leadership across the Executive, The National Assembly and Civil servants who all failed in their duties to South Africa, its people and our constitution in defence of one person. This played itself out in public, on national television, almost daily, for many months – and the gates were left wide open. No amount of spin, intimidation or insults will change this reality, the words are etched in our minds, they are recorded in Hansard and are in all the visuals on social media including YouTube – future scholars on governance, corruption, power, leadership, politics, and constitutionalism will have a lot of material to work with. This will be a stain on our democracy, a deep scar on our constitution and a huge dent on our institutions.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA), the two biggest opposition parties, took the matter to the Constitutional Court and won the case. The Constitutional Court, the highest court in South Africa and the ultimate guardian of the Constitution and its values, confirmed the power, role and functions of the Public Protector in dealing with corruption, conflicts of interest and abuse of resources by public officials at all levels. It confirmed that her remedial actions were binding and had to be implemented. It further found that, in failing to implement the remedial actions of the Public Protector, both the President of the Republic, President Jacob Zuma, and the National Assembly acted in a manner that was inconsistent with their constitutional obligations. It directed the President to pay a reasonable percentage for the non-security upgrades. The very people who took an oath of office to be honourable guardians of our constitution had themselves violated it in defence of one person. This was a massive failure in the most sacred of duties, to guard and honour our constitution and its institutions. How could this happen?

In this whole saga, the much vilified, but universally loved, respected and admired Thuli Madonsela emerged as a guard who was trustworthy, fiercely independent and resilient in defence of the Constitution. In the same vein, the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance, stood firm on principle and defended us throughput the parliamentary proceedings, helped by the other smaller parties, but most importantly, took the matter directly to the Constitutional Court. The opposition parties were true custodians and the public fully supported them. Our judges in the Constitutional Court, brought tears to my eyes as they stood guard in defence of our rights and our Constitution. Justice Mogoeng used every word to assert that South Africa is a Constitutional democracy and all of us, the mighty and the weak, must bow to the Constitution. These were all true guardians, playing their roles, using the areas of influence to defend and protect our rights and our Constitution.

In the aftermath of the Constitutional Court ruling, President Zuma accepted the Constitutional court ruling, agreed to implement the Public Protector’s ruling, reprimanded the Ministers involved and will personally pay R7, 8m for the non security upgrades that were an undue benefit to him and his family. In a statement released after the judgment, the President said, the judgment has helped me and my colleagues to reflect deeply on the entire matter. With hindsight, there are many matters that could have been handled differently, and which should never have been allowed to drag on this long, which we deeply regret. The matter has caused a lot of frustration and confusion, for which I apologize, on my behalf and on behalf of government.”

Reading the full statement of the President, I am not convinced that the President, and his advisors fully appreciate the damage he has done to his reputation, his office and to his party. This damage is irreversible and the President has two choices: One is to accept full responsibility and resign his office, the other is to hold on to power and leave the office at the end of his term in disgrace. If I had taken that oath of office, and such a damning Constitutional judgment was made, my position would be untenable, I would vacate office.

The ruling party, the ANC, accepted, through its top leadership, the decision of the Constitutional Court, expressed regret about how the Nkandla matter had been handled and accepted the President’s apology. The ruling party promised to go to its branches and receive feedback on its approach to accepting the court’s decision, and make decisions after the elections. After much consultation, the ANC, through its Provinces and regions, accepted the apology of the President, considered the matter to be closed and focused on the municipal elections. They dismissed any notion that the Nkandla or Zuma factors would hurt the ANC and refused to isolate President Zuma from the party.

South Africa went to the polls a few weeks ago and the ANC recorded its worst performance since the dawn of democracy. Its national vote decreased from 63% to a low 50%, but most importantly, it lost key cities such as Johannesburg, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Rustenburg, and saw a decline in support in most of the provinces, with the exception of KwaZulu-Natal.

In a statement released by its top leadership after a meeting lasting four days, the ANC said: “The National Executive Committee completed a vigorous, honest, open and thorough assessment of the local government election outcomes. We were nevertheless disappointed at the loss of a number of key municipalities and failing to retain our majority in the metropolitan municipalities of Tshwane, Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay, Ekurhuleni and other municipalities.”

The statement went on: “The NEC unanimously agreed to take collective responsibility for the poor performance of the ANC during the elections and resolved to take immediate and bold actions to address the weaknesses and shortcomings that led to the decline of our electoral support.” 

It concluded: “This requires serious, objective and robust introspection within the movement itself, starting with the leadership at all levels. The NEC believes that arresting the electoral decline would require the ANC to immediately and courageously embark on bold strategies to re-energise our structures and supporters. This will require us to deal with perceptions of the ANC being arrogant, self-serving, soft on corruption and increasingly distant from its social base. As a result the National Executive Committee resolved to take measures to address the challenges experienced during the campaign some of which are responsible for our poor performance.”

The ANC, by its own admission, as the ruling party and the majority party has failed time and again to deal with the scourge of corruption. On the Nkandla matter, the ruling party took the position of defending its President at all costs. Its defence came through the courts, administrative officials, parallel investigations, and direct attacks on the person and office of the Public Protector. It was painful to watch an organisation with such a glorious past, which led the negotiations on the creation of the Public Protector attacking the office and its incumbent. It would have been expected that those who took the baton from Tambo, Mandela and Sisulu would stand guard at the gate and not allow for such blatant looting. Alas –it was not be, the ANC, in spite of numerous warnings from its own ranks, from its veterans, from the clergy and other prominent South Africans, went into an election with the Nkandla matter unresolved.

President Zuma and the Nkandla matter is now the albatross around the ANC’s neck, and any act or omission on corruption, abuse of office, nepotism or conflict of interest will be seen through that prism. The ANC has left itself two choices – align itself to its President towards 2019 and be always associated with his failures or take the bold step of tackling corruption, nepotism, and abuse of power in all state institutions. What is the role of a ruling party as a guard? Will the ANC be up to it, regardless of the costs? Does party unity come at the expense of principle? These are difficult, yet important leadership questions the ruling party will face over the next 4 years.

As the ANC leaders and members reflect on these heavy matters, I hope they will take time to listen to a painful plea by one of our last founding fathers, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu. In his prescient warning, Bishop Tutu said, “ One day, we will start praying for the defeat of the ANC government. You are disgraceful. I want to warn you. You are behaving in a way that is totally at variance with the things for which we stood”

CHAPTER 3: WHO SHALL BE OUR GUARDS?

Leadership lessons

As someone who is passionate about leadership, and who seeks to help mould the next generation of leaders, I drew the following key lessons from my musings about the South African and the Mexican situations I have described here.

Key lessons

  • Leaders must take on the roles and responsibilities of leadership with the intention to serve the needs and interests of those they lead. We must never use the resources entrusted to us or the positions we occupy for our own personal gain, nor for the gain of our families or those closely associated with us.

  • Those entrusted heading up institutions of governance, those with the responsibility of playing an oversight role and those appointed to investigate corruption, bribery and conflicts of interest should always conduct themselves in a fair, transparent and professional manner and make their decisions without fear, prejudice or favour.

  • Citizens throughout the world are starting to punish political parties for corruption, abuse of power, poor ethics and conflicts of interest.

  • Countries are starting to strengthen the institutional framework for governance and oversight and are holding those in high office accountable for their actions.

  • The role of an independent media, a vibrant civil society and an independent judiciary are central to better transparency and accountability.

  • Social media is increasingly being used to “name and shame” those who abuse public funds or are involved in corrupt activities.

Deep questions for us as leaders

I want to conclude with some deep, personal and challenging questions for each of us as leaders or aspiring leaders to grapple with. These will help us on our leadership journey:

  1. If you were President Enrique Peña Nieto, or President Zuma would you have handled these scandal differently? If so, how and why? Are there lessons you have personally learnt from this experience that you will use in your current or future leadership role?

  2. If you were head of the ruling PRI party in Mexico, or the leadership of the ruling ANC in South Africa, would you lead a call for the president to resign as a signal of the PRI’s or ANC’s seriousness about tackling corruption? If the answer is no, will President Nieto and President Zuma’s images be associated with the PRI and the ANC towards the 2018 and 2019 elections in the two countries? If the answer were yes, how would this be done, within the party and within the state, in line with the constitutions of both the parties and the countries? Which is more important for you, the party or the country; in other words, the PRI or Mexico, the ANC or South Africa?

  3. If you had been asked by President Peña Nieto or President Jacob Zuma to conduct an inquiry into his personal conduct, that of his family and business friends, on the White House or Nkandla matter, would you accept the role? If so, why, if not, why not? How would you conduct the inquiry? Are there things that Mr Nhleko in South Africa or Mr Andrade in Mexico could have done differently?

  4. As a citizen in any country where the head of state was alleged to be involved in improper conduct, would you call for his resignation? Would you leave it to parliament? Would you protest or petition? Would you accept the president’s apology and move on to other issues? If this occurred in your organisation, if your Boss or the leader of your organisation is involved in wrongdoing, what would you do?

  5. If you were a businessman or businesswoman whose business largely depended on government contracts, would you offer any donations to politicians or civil servants? Would you accede to requests for donations of money, presents and other material goods to those with whom you do business? Does it matter whether it’s the private sector offering the bribe or gift or the public official accepting or soliciting the bribe or gift?

Conclusion

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng had this to offer on how difficult the fight against corruption will be and what resources; institutions and calibre of people will be required:

Within the context of breathing life into the remedial powers of the Public Protector, she must have the resources and capacities necessary to effectively execute her mandate so that she can indeed strengthen our constitutional democracy. Her investigative powers are not supposed to bow down to anybody, not even at the door of the highest chambers of raw state power. The predicament, though, is that mere allegations and investigations of improper or corrupt conduct against all, especially powerful public office bearers, are generally bound to attract a very unfriendly response. An unfavourable finding of unethical or corrupt conduct coupled with remedial action, will probably be strongly resisted in an attempt to repair or soften the inescapable reputational damage. It is unlikely that the unpleasant findings and biting remedial action would be readily welcomed by those investigated.”

He concluded: “If compliance with remedial action was optional, then very few culprits, if any at all, would allow it to have effect. And if it were, by design, never to have a binding effect, then it is incomprehensible just how the Public Protector could be effective in what she does and be able to contribute to the strengthening of our constitutional democracy. The purpose of the office of the Public protector is therefore to help uproot prejudice, impropriety, abuse of power and corruption in State affairs, in all spheres of government and state controlled institutions. The Public Protector is a critical and indeed indispensable factor in the facilitation of good governance and keeping our constitutional democracy strong and vibrant.”

As I think of my motherland, South Africa, I can only admire the foresight and clarity of thought of our founding fathers and mothers in crafting our Constitution and creating strong institutions that will protect us from the abuse of power, maladministration, corruption and the abuse of state resources for personal gain.

I sincerely hope that a new Public Protector will build on the foundation laid by Adv. Thuli Madonsela. I hope that those entrusted with the responsibility, will choose a candidate worthy of the Office of the Public Protector. In their selection role, they are playing the role of guardians, to choose an important guardian for our country.

Who shall guard the guards?” remains as important a question today as it was before, for South Africa, for Mexico and for the rest of the world. Citizens are now watching…May the next generation prove worthy of the responsibility of leadership. Who shall guard the future of our children?

Resources

  • The PRI’s Long tail – The Economist –May 2013

  • The Rise of Mexico – The Economist –Nov 2012

  • Our Model Neighbor – Barbara Kotschwar –

  • Party Politics or oil economics? Mexico’s transition to liberalization –Ashley Friedman –Duke The Fuqua School of Business

  • The fall and rise of Mexico’s PRI –ken ellingwood and Tracy Wilkinson –LA Times – June 2012

  • Mexico’s ruling party loses Gubernational races in several states –Juan Montes and Dudley Althaus –Wall Street journal, June 2016

  • Why has the transition to democracy led the Mexican presidential system to political instability? A proposal to enhance institutional arrangements –Jorge Arturo Alvarez Tovar –June 2013 – Mexican Law Review

  • Demise and resurrection of a dominant party: understanding the PRI’s comeback in Mexico –Gilles Serra –Journal of Politics in Latin America –June 2013

  • Mexico plagued by “incredulity and distrust” admits president – Financial Times – May 2015

  • Mexico’s Paralyzed President –Jorge Ramos –Fusion.net -2015

  • Mexico elections: nothing guaranteed for Presidential elections of 2018 –Shaila Rosagei –Mexican Voices –July 2016

  • Economic Freedom Fighters vs. Speaker of the National Assembly and President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, Constitutional Court, 2016

  • Secure in Comfort” Public Protector’s Report, 2014

  • Democratic alliance vs. President of the Republic of South Africa and minister of Justice and Constitutional development and Menzi Simelani, constitutional court, 2012

  • The Day we broke Nkandla” Mail & Guardian, Chris Roper, 04 Dec 2013

  • Zama’s R65m Nkandla splurge”, Mail Guardian, Mandy Rossouw, 04 December 2009

  • Statement by President Jacob Zuma on Friday night in response to the Constitutional Court judgment on the Nkandla security upgrade, 01 April 2016

  • Oath or solemn affirmation of President and Acting President of South Africa

  • Statement following the meeting of the National Executive Committee held on the 11th to the 14th August 2016