Would you buy a used car from Angelo Agrizzi?
It’s an important question to answer. The man possesses an extraordinary attention to detail and his version of events, chronicling how many public and private sector figures were corrupted by his erstwhile employer, is compelling viewing.
But it is for now, just his version of events.
Can you really trust a guy making the sorts of admissions he is making? Is he even telling all he knows? Bottom line though, even if just half of what he has told the commission is true, it means the country’s prosecuting authorities are going to be tied up for years trying to unravel the sordid detail of how Bosasa helped create a fertile environment on which others, like the Gupta family, were able to build later.
The Guptas, as it turns out, were not the founding godfathers of industrial-scale corruption in South Africa, they just rode the wave that had its genesis much earlier.
Say what you like about Angelo Agrizzi and his self-confessed criminal past, the man has incredible resilience – after more than a week of giving detailed evidence, it feels like he’s hardly scratched the surface on former friends and associates.
While the veracity of his allegations still need to be tested, much of what he is telling us connects many of the dots in the extraordinary story of how Bosasa managed to infiltrate the state and in so doing helped create a fertile environment for others to capitalise on, later.
Even the most cynical South African must be gripped by Agrizzi’s extraordinary testimony. The former Chief Operating Officer of Bosasa, with an apparently meticulous attention to detail, wants to avoid jail time for his role in facilitating much of the corruption in the spotlight at present.
Bosasa has long been fingered as being at the centre of a sophisticated corruption network and for the first time an insider has publicly broken ranks and is providing crucial building blocks of evidence upon which future prosecutions of high-profile public and private sector players can happen.
What is most chilling about the Agrizzi testimony is just how normalized the corruption became.
From the packing grey police evidence bags with cash and CEO Gavin Watson’s giant walk-in safe, to the drop-offs of tens of thousands of rand in broad daylight to a vast array of corrupted officials – it was just how Bosasa worked. It wanted contracts and used a mixture of cash and other inducements from meat to liquor and university fees to ensure that it could never lose a deal it wanted.
In addition to the outrage you should feel about just how easy it was to bribe senior officials and in cases where they refused, more pliable individuals replaced them, you should consider how this has affected your back pocket.
Bosasa is likely just one of many companies which employed similar strategies in different sectors. We simply do not know how widespread the issue became. You can be certain however that the scale of corruption illustrated by the Bosasa and Gupta cases has served to elevate the cost of the state doing business and has contributed to draining the fiscus.
By way of example: the SARS Commission heard last year how the country’s revenue authority was stripped of skills when it came to fighting the illicit trade in cigarettes.
Research commissioned by British American Tobacco South Africa, carried out by Econometrix estimates that despite serious increases in excise duties on tobacco products, SARS will collect about R1.9bn less in duties this year as a direct result of smuggling which leads to the avoidance of the R18 a pack in taxes paid by registered manufacturers. That will create a hole in the budget which you will have to fund.
The reality is that corruption has contributed to the increase in the cost of South African state services and the commensurate rise in taxes, including VAT, which affects everyone.
If you know you are going to win a tender not because you can do it better or cheaper than the next person, but because you paid or accepted a bribe, why would you bother being competitive?
Corruption is anti-competitive as well as a suppurating carbuncle on the South African landscape. The fact that it adds layers of cost means that Tito Mboweni will have to find inventive ways to oblige punch-drunk South African tax payers to part with even more.
As far as the bad guys are concerned, the evidence is mounting - all that is needed now is someone with prosecutorial powers and strong political support to simply hit stop and rewind to the beginning of the mess that is starting to truly manifest now, after years of being conveniently ignored.
Bruce Whitfield is a multi-platform award-winning financial journalist and broadcaster.
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