Bain & Co, tax and Jacob Zuma: a story of ‘state seize’ in South Africa

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Because the fiscal bulwark of a younger democracy, South Africa’s income service was famend as one of many continent’s best tax gatherers.

But after a number of conferences with then-president Jacob Zuma, administration marketing consultant Bain & Co received main work to restructure it from the bottom up. In consequence, it has this month been criticised in a judicial report as a company enabler of graft in South Africa.

With Bain’s information, Zuma in 2014 appointed Tom Moyane, a detailed ally, as head of the income service, often known as Sars. Moyane sacked key officers, considerably weakening the company and crippling its potential to hold out investigations of tax evaders. Bain later secured a contract to advise Sars.

Bain’s work shines a lightweight on the nexus between enterprise and politics in South Africa and follows criticism of friends equivalent to McKinsey and KPMG.

Raymond Zondo, the deputy chief justice, discovered that the Boston-based agency’s consultants helped Zuma undermine the post-apartheid nation by so-called “state seize” — the manipulation of public assets for personal acquire. Zondo has known as for all Bain’s work within the South African public sector to be re-examined.

The purge of Sars was each “one of many few situations the place President Zuma was himself straight and personally concerned within the actions and plans to take over a authorities entity” and “a transparent instance of how the non-public sector colluded” on state seize, Zondo mentioned.

“I don’t assume that anybody [from Bain] was despatched to South Africa with ailing intent,” Athol Williams, a Bain whistleblower, instructed the Monetary Instances in an interview after final week’s report. However as the chance to reap the benefits of weak establishments turned clear, “it was simply greed run amok . . . issues that Bain did in South Africa, they’d by no means do within the UK or the US.”

The weakening of Sars had big financial implications in a extremely unequal nation of about 60m. Zuma, who was jailed final 12 months for defying an order to attend the inquiry and was changed in 2018 by Cyril Ramaphosa, denies wrongdoing.

The allegations of wrongdoing triggered an earlier judicial inquiry. In 2018 Bain admitted “critical failure” at Sars and repaid its charges. Bain has mentioned this newest report “mischaracterises” its work in South Africa. In an announcement to the FT, it mentioned it “turned an unwitting participant in a course of that inflicted critical harm on Sars, for which we apologise,” however “we didn’t in any manner wilfully or knowingly assist state seize at Sars or elsewhere”.

Over the previous decade, Bain has labored carefully with state corporations and the non-public sector in South Africa. Vittorio Massone, the agency’s former South African managing associate, solid a detailed relationship with Zuma, assembly him on common each six weeks between 2012 and 2014, in line with the report. An occasion administration firm owned by a soap-opera producer near Zuma turned Bain’s second-highest paid native adviser all over the world, the report mentioned.

Bain instructed the inquiry that its repeated closed-door conferences with the pinnacle of state have been advertising and marketing conferences and that its work with Moyane lengthy earlier than his hiring at Sars was government teaching. Bain instructed the FT that not one of the conferences “resulted in any extra work or contracts being awarded to Bain” or funds being made. The agency mentioned that “nobody else at Bain was conscious of the extent” of the conferences with Zuma earlier than an inside investigation. Massone left the agency after “not being absolutely clear,” Bain added. Massone didn’t reply to the FT’s request for remark.

In an indication of the shut ties between Bain and the president, the consultancy knew of the appointment of Moyane to guide the company earlier than the general public did. Moyane led a purge of Sars, defenestrating veteran officers with such gusto that one Bain government known as him “scary,” in line with an electronic mail seen by the inquiry. Moyane has denied wrongdoing to the inquiry.

Athol Williams, a Bain whistleblower: ‘Issues that Bain did in South Africa, they’d by no means do within the UK or the US’ © Papi Morake/Gallo Pictures through Getty Pictures

“Bain didn’t restrict its plans simply to Sars”, Zondo mentioned. It additionally sought to parlay affect with Zuma into a job on the high of South Africa’s authorities.

Between 2012 and 2015, Bain laid plans “to restructure total sectors of the South African economic system” and centralise state procurement, the report mentioned. “Central procurement company: he loves it, needs an implementation plan,” Massone mentioned in a single electronic mail that the inquiry mentioned referred to Zuma.

“Within the mild of the vital position that procurement abuse has performed in state seize . . . this focus takes on an additional significance,” the report added. A lot of the inquiry’s investigations targeted on the abuse of procurement contracts to favour the Guptas, a enterprise household with shut hyperlinks to Zuma. The Guptas have at all times denied wrongdoing.

“In cozying as much as [Zuma], I feel they [Bain] noticed much more cash to be made” and Massone was not a rogue actor, Williams instructed the FT. “In administration consulting specifically, it’s unattainable to work in a vacuum. The [intellectual property] that Bain developed . . . Massone would have drawn on.” Zondo has praised Williams for his testimony, noting that he “rejected quite a few makes an attempt from Bain & Co to provide him massive sums of cash in return for his silence”. Bain mentioned his testimony was based mostly on hypothesis as a result of he was not at Bain on the time of the Sars work.

Bain’s quest for affect even prolonged to Massone attending conferences to debate the manifesto of the ruling African Nationwide Congress, in line with the report. But beneath these grand ambitions, “throughout Africa Bain had no tax authority expertise” and “knew that they didn’t have the required experience”, the report mentioned.

For now, South Africa’s enterprise neighborhood is backing Bain. Final 12 months the agency was readmitted to Enterprise Management South Africa, an trade group. Busi Mavuso, BLSA’s chief government, mentioned this week that “the work the agency undertook to redeem itself in the end glad the board that it certified to be readmitted”.

“It doesn’t ship the suitable message,” mentioned Karam Singh, government director of Corruption Watch, a South African NGO. “Anyone and everyone can communicate anti-corruption,” however extracting actual accountability from corporations over state seize had confirmed onerous, he mentioned.

“We have now made amends for this episode and proceed to work to regain the belief of South Africa,” Bain mentioned. After 2018, the agency took “complete motion to make sure that we don’t repeat our previous errors”, it added.

Bain’s future in South Africa could rely upon selections made by particular person shoppers. “In case you’re within the public sector, I feel it’s unattainable — they’re radioactive,” mentioned one enterprise chief, who declined to be named. Within the non-public sector, boards need to weigh up the reputational threat of working with Bain towards the advantages of its consulting.

Within the absence of presidency safety for whistleblowers — one from a provincial division of well being was murdered final 12 months — Williams is in hiding and spent this Christmas away from shut household. He struggled to search out work after he blew the whistle on Bain, which “absolutely trashed my repute within the enterprise neighborhood”.

“The enterprise neighborhood is saying, let’s look to the longer term, let’s not look again,” he mentioned. However he concluded: “Bain has made no amends for the harm it brought about.”

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