Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Acts of omission

 It is unfortunate that we have become a people true to the label of having a nine-day memory because when little or nothing is done about matters which have caused great public outcry, those responsible for the wrong-doing usually remain undiscovered or unscathed. 

The latest matter to generate outrage is the content of the audit report of the LifeSport programme in which there are findings of irregular practices in its operation.  

The allegations of impropriety were brought to the fore some time ago and initially the citizenry was assured that the accusations of dishonesty were part of a malicious agenda to bring innocent parties into disrepute. The public was further told that thousands of young persons were benefitting from LifeSport and there was proof to that effect. To read now that in one particular instance a well-paid  facilitator was, according to him, unable to deliver his service because of a lack of infrastructure that was supposed to be provided by his hirers, is a cause of serious concern. 

When the matter of the alleged transgressions in LifeSport became more horrific, with no signs of the claims of dishonest practices letting up, it was then decided to do an audit of the programme.  

One minister refused to zip his lip about criminal conduct associated with the programme. The public spats between that minister and one of his colleagues who defended the programme with all his life, led to the intervention of their leader who reminded her warring ministers that there are matters which must only be discussed or fought over behind closed doors and the allegations of malpractice in LifeSport was one such matter.

Once again the point was missed because transparent and accountable governance which the people were promised in May 2010 seems to be more of an illusion than a reality. But that is not surprising bearing in mind the admission of a senior cabinet member belonging to the junior party in the coalition that the search to “get the politics right” is still on.

Why should a public brawl featuring tit for tat responses by ministers be the impetus for the audit of a programme in which there have been serious allegations of impropriety?

Why was an audit not conducted at the first sign that something was wrong?  

There is nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by erring on the side of caution and taking the pre-emptive step of ensuring adherence to general accounting principles and practices.

Adopting appropriate measures after the milk has spilt or in the case of LifeSport, when millions have already been wasted or misappropriated (if that is proven), brings no comfort to those who recognise that the damage could have been prevented and the money put to good use.

There is no excuse for the late action taken in this matter. We have stretched the presumption of innocence beyond Hooke’s law and the nation will pay a high price for those who turned a blind eye instead of taking the bull by the horns and addressing the matter in a timely and suitable manner. 

Political embarrassment for supporting a programme that ran astray should not be a factor when considering the right action to be taken. One can safely assume that there will be litigation by those seeking to recover millions for work not done by persons hired to provide specific services.  And there will be lawsuits by those who believe that they are owed money although the programme has been brought to a sudden end.

Attorneys will be burning the midnight oil researching principles in contract law including frustration, anticipatory breach and mitigation of damages. 

The purse of the nation will once again be adversely affected by persons who feel free to spend the money of the State with little or no regard for proper accounting practices.

There is no sympathy for any minister who sheds crocodile tears for the loss of the programme. If LifeSport was his baby or brainchild, then he was duty bound to ensure that it was not the subject of abuse.  It was his responsibility to look after the programme and demand feedback about its progress. It was his job to report to the cabinet about any deficiencies in the delivery of the various aspects of the programme. One can only assume that the Cabinet believed that all was well with LifeSport because collective responsibility would be no excuse for a failure to act.

From the early signs that things were not right, immediate remedial action should have been taken.  LifeSport has suffered sudden death because of gross neglect, whether deliberate or inadvertent, and all the “mouth” in the world will not change that fact.