Does the industry possess the skills required for the future?

Skills shortages have become the norm as far as a lack of service delivery is concerned.

Sadly, they are not restricted to the most obvious areas, such as Eskom and the SA Police Service. Critical social services, such as healthcare and education, have been devastated over the past three decades, and it will take more than pie-in-the-sky dreams such as National Health Insurance to undo the damage.

The recently announced measures to address the electricity supply problems have seen a number of holy cows slaughtered. Strictly verboten measures introduced to appease the unions will be set aside to save the calf in the pit from drowning. Even if it means that the actual shortage will only be eliminated in two or three years, at least the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train heading our way.

At the time of writing, the team at Parliament considering the removal of the Public Protector are hearing some pretty damning evidence against the current incumbent. If one compares the current state of affairs to that of her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, the mind does not boggle, it buckles.

Madonsela is, apart from her role of holding a chair in social justice at Stellenbosch University, also a member of Pavocat, an international business with expertise in all aspects of counter-corruption and international humanitarian law.

At a recent summit hosted by the University of Stellenbosch and Pavocat, she said that to fight the scourge of corruption, South Africa would have to move away from the emerging gangster culture that is anchored in protecting certain perpetrators of corruption at all costs.

Madonsela added that although various arms of state have a role to play in the fight against corruption, this duty must be taken on by all members of society if success is to be achieved.

At the same summit, Andrea Johnson, who heads the NPA’s Investigative Directorate, commented on the scarcity of talented criminal investigators, forensic investigators and financial prosecutors, noting that this is drastically impeding the country’s ability to ensure financial fraudsters are held to account.

According to an article in Daily Maverick, she said local skills in these areas were “seriously lacking” and the inevitable result was delays in prosecuting complex financial cases such as the collapse of retailer Steinhoff.

The Daily Maverick reports that the delays in the Steinhoff matter have led to speculation that ex-CEO Markus Jooste and his cronies are being given more generous treatment than other suspected fraudsters because they are white.

Cabinet Minister Lindiwe Sisulu reiterated this theory in an op-ed published this week. She wrote that Steinhoff’s “accomplished fraudsters whose sins are passed off as accounting irregularities manage to evade arrest because of their pigmentation”.

Johnson did not mention Sisulu’s claims in her comments at the counter-corruption summit, but said she was aware of the theories in circulation.

“Unfortunately, the perception is out there that it is easier (for law enforcement) to deal with black individuals and black-owned entities rather than white-owned entities and white individuals,” Johnson said.

“But it’s not about the colour. What it’s about is the extent of the corruption, the levels at which it took place, the period over which it took place, the sophistication with which it happened and the time and resources required to actually uncover the scheme that was Steinhoff. It is not an easy matter.”

What about the financial services industry?

We have not been spared the pains of a lack of skills, experience and insight.

Financial advisers have been subjected to some pretty rigorous requirements regarding products and the laws applicable to their work, but what about those tasked with overseeing the industry?

Of late, we have seen a concerning number of determinations by the FAIS Ombud being overturned. As one after the other case is referred back for reconsideration, one can only wonder whether the incumbents in the office of the FAIS Ombud possess the skills required to fulfil its vision of being an independent, effective and trusted alternative dispute resolution office for complaints arising from the provision of financial services.

It has, in fact, been found lacking in all these respects by the Financial Services Tribunal. On top of that, it did not learn from the wisdom shared by the tribunal in adjudicating new cases. It simply stuck to its guns, particularly as far as property syndication complaints are concerned.

One shudders to think how many injustices were perpetrated prior to the implementation of the tribunal, and how many careers were destroyed by the pursuit of picking low-hanging fruit to create the pretence of justice being dispensed.

What does the future hold?

Can a leopard change its spots? Provision is made for the appointment of a Super Ombud to oversee the functioning of all ombuds, including the industry ones and the Pension Funds Adjudicator. I suppose it will depend on whether the right incumbent gets the job.

As far as legislation is concerned, the acid test is not whether it covers every possible angle, but whether it is understood in the same way by both the industry and the regulatory authorities. If we cannot keep it simple, we may as well KISS it goodbye.

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