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Hey McKinsey, Apologies Mean Nothing When The Damage Is Already Done


Hey McKinsey, Apologies Mean Nothing When The Damage Is Already Done

Indulge me for a second here.

Please go into your kitchen and open the cupboard where you keep your dinner plates.

Take one out – preferably not the one you inherited from Auntie Mabel (you’ll see why in a minute).

Now, go outside and throw that plate as hard as you can onto the ground.

Watch casually as it shatters into several pieces.

Look at the pieces on the ground and say, “Whoops, sorry.”

Now tell me – does your apology make the plate any less broken?


And yet somehow, there seems to be a perception in South Africa that if we do something wrong, and we get caught, simply apologising for that wrongdoing makes everything okay.

We can all just go back to our lives and businesses and carry on as if nothing had happened.

Because clearly, an apology is all it takes to make everything better.

Try telling that to the smashed plate.

Or to the millions of South Africans who have, in one way or another, been affected by state capture.

And yet this is exactly what the likes of McKinsey & Co’s South African operations seem to expect.

The local arm of the international consultancy firm was recently added to the list of accused charged with contravention of the Public Finance Management Act, fraud, and money laundering in connection with corruption worth R398.4-million at Transnet.

Their response?

“We remain deeply remorseful that our firm has in any way been associated with the dark era of state capture. We publicly apologised and chose to take accountable action where we made mistakes,” the company said in a statement.

They then carried on with a series of, frankly, nauseatingly self-congratulatory statements, applauding the fact that they had “co-operated with all authorities,” and that “three senior partners [testified] before the judicial commission of inquiry.”

Not of their own volition, I am pretty sure!

But then here’s the kicker:

“After four years of exhaustive evidence, the commission [of inquiry into state capture] did not make any recommendations for further action against McKinsey and praised our ‘responsible corporate citizenship.’

“Given no new information has been presented since the commission, we believe pursuing McKinsey does not have merit.”

In other words, “we got caught with our hand in the cookie jar so had no choice but to apologise. We’ve now said sorry, so please leave us alone.”

Where’s the accountability here? Whatever happened to facing the consequences of your actions?

And what if everyone in the country decided to take that attitude?

I mean, let’s all just do whatever the heck we like and then just say sorry if we get caught.

Do the authorities simply say, “Oh well then, if you’re sorry, that’s OK?”

That’s a recipe for anarchy, lawlessness, and chaos.

It’s the very personification of it being easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

And yet despite my boiling blood and utter outrage, I have to ask myself if I’m surprised by how this all seems to be playing out.

Despite many years, and I don’t even want to think about how much money, the enquiry into multiple examples of state capture has only resulted in a handful (if that) of actual convictions that involve jail time.

The only one that comes to mind is the recent sentencing of former KwaZulu-Natal Head of Treasury Dumisani Shabalala, who was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for fraud, 15 for corruption, 10 for money laundering and five for contravening the Public Finance Management Act.

I stand to be corrected, but I cannot think of another conviction.

As Jean Redpath wrote in an article for News24, “There is ample domestic and international evidence suggesting that the longer a case is delayed, the less likely is a conviction, as memories fade, evidence is lost, people die, and the urgency of the matter fades.”

And this is despite the fact many of the offences, such as exchange control, high-level corruption, extortion, fraud, forging, uttering or theft, carry mandatory minimum sentences. 

We’re talking 15 years behind bars for a first offence, 20 for a second, and 25 for a third.

There is, however, wiggle room (some might use the term “loophole”) allowing for “deviation” from these minimum sentences in the case of “substantial and compelling circumstances.”

This is open to interpretation, which in my mind renders the power of the minimum penalties complete useless.

Another “look- good-on-paper” exercise designed to mollify the indignant and outraged.

Well, I for one am very far from being mollified.

Especially when you look at the likes of Vigas Sagar, a former principal and employee of McKinsey, who is reported to be “out of the country.”

Talk about an understatement!

Not only is he out of the country, but he’s also living large in London having co-founded Kalido, a company named a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer for 2020. The company was started in South Africa and operates an app which matches talent to projects in the growing gig economy.

I wonder what those venture capital funders who have already thrown millions of dollars in start-up funding at the company will think when they realise one of its co-founders was wanted back home on multiple counts of serious corruption.

Sagar has been named as the linchpin in corrupt deals at Transnet, Eskom and SAA.

According to various newspaper reports, the commission of enquiry has heard evidence of how he colluded with the Guptas to sign a supplier development contract between McKinsey and Regiments, and later with Trillian management consultants.

This contract was the conduit for Essa and the Guptas to extract and launder multimillions of Rands in kickbacks.

Sagar has also been accused of illegally wiping clean his McKinsey computer of evidence once the company started an internal investigation. Investigators for the commission also found he had moved his communications with Essa to private email.

As anyone in the forensic investigation world will tell you, this is always a red flag for fraud.

So much evidence, so little action.

McKinsey has wasted no time throwing Sagar under the bus, saying he would have to account for his conduct, but there is now “no merit” in pursuing the company.

I know I cannot be the only one who can’t quite believe they’re going to get away with that.

Surely, simply saying “sorry” is not going to be enough to exempt them from any further consequences of their wrongdoing?

And yet, if I’m completely honest with myself, I know I do believe it.

Because sadly, there’s nothing in our recent past to give me hope that this will not be the case.

I think the situation is perfectly summed up by Adrien McGuire, who wrote this comment after an article in News24 reporting on this whole sorry state of affairs:

“This is a bit like a criminal saying that he has thrown all his illegal tools away, and now is not responsible for what happened in the past. No matter how you skin it, Mckinsey was involved in state capture. They were one of the major players, and without them, a lot of the shenanigans that went on could never have happened.

“They aided and abetted these crimes. They have paid the fees back, and now they need to account for the crimes they were involved in. That is just normal criminal procedure. Closing the proverbial stable door after the horse has bolted does not absolve them in any way.”

The case has now been postponed to the end of November to “give the defence full disclosure of the contents of the docket.”

I’d very much like to be proven wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.