How Bain & Company helped capture South Africa’s Revenue Service

Bain & Company is an international strategy consulting firm based in Boston since 1973. It is one of the three largest consulting firms in the world along with McKinsey & Company and the Boston Consulting Group. Located in many countries, including South Africa, the firm led in 2015 a restructuring of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), then directed by Tom Moyane, which resulted in the destruction of a large part of its capacity.

The first revelations about Bain & Company’s involvement in the dismantling of SARS emerged during the Nugent Commission set up by President Ramaphosa in 2018. This commission had to determine, among other things, whether deviations from established processes had unfairly favoured politically connected individuals and/or individuals connected to SARS senior management.

Athol Williams, who had maintained good relationship with Bain & Company since he was first hired in 1995, was offered by Bain to oversee an investigation by the law firm Baker McKenzie into all aspects of the SARS contract including how it was won and executed.

Athol Williams was tasked by Bain to report to the Nugent Commission on the reliability of the review conducted by Baker McKenzie. However, despite repeated requests, he did not have access to the results of the law firm’s investigation and was unable to give a complete opinion. The Nugent Commission had also pointed out in its final report of December 11th, 2018, the lack of transparency of Bain & Company during the investigation.

In 2018, President Jacob Zuma set up the judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture, corruption and fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State also called Zondo Commission. Due to all he knew from his previous position in Bain & Company, Athol Williams volunteered his services to the Commission and spent six months to draft his 700-page affidavit for the Commission.

It is through the drafting of this affidavit and the analysis of about 500 documents still in his possession that Athol Williams came to the conclusion that not only had Bain & Company hidden a number of serious elements, but that the firm has masterminded the state capture in order to repurposing state institutions in their advantage.

On March 2021, Athol Williams testified to the Zondo Commission with the assistance of PPLAAF which published the same month a report into the capture of SARS based on his revelations.

Interviewed by the Mail & Guardian after his testimony, Athol Williams revealed almost twenty meetings from 2012 to 2016 between Vittorio Massone, Bain’s Managing Partner in South Africa, and former President Jacob Zuma. They would have discussed about numerous plans under the topic “ Reshaping the South African Economy ” which including establishing a presidential agency that would in fact bypass other state executive bodies.

According to the evidence presented by Athol Williams, Massone also discussed the ruling party’s 2014 election manifesto on multiple occasions and presented documents outlining how Bain & Company would help implement the manifesto.

For Athol Williams, these discussions and documents indicated Bain & Company’s willingness to promote the party’s policy objectives. According to Athol Williams, members of ministerial cabinets also participated in these meetings.

Besides, Massone and Zuma also reportedly discussed the restructuring four public entities : Telkom (South African telecommunications company), South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), South African Post Office and Sentech (South Africa’s provider of electronic communications network services to the broadcasting and communications industry).

Athol Williams said to the Mail & Guardian that what concerned him and should concern all South Africans is that this restructuring, like other plans developed by Bain & Company would lead to a concentration of infrastructure and public procurement most likely with lower governance threshholds. Thus, the project would be part of state capture and would earn Bain & Company fees several times higher than the initial R164 million contract between the firm and SARS.

While Bain & Company repaid the fees earned at SARS, they have not paid back any of the approximately R2 billion in fees earned from the public sector, according to Athol Williams’s estimates.

The Zondo Commission, which investigated suspicions of corruption and state capture, is still underway. Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo announced on June 17th that he would seek an extension for the Commission until September for new hearings and the completion of the final report.

Meanwhile, PPLAAF continues to support Williams who is pursuing his fight against corruption and his fight to hold accountable those who participated in state capture. Athol Williams is now helping other whistleblowers and claims for their protection and support in South Africa.

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