Dear Reader

Don't bank on your bank

We are widely known for our sceptical, by now pessimistic, view of South African banks and lawyers. The vast majority of our readers have their own good reasons for sharing our views on at least these two matters. Touchingly, they trust us – and burden our consciences with constant entreaties to recommend an honest bank or lawyer. 

The two such requests on this month’s Letters Page have finally prompted noseweek to attempt a reply – at least on the subject of banks. 

The rot at the top, usually involving schemes to satisfy the directors’ personal greed, is covered by nifty but frequently, dishonest accounting structures devised or condoned by major auditing firms. Nothing has changed since Masterbond.

When it comes to simply running a cheque account, everything is still relatively transparent, and banks are much of a muchness: yer makes yer choice and yer takes yer chances. But don’t operate your personal bank account with the same bank as your business account. Many have come to regret placing themselves at the mercy of a single bank. Banks are ruthless when they turn nasty. Don’t ever ask your bank for investment advice. Any advice they give you will serve their interests rather than yours.

Never let a bank manage your investments – for the same reason. Don’t appoint a bank to be the executor of your estate or trustee of your family trust. It was once a good idea. It isn’t anymore. Estates and trusts are like milch cows: there to be milked for as long as they have milk. None are more easily robbed than widows and orphans – except perhaps the dead.

And don’t be tempted by your bank’s ever-so-friendly offer of a small personal loan. You’ll be fleeced with interest rates and charges from hell.

Follow the paper trail

Noseweek’s exposé of the ongoing “procedural irregularities” in Gauteng’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and the Environment (GDACE) has set the caracal among the guineafowl.

Senior officials and the MEC have for some time been cutting regulatory corners and bending over backwards to accommodate the eco-destructive wishes of cash-flush golf estate developers – but now, having read nose100, they’re flapping around, shedding clouds of belly feathers in panic. 

They’ve been determined to keep crucial documents hidden from the public, to the extent that, for months, they have illegally ignored formal Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) requests for these documents by two environmental organisations.  But our story in nose100 appears to have evoked a fit of glasnost somewhere high up, and the papers have suddenly appeared. Well, some of the papers have appeared: bits of possibly incriminating evidence have been left out of the PAIA packages, we notice. Or maybe they’ve been “lost” by the department.

Readers will remember that GDACE controversially granted authorisation for a massive residential development on the “Waterfall Farm” near Midrand, even though the department’s own environmental studies have long identified the site as a conservation priority and unsuited to being bulldozed. (It contains the largest known areas of rare Egoli Granite Grassland, a threatened habitat type.) They allowed the development of the site, owned by the wealthy and ANC-connected Mia family, after a procedurally suspect planning process – because they claimed to have signed a deal with the Mias in terms of which the Mias undertook to buy an “offset” – another chunk of  equivalent-or-better nature elsewhere – that would be permanently conserved instead.

This, despite GDACE having no such offset policy and there being no other equivalent-or-better piece of Egoli Granite Grassland anywhere else on the planet.

It now turns out that there is, in fact, such an offset deal, signed by Ibrahim Mia, GDACE HoD Steven Cornelius, and a third party with an illegible signature. However, the offset site is not identified in the contract. Despite clear requests from the Wildlife and Environment Society for copies of GDACE documents that purportedly identify the offset site and evaluate its conservation value, GDACE has refused to hand these over, saying only that they are “for internal use only” and not for public consumption.

Strange: if there’s anything for the department to hide it’s their dodgy contract, the decisions to ignore their own conservation plans and the superficial environmental assessments – all of which they’ve now made public. Could it be that no offset site exists? Or that other smelly deals are going down in respect of it? Watch this space. 

The Editor

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