Often-violent ‘business forums’ are holding the construction industry to ransom. The real danger is that, in true Mzansi style, business just adapts to it. Companies must put plans in place. This is Part 2 of a two-part series.
…continued from Part 1.
Business Against Crime’s useful guidelines
Business Against Crime South Africa (BACSA) has, as part of the work of the National Priority Committee on Extortion and Violence at Economic sites, authored a Guideline in the public domain to help companies bring this problem under control. Roelof Viljoen, national project manager at BACSA, says that it’s important for companies and their employees to understand what extortion is, so that they can identify it when it occurs, and report it. Mounting successful prosecutions is key to reducing extortion.
Extortion as a crime requires two elements to be present: the demand for a benefit, such as money, work or a contract that would not normally accrue to the demander or his or her beneficiaries, as well as a threat of damage should the demand not be met.
The threat must be serious enough to cause a reasonable person to experience fear, and may be made in person or via telephone, letter or e-mail. For example, if damage or harm is caused without a threat being made, or a demand is made with no threat uttered, then extortion as defined in law has not occurred.
BACSA advises companies to prepare properly so that they are well positioned to resist extortion threats. A key point is that uninvited visitors should not be allowed onto the site for discussion as this might create the impression that the desired reward is in reach.
On the contrary, effort should be made to advertise the low chance of receiving any benefit. Business forums often use legal terminology to give their demands credibility, so posting information at the entrance to the site showing there is no basis for extortion makes good sense. For example, an official notice on a government project should indicate that preferential procurement regulations have been followed; a private project should state that fact, noting that these regulations are not applicable. Documentary proof in the former case should be held on site as well.
Of course, being able to add that local contractors have been granted a certain percentage of work, or that none were found, would also be helpful. Local communities expect to benefit from work carried out in their area. Despite there being no legally enforceable requirement, it makes sense for them to attempt to create opportunities for locals and to engage continuously with them. This undercuts the business forums’ typical claim to represent the local community.
Business forums are frequently ignorant of the rules of business. It can be helpful to explain to them that on-site personnel are not empowered to make decisions regarding the allocation of work. It is also worth pointing out that it is illegal to sub-contract without following a fair bidding and tender process, and that deviating from this principle could lead to the tender being cancelled, ensuring the work opportunity is lost for everybody.
Other precautionary measures include ensuring there is a safe area for employees on site, as well as an alternative exit. Recording equipment such as CCTV is important, as are primary and secondary communication options. Everything related to any attempt at extortion must be meticulously recorded, and if a disruption occurs, a set of outlined safety procedures must be followed. The incident should be logged with BACSA for inclusion into the National Priority Committee discussions and reported to the police.
The guideline also details the procedures to be followed in successfully prosecuting a case of extortion in the courts. It has also implemented the Eyes and Ears (E2) initiative aimed at better collaboration between the police and the private security industry, supported by BACSA. Security companies deployed at construction sites and participating in E2 have an approved operational channel to the SAPS operational command centre (OCC).
Steps to address extortion
Irish-Qhobosheane argues that strong partnerships are the key to addressing the challenge and normalisation of extortion. The State needs to develop a comprehensive strategy to address systemic extortion and must include a more proactive response from the criminal justice system. Victims must feel safe enough to talk about and report extortion. The practice has become so prevalent that victims aren’t talking about it, are fearful of speaking out because of the ever-present threat of violence and are accommodating extortion practices by working it into the budget. The State, police, communities and local government must be involved in drafting a strategy to address these problems.
Business forums and their unreasonable demands are placing yet more strain on an industry that is already fragile. In so doing, they are not only affecting big companies, but in the process are closing down the smaller, empowered companies that work alongside them.
Mohau Mphomela, executive director at MBA North says that extortion must never be allowed to become routine: “Our industry has been battling severe headwinds for many years, and this extortion continues to put vital contracts at risk. Business Against Crime is to be commended for coming up with these guidelines, and we urge all members of the industry to use them to put us back on a solid footing.”