You know that Africa is in trouble when the business development director of one of the continent’s biggest and best-heeled law firms asks “Why would we be interested in supporting a project to curb financial crime in Africa?”
As part of AFECA’s sponsorship drive, I have been approaching many of the big law firms for support. I’m used to poker-faced explanations about how million-pound-bonus partners are “absolutely committed to good governance and the rule of law, but simply don’t have any funds to spare”; about how their support “could give rise to potentially difficult conflicts of interest”; and other similarly disingenuous excuses from some of the supposedly sharpest minds in town.
But I was wholly unprepared for the seemingly genuine bewilderment of one of Big Law’s senior business touts that I could be so dumb as to imagine that a top law firm might want to help prevent fraud, corruption and other financial crimes. State capture is good, right?
Yes, yes, I know that some lawyers make eye-watering sums by defending those who are accused of having stolen from the poor and pillaged the state – and who, when acquitted, are so grateful that they do not challenge an extra nought or two on the final invoice. But even they are bound by I am aware, too, of many other untoward practices – such as the KZN Law Society’s recent ruling that ex-President Zuma’s lawyer did not act unprofessionally in asking a key witness to lie under oath!
But there are also a great many highly principled, public-spirited and extremely courageous lawyers who have made huge sacrifices in the name of Justice. Moreover, even the most unscrupulous lawyers recognise that the rule of law is the very basis of their status and income.
So was the remark quoted above a telling indication that this major law firm has decided that it can make more money from nurturing financial crime than from upholding the law? Or is the individual concerned simply a misguided loose cannon whom the wise and virtuous partners somehow erred in employing as their business development go-getter?