March 19, 2012

Can CSA regain the public's trust?

Cricket South Africa's handling of the bonus scandal was appalling. It will take a lot for the board to regain the public's faith

If Cricket South Africa had set up a disciplinary hearing for Gerald Majola 19 months ago, this story would not have to be written. Either the commission would have found the chief executive's transgressions of the Companies' Act serious enough to fire him or it would have cleared him of wrongdoing and allowed him to continue.

The scenic route - which involved three inquiries, resignations from a president and three other high-ranking officials - has robbed the South African cricketing public of belief in their administrators. It could have been avoided.

The potential for deceit in between the administrative walls has emerged as the single most important consequence of the ongoing bonus scandal. Although the saga is rooted in money, cash is not the cause of all evil in this case. In an era where CSA is able to sign a television deal worth R1.5 billion (US$200,142,857)* - which they did in September last year with Taj Television - the R4.7 million (US$671, 428) amount paid out as unauthorised bonuses is not a lot of money.

What matters is that this money was able to pass through the underground channels of the organisation with no repercussions for almost two years.

South African cricket has not even fully recovered from the Cronje match-fixing saga of 2000 and is now dealing with dishonesty of a different sort. Whether that R4.7 million could have been used to pay for half a drainage system at a smaller ground like Buffalo Park or to build a clubhouse at a facility no one has heard of in the Northern Cape is irrelevant.

It was not wrong that CSA staff were compensated for work they did on the IPL and the Champions Trophy in 2009. It was wrong that they were compensated twice over. CSA's board had already awarded additional fees for the work done on those two tournaments and then paid an extra R4.7 million in bonuses.

The error was not instantly rectified either. First, there was an internal inquiry which criticised Majola for not following correct procedure and declaring all bonuses through the board, but did not recommend sacking him. Then there were two votes of no confidence passed against president Mtutuzeli Nyoka (the second of which succeeded), who pushed for an external investigation. Eventually, another external probe was held which found that Majola had broken the law. CSA referred the report to an advocate whose advice was to "discipline" Majola. The board gave him a verbal warning.

It took an intervention from the minister of sport, Fikile Mbalula - hardly a positive sign for an independent organisation - before any meaningful action was taken. The Nicholson Commission, set up in December last year under the sports ministry's watch, also found Majola guilty. And Mbalula made it clear that the ramifications of trying to get away from "disciplining" Majola would be far more severe than anything CSA had encountered thus far.

The greatest cost in CSA's delayed action has been borne by their human resources. AK Khan, the acting president who resigned last week, started in cricket administration when he was a young boy organising matches at a Durban club. It was Khan who headed the inquiry that cleared Majola, and Khan who took over when Nyoka was ousted. On that evidence, there is the possibility that Khan was bound to be painted as the ultimate villain. However, he may just have been a pawn in a more complicated game.

John Blair, the chairman of the Audit and Risk Committee, also resigned last week, and CSA also lost its brand and corporate relations manager Kass Naidoo in the immediate aftermath. Months ago, Richard Glover, CSA's commercial manager, left the organisation after failing to sign up any sponsors for a T20 and one-day series against Australia and for the domestic one-day tournament.

For the next six months, CSA will function under another acting president, Willie Basson, and an acting chief executive, Jacques Faul. The two have to piece together a shattered mirror and work with the drama of a disciplinary hearing against Majola playing out around them.

In the middle of all this, the South African team will travel to England to challenge for the world No. 1 Test spot and then to Sri Lanka in September to try to win an ICC trophy for the first time in 14 years. The national team has been largely unaffected by the boardroom battles and the public's opinion of Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers and their teams has not devalued. However, the perception of the people who run these teams has taken a beating.

If this administration is not completely transparent, does not explain why so much damage was done or what it will do to ensure such incidents never happen again, it will not be able to regain public confidence.

*11:11 GMT, March 22, 2012: The dollar figure has been corrected

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent