South Africa gets tough on COVID-19 graft

AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER

WITH 36 cases already under investigation, the South African government has announced urgent and tough measures to prevent fraud and corruption in the billions set aside to prop up an economy devastated by the three of COVID-19 lockdowns.

The government has rushed through a special proclamation and established a special investigation unit to probe all allegations of graft in the tenders – worth billions – to provide personal protective equipment, community screening, increased testing capacity, additional beds in field hospitals, ventilators, medicine and staffing.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has announced the establishment of a special collaborative and coordinating center to strengthen the collective efforts among law enforcement agencies so as to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute COVID-related corruption.

This center brings together the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks, Crime Intelligence, and the SAPS Detective Service, the South African Revenue Service, the Special Investigating Unit and the State Security Agency.

Ramaphosa explained that with an operational hub at the FIC, this centre is investigating allegations of corruption in areas such as the distribution of food parcels, social relief grants, the procurement of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, and UIF special COVID-19 scheme.

“At least 36 cases are currently at various stages of investigation and prosecution.  We are determined that every instance of alleged corruption must be thoroughly investigated, that those responsible for wrongdoing should be prosecuted and that all monies stolen or overpriced are recovered.

“In order to speed up and strengthen the process of dealing with corruption, I have today signed a proclamation authorising the Special Investigating Unit – the SIU – to investigate any unlawful or improper conduct in the procurement of any goods, works and services during or related to the national state of disaster in any state institution. This empowers the SIU to probe any allegations relating to the misuse of COVID-19 funds across all spheres of the state.

“If the SIU finds evidence that a criminal offence has been committed, it is obliged to refer such evidence to the prosecuting authority.  It is also empowered to institute civil proceedings for the recovery of any damages or losses incurred by the state.  To ensure that action is taken speedily, I will be getting interim reports on investigations every 6 weeks,” Ramaphosa said.

He said government’s action was spurred on by allegations of: 

  • Fraudulent Unemployment Insurance Fund claims.
  • Overpricing of goods and services.
  • Violation of emergency procurement regulations.
  • Collusion between officials and service providers.
  • Abuse of food parcel distribution.
  • Creation of fake non-profit organisations to access relief funding.

“From the outset of our response to the pandemic, we have been quite clear that there should be no scope for corruption in the use of these resources.  More so than at any other time, corruption puts lives at risk.  We therefore put in place several preventative measures.

“(The) National Treasury issued regulations to ensure that emergency procurement of supplies and services meet the constitutional requirements of fairness, transparency, competitiveness and cost effectiveness.  Regulations were put in place to prohibit unjustified price hikes and ensure the availability of essential goods,” the president said.

He revealed that since the declaration of the national state of disaster, the Competition Commission has investigated over 800 complaints of excessive pricing. It has so far prosecuted or reached settlements with 28 companies, imposing penalties and fines of over R16-million.

Ramaphosa said the Auditor-General has instituted special measures to safeguard funds committed to the fight against COVID-19. Special audits have been undertaken to detect and prevent misuse of these funds and to identify risks in the system.

He said that the fight against the coronavirus pandemic is stretching the government’s capabilities and resources to their limit. The government was, therefore, determined that there should be no theft, no wastage and no mismanagement of public funds.

“The consequences for those who break the law or bypass regulations will be severe. The people of South Africa require nothing less than full accountability from those who have been elected and appointed to serve them.”

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