By SA News
South Africa’ President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to nip in the bud alleged corruption in the procurement of much-needed goods and services in the fight against COVID-19.
The President made the declaration on Monday in his weekly newsletter after the public was recently inundated with such allegations of personal protective equipment prices being inflated, food parcels being stockpiled as well as state resources being illegally diverted from the vulnerable and destitute.
The funds being allegedly looted are part of the R500 billion relief package announced by government in March. COVID-19 in South Africa has already infected over 500 000 people, while claiming over 8 000 lives.
Describing the apparently pillaging as “heinous”, he vowed that perpetrators would be dealt with “decisively and harshly”.
“Attempting to profit from a disaster that is claiming the lives of our people every day is the action of scavengers. It is like a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey,” the President wrote.
“As we find ourselves in the grip of the greatest health emergency our country has faced in over a century, we are witnessing theft by individuals and companies with no conscience.”
The insidious behaviour was not limited to smaller companies but large corporates as well, said the President. Some have already been caught, investigated, found guilty and fined for excessive pricing.
“These stories have caused outrage among South Africans. They have opened up the wounds of the state capture era, where senior figures in society seemed to get away with corruption on a grand scale,” President Ramaphosa said.
This, he said, was threatening to undo the work done to disrupt and dismantle the networks that had infiltrated government, state companies and even our law enforcement agencies to loot public resources.
“We have rebuilt vital institutions like the National Prosecuting Authority, SA Revenue Service and the Hawks. Through the establishment of bodies like the Investigating Directorate in the NPA, we have strengthened the hand of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute these crimes. And through the establishment of the SIU Special Tribunal, we have increased our capacity to get back funds stolen from the state.”
Despite this, President Ramaphosa said it was clear more needed to be done to decisively curb the scourge.
Just over a week ago, the President signed a proclamation authorising the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to investigate any unlawful or improper conduct in the procurement of goods and services during the national state of disaster.
This is a broad remit that extends across all spheres of the state and provides for civil proceedings to recover misappropriated funds.
Every six weeks, the President will receive interim reports on the cases at various stages of investigation and prosecution. When investigations yield evidence of criminality, they will be speedily referred for prosecution.
“Experience here and in many other countries shows that a multidisciplinary approach to tackling the commission of alleged criminality is needed for the fight against corruption to be successful. A broad range of investigative and prosecutorial capabilities need to be brought together under one roof,” the President writes.
“‘Fusion centres’ that draw together different agencies for better information and intelligence sharing, to pool resources and to streamline operations are common practice in a number of countries.”
A special centre has been established that brings together the Financial Intelligence Centre, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks, Crime Intelligence and the SAPS Detective Service, South African Revenue Service, Special Investigating Unit and the State Security Agency. The President said this will immensely strengthen government’s response.
“These bodies are now working together not just to investigate individual allegations, but also establish linkages between patronage networks that are trying to hide their activities. Because of this cooperation, prosecutions should proceed more quickly and stand a better chance of success,” the President wrote.
President Ramaphosa added that government needs to, for example, look to extend the responsibility of its multi-disciplinary team of investigators and prosecutors beyond COVID-related crimes.
“We should use the current approaches and methods to dramatically strengthen the fight against corruption,” he said.
“If, as public servants and political office-bearers, we claim to be serious about restoring public trust that has been severely eroded by corruption, we must avoid even the perception of conflicts of interest.
“If as public servants and political office-bearers we truly care about the public whose interests we claim to represent, we must allow ordinary members of the public who have interest in doing business with government a fair chance to bid for such business opportunities, instead of passing on inside information about opportunities to our families and friends.”
While there were regulations in place to discourage public servants from doing business with the state, declarations of interests in anyone bidding for state work, including whether anyone connected to the bid is employed by the state, this was clearly not enough, he said.
“While everyone in South Africa has a right to engage in business activities, we are faced with the real problem of families and friends of political office-bearers or public servants receiving contracts from the state,” he said.
“Not all conduct of this sort is necessarily criminal, but it does contribute to a perception and a culture of nepotism, favouritism and abuse. And it undermines public confidence in the integrity of our institutions and processes.
“We are determined to finally deal with the entrenched patronage networks that enable government employees to bid for state contracts through their friends and relatives. This requires not only better laws and stronger enforcement, but also political will and social mobilisation.”