President Cyril Ramaphosa warned on Monday that corrupt officials taking advantage of the COVID-19 for personal profits will be dealt with “decisively and harshly.”
In a strongly worded weekly address, Ramaphosa decried corruption during a national disaster as “a particularly heinous crime.”
He was speaking following corruption allegations over COVID-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) tenders involving a number of individuals related with the ruling African National Congress (ANC), including presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko, Gauteng provincial health official Bandile Masuku and even Ramaphosa’s son Andile.
Some of South Africa’s most prominent civil society organizations such as the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and Corruption Watch, Freedom Under Law and the South African Communist Party have expressed anger and disappointment over reports of widespread corruption involving funds meant to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ramaphosa likened those who attempt to profit from a disaster that is claiming the lives of South Africans every day to “a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey.”
“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 president said.
South Africans, he said, have heard stories of alleged corruption in the procurement and deployment of PPE to fight COVID-19, of companies hiking the prices of essential items during the lockdown and of the illegal diversion of state resources meant for the vulnerable and destitute. These stories have caused outrage among South Africans, 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, he said.
Ramaphosa reiterated that corruption is nevertheless a far broader problem in South African and steps must be taken right now, not only to safeguard COVID-19 funds, but also to protect all public funds and all institutions from corruption now and into the future.
“It requires a new consciousness and new sense of accountability,” he said. The battle against, and victory over, corruption is vital if public servants and political office-bearers truly care about the public whose interests they claim to represent, said Ramaphosa.
Ordinary members of the public who have an interest in doing business with the government must be allowed a fair chance to bid for such business opportunities, instead of inside information about opportunities being passed on to families and friends of officials, the president said. “We are going to act boldly and must act together,”he said.
Ramaphosa last week signed a proclamation authorizing the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to investigate any unlawful or improper conduct in the procurement of goods and services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This enables the SIU to probe each credible allegation that is made about the theft of COVID-19 funds. The president said he intends to be closely involved and will receive interim reports every six weeks on the cases.
When investigations yield evidence of criminality, they will be speedily referred for prosecution, he assured South Africans.
Meanwhile, the government has adopted a “Fusion Centers” approach that draws together different agencies for better information and intelligence sharing, to pool resources and to streamline operations to detect, investigate and prosecute COVID-19 related corruption.
A special center has been established that brings together various law enforcement agencies such as the Financial Intelligence Center, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and the National Prosecuting Authority and the State Security Agency to deal with PPE corruption claims.
“We have taken this approach to detect, investigate and prosecute COVID-19 related corruption,” said Ramaphosa.