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A number of South Africa’s foremost civil society organisations have expressed their anger and disappointment over reports of widespread corruption involving funds meant to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a joint statement, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Corruption Watch, Freedom Under Law, Johannesburg Against Injustice, Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, Patriotic Movement, the South African Communist Party in Gauteng, and Section 27 said it was troubling that in Gauteng alone, some 91 companies who received purchase orders from the Department of Health were under investigation.

“We commend the Gauteng provincial government’s decision to give priority to a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe into personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement processes.

“We also welcome [Thursday’s] statements by [Gauteng] Premier David Makhura indicating that Health MEC Bandile Masuku has been placed on leave pending investigation, in light of media allegations involving Royal Bhaca and an alleged PPE contract,” the joint statement, issued by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, read.

“We acknowledge that the Premier has requested a support team from the national Department of Health to assist the province, as Gauteng reaches its peak infection rate and MEC Jacob Mamabolo takes over in an acting position from Masuku.”

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Officials asked to ‘step aside’

News24 reported earlier that the ANC in Gauteng had asked Masuku and his wife, City of Johannesburg shared services MMC Loyiso Masuku, to “step aside”, along with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, over the R125 million personal protective equipment tender awarded to King Madzikane II Diko’s Royal Bacha projects.

The party’s provincial secretary Jacob Khawe said the provincial executive committee (PEC) had resolved that the trio must take a leave of absence while the ANC’s integrity commission investigated claims made against them in the media.

According to the joint statement, “covidpreneurship” was occurring at the same time that millions of South Africans were facing job losses and increased poverty.

“There are harrowing stories daily of malnutrition; of retrenchments, business closures and of communities being unable to access healthcare and other services. Our country has had to borrow money from the IMF [International Monetary Fund] to deal with the crisis.

‘Covid corruption makes us sick!’

“Yet, for the ruthless ‘covidpreneur’, and those within state and other institutions who enable corruption, this is simply an opportunity to exploit the situation. These are people who are unashamed about stealing money meant for protective gear for nurses and doctors, for food parcels for the poor, for workers who find themselves unemployed, for hospitals which require beds and ventilators, for schools that need to ensure that pupils still learn, and for communities in desperate need of services. Covid-19 corruption makes us sick!”

The organisations want the Gauteng government to:

  • Ensure that the Department of Health cooperates fully with the SIU investigation.
  • Extend full cooperation to investigating and prosecuting authorities to secure return of monies paid in corrupt procurement deals.
  • Ensure disciplinary processes against public representatives and officials involved in issuing or influencing irregular contracts.
  • Press criminal charges against public servants and representatives, as well as businesses that are found to have violated procurement procedures and benefitted unduly from the process. The way must be cleared for the law to take its course, and for those guilty of looting public money to face jail sentences.
  • Make all Covid-19 procurement details publicly available in the interest of transparency and accountability. This information should include details of quotations sourced,companies who receive contracts, and the unit cost of the items or services they will be providing. For infrastructure projects, the time frames for delivery should be included.
  • Introduce better procurement monitoring systems to oversee awarding of contracts during Covid-19.
  • Disqualify from getting contracts those companies who have no track record of work in a particular area, or those that are merely playing the role of ‘middle man’.
  • Place companies involved in Covid-19 corruption on a specific database and prevent them from conducting business with the state in future.
  • Set up a Covid-19 provincial hotline in the Premier’s office to complement the South African Council of Church’s ‘Unburdening Panel’ process that has now been reopened. Honest public servants and members of the public should be able to easily report any Covid-19 related corruption, which can be immediately escalated to law enforcement agencies.
  • Prohibit members of an executive committee of any political party and their immediate families from doing business with the state. This will weed out all those who are in politics based on self-interest.
  • Champion policy that prohibits all public employees and elected officials from doing business with the state.
  • Introduce lifestyle audits for public representatives and officials during this period to monitor any signs of personal financial gain.

“We urge the Gauteng provincial government to give serious consideration to these recommendations and set the tone that corruption will not be tolerated,” the organisations added.

“We also enjoin other provinces to adopt measures such as these to prevent and tackle Covid-19 corruption within their administrations. Similar recommendations were made by civil society organisations early on in the pandemic to the Presidency to prevent the very situation that we now find ourselves in.

“We strongly believe that action must follow Ramaphosa’s commitments to crack down on Covid-19 corruption for the public to be convinced that government is indeed intent on tackling the problem.”