South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa is under pressure to act against hundreds of government officials and civil servants accused of wrongdoing in an investigation of coronavirus-related fraud and corruption.
In its final report on procurement corruption during the pandemic, the country’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has called on Mr Ramaphosa to press government departments to provide progress reports on recommendations for disciplinary action that it had made.
Released to the public by the presidency on Tuesday, the SIU’s 18-month investigation reveals the extent that taxpayers’ money, made available to state departments and institutions to procure Covid-19-related goods and services, was plundered at the height of the pandemic in 2020.
The 737-page document details an astonishing level of alleged looting by government officials, civil servants and private sector operators involving municipalities and institutions in all nine of South Africa’s provinces.
Among other things, the wrongdoing ranges from inflating prices of personal protective equipment and other essential medical goods to dodgy deals to provide water supplies and temporary homeless shelters that were never, or inadequately, delivered.
The report states that of the 5,467 contracts awarded to 3,066 service providers it investigated, 62 per cent were found to be irregular. The total value of the investigated contracts was 14.3 billion rand (€833.5 million).
This sum amounted to about 9.4 per cent of the state’s virus expenditure of R152-billion (€8.8 billion) in the six months to September 2020.
In terms of the number of contracts under investigation, the SIU said that 82 per cent had been finalised and the remainder were ongoing. The SIU expects the outstanding investigations to be completed by April.
In total the SIU, which is an independent statutory body accountable to South Africa’s parliament, has referred 224 government officials for disciplinary action and three for executive action.
Furthermore, 386 people were referred for prosecution by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). In addition, 330 companies have been recommended for blacklisting.
However, the report says that little progress has been made in this area to date, with action only taken in a few of the cases it has investigated.
The SIU said that although government departments had acknowledged receipt of its recommendations, many disciplinary hearings had been taking place for months due to postponements and that some of those being investigated had resigned from their roles.
South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, welcomed the referrals made by the SIU to the National Prosecuting Authority, and called on it to act swiftly against those guilty of looting the state in a time of national crisis.
“A strong message needs to be sent to those who seek to profit off and loot the state. The only way to secure South Africa’s future is to ensure that the wheels of justice continue turning,” the party said in a statement.
Although Mr Rampahosa’s office has yet to publicly respond to the SIU’s call for his help to get progress reports from government departments, the presidency did say regarding prosecutions that it “trusts the NPA will exercise its discretion diligently and expeditiously”.