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COVID-19 corruption to be stamped out

Written by Cathy Grosvenor

A new Coronavirus anti-corruption centre will urgently investigate allegations of corruption in areas such as the distribution of food parcels, social relief grants, the procurement of medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

Tough action is being taken against criminals and greedy government officials who have stolen either goods or money intended for government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) response.

Public servants who buy goods or services at inflated prices from friends or family members, who award tenders only if they get money in their pocket and who help themselves to food parcels are hampering the efforts of government to curb the spread of the infection and protect the poor from the effects of the lockdown.

This also applies to companies and individuals who make fraudulent Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) claims. This was according to President Cyril Ramaphosa when addressing the nation recently.

The President added that fake non-profit organisations have even been created by people wanting to illegally get their hands-on government funding.

He explained that in April, government had announced a historic R500 billion social relief and economic support package to fight the Coronavirus and assist businesses, workers and households.

“But what concerns me, and what concerns all South Africans, are those instances where funds are stolen, where they are misused, where goods are overpriced, where food parcels are diverted from needy households – where there is corruption and mismanagement of public funds,” says the President.

New anti-corruption centre

President Ramaphosa says government will not tolerate this, which is why a new anti-corruption centre has been established. It brings together nine state institutions, namely: the Financial Intelligence Centre, 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 (SIU) and the State Security Agency who will work together to end corruption.

The President says he is determined that every instance of corruption should be thoroughly investigated; that those responsible for wrongdoing should be prosecuted and that all money should be recovered.

“In order to speed up and strengthen the process of dealing with corruption, I have today signed a proclamation authorising 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,” he says.

If evidence of wrongdoing is found, the case must be sent to the National Prosecuting Authority for legal action and steps must be taken for the recovery of any government damages or losses.

At least 36 cases are currently in various stages of investigation and prosecution, says Kaizer Kganyago, the Communications and Stakeholder Head of the SIU after the President’s address.

Kganyago says the SIU will immediately investigate any alleged wrong doing. He says that in some of the fake UIF applications, the money has not yet been paid out. “So, we are able to block it before it ends up in the hands of those who do not deserve it,” he says.

“The SIU mandate is to trace, stop and recover monies,” he added.

The President will get interim reports ever six weeks so he can check the progress of the various cases.

“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,” says President Ramaphosa.

Some provincial governments and municipalities have already started taking disciplinary action against officials accused of improper conduct and where appropriate, have reported them to the law enforcement agencies.

Since the declaration of the national state of disaster, the Competition Commission has investigated over 800 complaints of goods being overpriced. “It has so far prosecuted or reached settlements with 28 companies, imposing penalties and fines of over R16 million,” says the President.

The Auditor-General has also adopted 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.

“The success of our fight against corruption depends on the involvement of all citizens and all parts of society,” the President declared.