State looters and unscrupulous businesses have been read the riot act by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his address to the nation on Thursday evening.
“More so than at any other time, corruption puts lives at risk,” he said.
In order to ensure that emergency financial measures are not abused, Ramaphosa announced the formation of a “collaborative and coordinating centre” consisting of nine different institutions.
“With an operational hub at the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), this centre is investigating allegations of corruption in areas such as the distribution of food parcels, social relief grants, the procurement of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, and UIF special Covid-19 scheme.”
This has been done over and above the strengthening of a number of organs of state and law enforcement agencies.
The centre brings together nine state institutions, which are the FIC, 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 and the State Security Agency.
The President said that he – and South Africans – were concerned about instances where “funds are stolen, where they are misused, where goods are overpriced, where food parcels are diverted from needy households (and) where there is corruption and mismanagement of public funds”.
He added that corruption of public and emergency funding would not be tolerated.
“The coronavirus pandemic continues to cause our economy great damage, threatening the viability of many businesses, leading to job losses and badly affecting the income of those that can least afford it,” the President said earlier in his address.
Ramaphosa said that the money being spent on relief funding and fighting the virus comes at a cost – either through external loans or by reprioritising budgetary items. As a result, looting and corruption could simply not be tolerated.
“We therefore put in place several preventative measures,” over and above the “collaborative and coordinating centre”.
– Regulations issued by National Treasury on emergency procurement of supplies and services,
– Regulations put in place to prohibit unjustified price hikes and ensure the availability of essential goods, and
– Special audits have been undertaken by the Auditor-General.
In addition, Ramaphosa said in order to “speed up and strengthen the process of dealing with corruption, I have today signed a proclamation authorising the Special Investigating Unit – 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.
“This empowers the SIU to probe any allegations relating to the misuse of Covid-19 funds across all spheres of the state.
“If the SIU finds evidence that a criminal offence has been committed, it is obliged to refer such evidence to the prosecuting authority.
“It is also empowered to institute civil proceedings for the recovery of any damages or losses incurred by the state.
To ensure that action is taken speedily, I will be getting interim reports on investigations every six weeks,” he said.