SIU’s Covid-19 graft investigations now topping R5bn

Masks hang in the sun on a line in Cape Town, South Africa, 18 April 2020. South African is on a total lockdown of the country until the end of April to try stem the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 which causes the Covid-19 disease. South Africa has some of the most severe lockdown rules in the world including no jogging outside of homes, no sales of alcohol or cigarettes, no walking of dogs, no leaving home except for essential journeys with heavy penalties for transgressors. Picture: EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA

The SIU’s work is limited to allegations of irregular Covid-19 procurements that occurred between 1 January and 23 July. 

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is probing just under 660 companies and contracts valued at over R5 billion, over corruption allegations regarding the procurement of goods and services needed for government’s Covid-19 response.

The SIU motivated for a mandate to carry out these investigations, after receiving reports about alleged wrongdoing from the director-general in the office of the Gauteng premier as well as a number of known and anonymous whistleblowers.

The reports have to do with maladministration and corruption in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), hospital and quarantine sites, food parcels, ventilators, motorised wheelchairs and disinfecting equipment.

President Cyril Ramaphosa issued the proclamation in July.

Scope

In its presentation before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) in Parliament on Wednesday, the SIU said it had units working on investigations across all nine provinces, including five government departments.

The scope of the SIU’s proclamation regarding the investigations is to determine whether the procurement or contracting was done through fair and competitive processes and in line with the applicable legislative or regulatory prescripts.

The SIU will also determine if the parties involved used improper and unlawful means to unduly benefit from Covid-19 contracts and if there was any fraud or fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

The SIU’s work is limited to allegations of irregular Covid-19 procurements that occurred between January 1 and July 23.

Of the 657 matters under investigation, 157 were identified under the Gauteng Health Department; these amount to R2.2 billion.

This is followed by the Eastern Cape, which has the largest number of matters under investigation (350 companies and contracts to the value of at least R2 billion).

Among these is its education department’s decision to enter into a R500 million contract to lease 55 000 tablets and develop an e-learning platform for learners.

The value of the Eastern Cape’s contracts could possibly be above those in Gauteng, as the SIU must still determine the amounts involved in the identified matters.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the SIU is investigating 79 matters worth R557 million in two departments.

In the Western Cape, five contracts or companies are being investigated for issues such as bid manipulation and leaked bid documents, the sale of fraudulent hand sanitisers, and irregular procurement. The sum under investigation is over R121 million. 

Speedy investigations

SIU head advocate Andy Mothibi confirmed that in Limpopo the unit is also looking into the R40 million Beitbridge border fence project and the shack settlement development, in which 40 poorly constructed shacks were reportedly erected by the provincial government for R2.4 million.

Responding to allegations that the SIU itself had procured masks for its staff members irregularly, Mothibi said the Auditor-General is looking into the matter urgently and that a report will be provided to Scopa as soon as it is available.

Mothibi said the SIU wants the allegations to be investigated speedily and that resources have been reallocated across the provinces to ensure that the teams have the capacity to prioritise Covid-19 corruption investigations.

In addition to its own integrated model in its civil litigation unit, which will ensure that losses suffered are recovered through civil action, the SIU is working in collaboration with the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks and other law enforcement agencies in the fusion centre for speedy results.

Mothibi said the SIU continues to receive allegations almost every week.

To deal with the volume it has adopted a phased approach, prioritising some of the earliest reports it received as well as those that have been widely reported.

For instance, the controversial R10 million scooter project in the Eastern Cape and the irregular procurement of PPE in Gauteng linked to prominent state officials are receiving priority.

Mothibi said the SIU would also like to see criminal prosecution of those responsible for any financial mismanagement.

He said the investigation teams have been given a directive to investigate irregularities across all levels of authorisation – from officials and executives to accounting officers and any other person involved in any act of corruption.

The SIU conducts project reviews every Friday, and Mothibi says the unit is on target to provide Ramaphosa with its first six-weekly interim report in early September.

This article first appeared on Moneyweb and was republished with permission.

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