Ramaphosa on graft: It’s not the president’s duty to arrest people

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses a virtual sitting of parliament, 27 August 2020. Picture: GCIS

‘Government is determined to ensure that all criminal acts related to our response to the Covid-19 pandemic are uncovered and that those responsible are held to account,’ said the president.

“It is not the president’s duty to arrest people. The day you have a president arresting people and prosecuting will be the end of democracy. The role of a president is to strengthen institutions to do their work. Institutions must do their work!”

These are the words of president Cyril Ramaphosa in response to questions from members of parliament regarding corruption, maladministration, the conduct of public servants who amass ill-gotten gains from working with government through their own companies, and the work of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), among other institutions.

The president assured the House and the public that the government has taken several measures not only to detect, investigate and prosecute such crimes, but also to strengthen measures to prevent corrupt activities.

“To achieve this purpose I have authorised the Special Investigating Unit to probe any allegations relating to the misuse of Covid-19 funds across all spheres of the state.

“The work of the SIU is taking place alongside the work of the special coordination centre, called the Fusion Centre, to strengthen the collective efforts among law-enforcement agencies to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute Covid-related corruption.”

According to Ramaphosa, National Treasury has taken effective steps to tighten procurement regulations.

“These measures will strengthen the ongoing work of the Auditor-General to audit, in real time, all Covid-19 expenditure.”

The president believes that the greatest defence against corruption in public procurement is to make the entire process more transparent and open to public scrutiny.

“In an important first step towards that goal, Cabinet [has] established a ministerial team to compile and collate a comprehensive report of the details of all tenders and contracts awarded by national departments, provincial governments and other public entities.”

This ministerial team was given the responsibility to ensure that the details of these tenders and contracts be made public.

“Earlier this week, the National Treasury started publishing the submissions from these various government departments and entities on their website. To date 95% of provincial and national departments and state entities have submitted all information regarding Covid-19 procurement to the ministerial team.”

The president beamed as he remarked that this initiative is unprecedented in our country’s history, as it will now enable members of the public to find detailed information about how public funds are being spent.

“We believe that this establishes an important precedent for future expenditure of this nature. This is a watershed moment that marks the start of a new era in transparency and accountability in the procurement of goods and services by public entities.”

The president further believes that these measures will definitely lead to procurement reform, which will ensure that the country finds solutions to many procurement maladies, including corruption, and will ensure that government does not overpay for goods and services and gets value for money.

“As I indicated in my reply to the previous question, Cabinet established a ministerial team to compile details of all Covid-related procurement of all government bodies so that these could be made public. Cabinet’s intention in doing so was aimed to promote transparency and accountability.”

Rampahosa reiterated that the SIU is empowered by the Special Investigating Units and Special Tribunals Act of 1996 to gather all necessary evidence required in the fulfilment of this mandate.

“This process is distinct from, and unrelated to, the work of the SIU in investigating any unlawful or improper conduct in the procurement of goods and services in any state institution.”

“According to the proclamation I signed on the 23rd of July, the Special Investigating Unit is authorised to probe any allegations relating to the misuse of Covid-19 funds across all spheres of the state.”

The president concluded by reminding the house that 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.

“Government is determined to ensure that all criminal acts related to our response to the Covid-19 pandemic are uncovered and that those responsible are held to account.”

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