COVID-19 alleged corruption has ‘opened wounds of state capture era’ – Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Image credit: Twitter/The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa has bemoaned reports of alleged corruption and profiteering during the COVID-19 state of national disaster, vowing that perpetrators will be “dealt with decisively and harshly.”

In his weekly newsletter to the nation on Monday, Ramaphosa likened those attempting to profit from the pandemic to “scavengers” and “a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey.”

He cited reports of overpricing of personal protective equipment (PPEs), alleged corruption in PPE tenders and “illegal diversion of state resources meant for the vulnerable and destitute.”

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is currently investigating PPE contracts worth around R2.2 billion in Gauteng. It has also set its sights on the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

‘Wounds of state capture’

The President said, “These stories have caused outrage among South Africans. They have opened up the wounds of the state capture era, where senior figures in society seemed to get away with corruption on a grand scale.

“As a country, we have done much to turn our back on that era by disrupting and dismantling the networks that had infiltrated government, state companies and even our law enforcement agencies to loot public resources.”

Despite strengthening law enforcement agencies such as the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and establishing the SIU Special Tribunal, more needs to be done, Ramaphosa said.

He said the recently established “fusion centre,” which brings together the Financial Intelligence Centre, Independent Police Investigative Directorate, NPA, Hawks, Crime Intelligence and SAPS Detective Service, SA Revenue Service, SIU and the State Security Agency, “strengthens our response immensely.”

“These bodies are now working together not just to investigate individual allegations, but also establish linkages between patronage networks that are trying to hide their activities. Because of this cooperation, prosecutions should proceed more quickly and stand a better chance of success,” Ramaphosa said.

‘Blow the whistle’

The President urged “all individuals and all formations within society,” including the media, businesses, public servants and political parties, to be more vigilant.

He added, “I therefore encourage people to ‘blow the whistle’ should they have information about acts of malfeasance in relation to the abuse of public funds or resources. It requires a new consciousness and new sense of accountability.”

Ramaphosa acknowledged that although all South Africans have a right to conduct business, the issue of families and friends of political office-bearers or public servants receiving contracts from the state is a “real problem.”

“Not all conduct of this sort is necessarily criminal, but it does contribute to a perception and a culture of nepotism, favouritism and abuse. And it undermines public confidence in the integrity of our institutions and processes.

“We are determined to finally deal with the entrenched patronage networks that enable government employees to bid for state contracts through their friends and relatives,” he said.

King Madzikane II Diko, the husband of Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko, is among those who received PPE contracts in Gauteng. He maintains that the contract was cancelled and that he did not receive any payment from the Gauteng provincial government.

Media reports also allege that ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule’s sons and former Minister Nomvula Mokonyane’s daughter received similar contracts from the Free State and Gauteng provincial governments respectively.

The cousin of Thembi Siweya, Deputy Minister in the Presidency, also reportedly received a contract from the Limpopo provincial government. Siweya has denied involvement, while her cousin said everything was above board.

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