The inter-ministerial committee appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week does not have a responsibility to investigate alleged COVID-19 corruption, the government has maintained.
In a statement issued on Sunday evening, Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams said the committee will only “compile and publish details of all COVID-related contracts awarded by all state entities.”
‘No responsibility to investigate’
She explained, “Contrary to some reports, the ministerial team does not have a responsibility to investigate COVID-related contracts. This remains the task of the relevant law enforcement agencies.
“The team of ministers is expected to compile a comprehensive report of the details of all tenders and contracts awarded by national departments, provincial governments and other public entities as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the interests of transparency, these details will then be made public.”
Williams added that Ramaphosa had earlier authorised a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe into all COVID-19 procurement processes. Its work is complemented by a “special coordinating centre” consisting of several law enforcement agencies.
The announcement of the committee sparked much cynicism among observers who argued that members of the Executive could not investigate or conduct oversight on themselves.
One of them was political analyst Dr Sithembile Mbete, who tweeted, “The proper functioning of our democratic institutions matters. There is nothing in the Disaster Management Act that removes Parliament’s power to do oversight. The review of COVID-19 procurement should be done by Parliament, not Cabinet.”
Transparency and accountability
However, Williams said the committee’s work is aimed at enhancing the government’s transparency and accountability amid COVID-19 corruption allegations.
She said, “Government maintains that the compilation and publication of this information is necessary to promote greater accountability and transparency, and believes that it establishes an important precedent for future expenditure of this nature.
“Government is firmly committed to eradicating all forms of corruption and ensuring that all those responsible for such criminal conduct, regardless of who they are, face the full might of the law.”
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola will chair the committee. Other members include Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu, Police Minister Bheki Cele, Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu, and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Last week, Mboweni similarly told Parliament that he would ask Finance MECs across the country to publish all contracts issued, “who the competitors were and on what basis the losing companies lost. We are also interested in the age of the companies.”