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Concerns that Ramaphosa's R500-bn Covid-19 relief fund might be looted

Business leaders are worried that a relief fund meant for the poor and struggling businesses, which was unveiled by President Cyril Ramaphosa, could be looted.
Business leaders are worried that a relief fund meant for the poor and struggling businesses, which was unveiled by President Cyril Ramaphosa, could be looted.
Image: Esa Alexander

After President Cyril Ramaphosa this week unveiled that government would be rolling out half-a-trillion rand social and economic relief package, concerns have been raised that some of the money might end up in corrupt hands at the expense of poor households.

Black Business Council president Sandile Zungu said a number of business leaders he has already spoken to about the R500bn fund, earmarked for the poor and struggling businesses during the Covid-19 lockdown period, were worried some of the funds would be looted.

"When you look at social media, the biggest concern is that this money might suffer the same fate as other big projects where the corrupt loot money. But in this case, it may not happen, depending on how sharp are government systems," said Zungu.

He advised that the office of auditor-general and National Treasury be involved in the distribution of the funds, ensuring there is "accountability right upfront and checks and balances to minimise any possibility of corruption".

In the post-apartheid era, there are many instances in which taxpayers' funds have been looted by corrupt individuals. Some of the projects that were dogged by corruption include the 1998 arms deal, the 2009 R250m security upgrades of former president Jacob Zuma's house in Nkandla and billions lost through the state capture project which saw Zuma's friends, the Guptas, receiving preferential treatment on tenders worth billions of rand.

"If one assumes that there is going to be definite fraud and corruption, why don't you close those loopholes," he said.

Zungu said Covid-19 relief fund anti-corruption measures would send fear and discourage people from doing corruption.

He added that Ramaphosa should use the emergency laws to establish courts that will deal with Covid-19 corruption.

"The court should dispense swift justice, like we did with the 2010 soccer World Cup, where you'll be sentenced within a day and spend time in prison. If you are caught trying to commit fraud, you shouldn't wait for 10 years (to be tried). You should be charged on the spot and sentenced immediately and serve your time."

However, prominent economists Azar Jammine and Lumkile Mondi questioned how the criminal justice could deal with Covid-19 corruption when the National Prosecuting Authority was struggling to bring those implicated in the state capture inquiry to book.

"We do have a number of movements in place to try to fight corruption but more than anything we have to ask if anyone has ever been convicted of (state capture) corruption?

"When no one is convicted of corruption, how do you make a move in that regard (having state capture anti-corruption unit)?"

Mondi said the NPA was in a rebuilding phase and there was a long list of unfinished state capture business it needs to deal with.

"(Those who) have been mentioned in the 2016 public protector's state capture report, and the books and exposes that came after, there needs to be investigations there as nothing has happened so far - no big fish has been fried. So by putting more responsibility on an incapable state will not lead to the results that we will like to see as citizens," he said.

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