President Cyril Ramaphosa pledges to go for Covid-19 fund looters

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on July 23 2020.
President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on July 23 2020.
Image: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday moved to allay fears that Covid-19 corruption would continue unabated when he announced a high-powered unit which will unmask those caught with their fingers in the cookie jar.

In his address to the nation on Thursday evening, the president announced a collaborative centre which would bring together all law enforcement agencies to deal specifically with crimes related to money set aside to fight the pandemic.

“This centre brings together nine state institutions. These are the Financial Intelligence Centre, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks, Crime Intelligence, the SAPS Detective Service, the South African Revenue Service, the Special Investigating Unit and the State Security Agency.

“With an operational hub at the FIC, this centre is investigating allegations of corruption in areas such as the distribution of food parcels, social relief grants, the procurement of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, and UIF special Covid-19 scheme. At least 36 cases are currently at various stages of investigation and prosecution,” Ramaphosa said.

Talking tough, the president also formally announced his orders to the Special Investigating Unit to probe all government spending related to Covid-19 with a fine tooth comb. The instruction was gazetted earlier on Thursday evening and was signed by Ramaphosa and justice minister Ronald Lamola.

“This empowers the SIU to probe any allegations relating to the misuse of Covid-19 funds across all spheres of the state. 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. To ensure that action is taken speedily, I will be getting interim reports on investigations every six weeks.”

The move follows ongoing reports of corruption related to the procurement of personal protective equipment and other emergency medical supplies. The misuse of UIF funds has also featured prominently in recent weeks.

“Increasingly, we are hearing allegations about fraudulent UIF claims, overpricing of goods and services, violation of emergency procurement regulations, collusion between officials and service providers, abuse of food parcel distribution and the creation of fake non-profit organisations to access relief funding. From the outset of our response to the pandemic, we have been quite clear that there should be no scope for corruption in the use of these resources.”

Earlier on in the pandemic Ramaphosa had announced a R500bn economic package which would fund the expansion of social grants, medical equipment and relief funds for businesses. The president said on Thursday evening that R1.5bn had been paid out to businesses to date and that R12bn of the R200bn — which formed part of the R500bn— loan guarantee scheme had been allocated to businesses.

“The fight against the coronavirus pandemic is stretching our capabilities and resources to their limit. We are therefore determined that there should be no theft, no wastage and no mismanagement of public funds. The consequences for those who break the law or bypass regulations will be severe. The people of South Africa require nothing less than full accountability from those who have been elected and appointed to serve them.”

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