‘No room to tolerate corruption’: Zweli Mkhize on Covid-19 criminality

Health minister Zweli Mkhize says it is a concern that, in the middle of the surge in Covid-19 infections, a health MEC has been asked to step aside because of allegations of being involved in a tender scandal. File photo
Health minister Zweli Mkhize says it is a concern that, in the middle of the surge in Covid-19 infections, a health MEC has been asked to step aside because of allegations of being involved in a tender scandal. File photo
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/Sunday Times.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize is adamant that corruption entwined with the country's Covid-19 pandemic will be rooted out, and those implicated will face the full might of the law.

“There is no room to tolerate corruption anywhere, not in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), any other part of health services, or in government in general,” he said during a virtual briefing on Wednesday.

“President Cyril Ramaphosa has made this very clear, and all ministers are firm and determined to uproot corruption.”

The ANC has come under scrutiny in the past few weeks after party members allegedly looted Covid-19 funds and are claimed to be involved in PPE tender scandals.

Members of the governing party implicated in PPE tender scandals include presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko’s husband, Madzikane Thandisizwe Diko, Gauteng health MEC Bandile Masuku and his MMC wife Loyiso Masuku.

Gauteng premier David Makhura placed Masuku on a “leave of absence” pending investigations into the claims.

Mkhize said it was not ideal to find corruption allegations in the team one was supposed to be working with.

“We have to make sure everything is done to properly investigate these matters, and those who are found guilty should face the full might of the law.

“It is a concern that, in the middle of the surge in Covid-19 infections, a health MEC has been asked to step aside. We hope this matter will be taken to its full conclusion,” he said.

Mkhize said the increase in Covid-19 cases in the country may end soon, but cautioned “we are not out of the woods yet”.

On March 5, the country recorded its first Covid-19 case in a 38-year-old man who had travelled to Italy with his wife. They were part of a group that had returned to the country.

By Tuesday evening this week, Mkhize announced that SA had 521,318 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

He said front-line workers were of utmost importance during the country’s battle against the coronavirus.

The latest number of infected health workers stood at 24,104, and 181 fatalities have been recorded.

Mkhize said unions had raised issues about workplace safety, the shortage and quality of PPE and the mental and physical wellbeing of their members.

“I have requested that in all provinces work must be done at provincial, district and facility level to promote psychosocial counselling to deal with the trauma experienced by health-care workers, ensuring they get support and manage fatigue, irritability and burnout.”

He said it was brought to his attention that a doctor died at George Mukhari Academic Hospital, north of Pretoria,  from Covid-19, adding there were also claims of insufficient PPE and an unsafe working environment at the facility.  

“I view these allegations in a serious light and urgently appointed a team, led by Prof Taole Mokoena together with other medical, nursing and legal professionals, to conduct an investigation and provide me with a report within 14 days from the commencement date.”

Mkhize said his department had undertaken to get involved and invest in the development of a vaccine against the novel coronavirus.

Mkhize said they were participating in the ChAdOx-1 study and the Covax project.

“We also wish to pursue the possibility of manufacturing vaccines locally. However, we can never over-emphasise the importance of good behaviour and the affect it can have on flattening the curve.

“The real risk of experiencing a 'second wave' of the pandemic remains, so containment measures must never be abandoned. Until we are completely safe, we will keep reviewing restrictions and, if necessary, certain restrictions will remain in place,” he said.

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