Pubs, car washes, property agencies, and a construction company belonging to a dead man are among the firms awarded government contracts for COVID-19 personal protective equipment (PPE), according to several reports.
The reports follow the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) revealing to Parliament earlier this week that it was investigating the awarding of R5-billion in COVID-19-related government contracts for equipment and services intended to fight the virus.
SIU head Andy Mothibi explained these include unlawful contracts for the procurement of PPE, ventilators, catering services, hospitals, quarantine sites, and wheelchairs.
The SIU is one of nine entities which have been instructed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to probe irregularities around COVID-19 contracts.
Rapport reported that SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter updated Parliament’s Standing Committee of Public Accounts (SCOPA) on Friday regarding several of these probes.
“Many companies were previously registered, but they were not in the PPE business. We found providers registered as pubs, IT companies, car washing companies, and property renting companies,” Kieswetter said.
The tax authority is supporting the SIU with around 370 cases in the Free State, and is also investigating 17 tenders worth R1.2 billion with political links.
Contract for a dead man
DispatchLive has reported that a company belonging to a deceased East London businessman secured a tender worth around R1 million to provide COVID-19 PPE to the Eastern Cape health department.
The company was included in a list of over 600 firms that have benefitted from the department’s R1.2-billion COVID-19 expenditure over the last three months.
However, the company’s sole director and owner has been dead for two years, a family member told the publication.
An insider in the department told DispatchLive that corruption is running deep in the province.
“If you dig more, you will find there are ghost companies that got paid millions of rand,” the source said.
“There are companies that were given appointment letters but no work was given to them, yet their names appear on the provincial list as companies that were awarded work,” the official added.
Equal to murder
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also responded to reports of PPE-related corruption in South Africa.
In a scathing indictment, the organisation’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that depriving healthcare workers of PEE equipment was tantamount to murder.
“Corruption related to PPE, for me it’s actually murder. Because if health workers work without PPE, we’re risking their lives. And that also risks the lives of the people they serve,” Tedros stated.
“So it’s criminal and it’s murder and it has to stop,” he said.
Flood of corruption complaints
The allegations of COVID-19-related corruption are not limited to PPE, however.
During the early stages of lockdown, members of the public claimed that government officials were hoarding food donations intended for deprived families, and selling them.
In early August, the Public Protector’s office said it had received a flood of complaints regarding conduct and service failures related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The majority of these complaints relate to the government’s R350 COVID-19 financial relief scheme, with more than 450 people approaching the office to complain about what they deem to be unreasonable grounds for declining their applications.
In most cases, the complainants either allege that they were not provided with reasons as to why their applications were unsuccessful, or that the applications were declined on the basis that the applicants were found to be recipients of some form of income or that they qualified for UIF, which they disputed.