Investigations by South African authorities into the awarding of questionable contracts worth R13.3 billion ($889 million) to supply equipment and services needed to tackle the coronavirus found that a number of officials blatantly ignored procurement rules and procedures.
Probes into about a quarter of the contracts have been finalized and 38 cases have been referred to the National Prosecuting Authority for criminal prosecution, while disciplinary action has been recommended against 25 officials, said Andy Mothibi, the head of the country’s Special Investigating Unit.
About R260 million in cash and assets had been identified as recoverable from suppliers, he said.
“My observation is that the flagrant and wanton disregard is underpinned by insatiable pursuit of self-enrichment” Mothibi told reporters on Friday. “That cannot go unpunished.”
The unit found that some suppliers overcharged for services and were paid without providing proof of delivery while some officials allegedly gave contracts to their friends.
South African has confirmed 1.47 million coronavirus infections so far, the most in Africa.
The government issued contacts worth R30.7 billion between April and November to companies to supply personal protective gear and other equipment and services to enable it to respond to the pandemic.
The procurement scandal is particularly embarrassing for President Cyril Ramaphosa, who’s pledged to clamp down on graft that became endemic during his predecessor Jacob Zuma’s nine-year rule.
Khusela Diko, Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman, and Bandile Masuku, the head of health in the central Gauteng province, are among those who allegedly benefited from the supply contacts and have been forced to vacate their posts.
“It is disheartening to see state officials in all spheres of government, who have been called to serve the people of South Africa being implicated in unlawful and illegal activities,” Mothibi said.
“The SIU will continue to pursue all those officials who resigned in the face of the investigations or in the face of disciplinary actions by freezing their pensions and instituting civil litigation to recover the monies stolen from the state.”