/ 19 August 2020

SIU urged to act fast on Covid corruption, as more than 600 cases pile up

Safrica Health Virus
More than R10-billion has been spent on PPE. But healthcare workers say they are not getting enough masks and other gear to keep them safe from Covid-19. (Photo by Phill Magakoe/AFP)

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is probing hundreds of personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts, to the value of more than R5-billion.

In an online briefing of Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts, (Scopa) the SIU told MPs that 658 contracts are currently under the microscope. 

In July, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed a proclamation giving orders for the SIU to investigate allegations of Covid-related corruption after it was revealed that politically connected people and unscrupulous business figures may have benefitted from PPE tenders.

Connected, is the president’s spokesperson Khusela Diko whose husband, Thandizwe Diko, allegedly scored a R125-million PPE contract through the Gauteng provincial health department.

The scandal also involves Johannesburg Metro Councillor Loyiso Masuku, the spouse of Gauteng health MEC Bandile Masuku. The Diko and Masuku families apparently have close relations. 

Both Loyiso and Bandile Masuku are currently on leave from their jobs. 

Diko has since taken a leave of absence from her role as presidency spokesperson; her husband is reported to have said the contract is above board and that, in fact, his company had not received any payment.

In its presentation to Scopa, the SIU said in Gauteng alone it was currently investigating: 

  • 90 companies used to procure PPE;
  • 30 companies used to procure medical equipment; 
  • 32 companies for services related to catering, flights, accommodation, counselling sessions for staff, legal costs, car hire, printing, computers and patient care; and
  • five companies for infrastructure projects, including the two warehouses to house PPE and one Covid-19 quarantine site.

Among the details revealed in the current investigations include: some suppliers being paid without delivering supplies or services, price-gouging by suppliers, and officials replacing legitimate and qualified service providers with entities belonging to their families or friends. 

There are currently investigations in all nine provinces, as well as probes into national departments, including the departments of labour, education, defence, public works, and correctional services. 

‘Working around the clock’

Head of the SIU, advocate Andy Mothibi, said that more and more cases are referred for investigation every week. This has resulted in investigators having to work around the clock. 

When issuing the proclamation for the SIU investigations, the president has instructed the unit to deliver a report-back every six weeks. 

“Speed is of the essence. We always say we investigate with speed, but we don’t compromise the investigations … If we look at the issues of the motor scooters in the Eastern Cape, and the [multimillion-rand] door-to-door campaign in Mthatha, they were some of the first allegations that came up. We would want to have these matters finalised and action taken,” Mothibi said. 

The SIU said it would be targeting “low-hanging fruit” cases, to finalise as many cases as possible in a short period of time. 

Mothibi told MPs he hopes that from these investigations, a process of recovering public money would begin, and that wrongdoers would be prosecuted. 

The Democratic Alliance’s Alf Lees told the SIU that it was admirable that the anti-corruption unit was quick out of the blocks, and admitted that it was still “early days in the investigations.” But he has formally asked that the SIU’s six-weekly report to the president be shared with MPs so that parliament can keep abreast of developments.

“The public needs to have some confidence that these allegations are being dealt with,” Lees said. 

Mothibi said that report-backs are in the form of a presidential report for Cyril Ramaphosa, but added that some details could be made available to Parliament and the public.

Commenting on the SIU’s own tender controversy, Mothibi said the circumstances surrounding the procurement of cloth masks for the unit’s staff is being independently investigated. The SIU paid R58 000 for the masks just after the announcement of the lockdown. 

The Sunday Times reports that the unit’s head of strategy, Ziphozenkosi Mguli, claimed its chief executive officer, Andre Gernandt, instructed officials to handpick a specific company for the contract.

“We take those allegations very seriously. And I’ve already asked the auditor general to look into that matter and it’s receiving prioritised attention,” Mothibi told the committee.