The Gauteng provincial government says it is “greatly embarrassed” by the Covid-19 tender scandal involving health MEC Bandile Masuku’s wife.
“This PPE [personal protective equipment] story has the potential to sidetrack us from the battle of saving lives. And it is shameful, utterly shameful, to have money meant to help save lives being open to general looting,” Gauteng Premier David Makhura said on Thursday afternoon.
Makhura was briefing the public on the provincial command council’s response to the allegation that Loyiso Masuku stood to benefit from a suspicious R125-million tender.
Over the weekend, the Sunday Independent reported that the tender was awarded to Royal Bhaca projects, a company owned by King Madzikane II Thandisizwe Diko, the husband of the president’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko. The newspaper made a link between the Diko family and Masuku, through Loyiso.
Loyiso Masuku, who serves as the City of Johannesburg’s MMC for group corporate and shared services, allegedly planned on contesting the position of ANC regional chair this year. The Sunday Independent report contains allegations that the money from the tender would be diverted to the regional conference.
The MEC has denied being involved in the matter, saying he strongly refutes “any suggestion that Covid-19 procurement is being used as a means to raise funds ahead of ANC conferences”. In a statement, the Dikos said they “deeply regret the error of judgment that led Royal Bhaca to seek to do business with this department in the first place”.
Earlier on Thursday, the ANC provincial executive announced that Masuku, his wife and Khusela Diko had been asked to step aside from their positions while the matter is being investigated by the party’s integrity commission.
The scandal stands to undermine public trust in the Gauteng government, just as the province hurtles towards its peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Thursday, Makhura conceded that the Gauteng health department already bears the burden of “a bad track record”. The department is still haunted by its most public failures. The revelations of the Life Esidimeni tragedy — which resulted in at least 144 mental-health patients losing their lives after being placed in state facilities and with nongovernmental organisations that were found to be unlicenced — were followed by allegations of rampant corruption in the Gauteng health department.
“We are digging deep,” the premier said about efforts to root out corruption in the wake of the pandemic.
More than 100 companies awarded tenders by the provincial government are being probed by the Special Investigating Unit. Makhura noted that although many of these companies may have “done a great job”, they needed to be looked at.
He said the “significant” allegations about Gauteng’s procurement “undermine everything that we do”.
Makhura added: “We want to make sure that this procurement, the corruption with PPE, that we send a strong message. People must go to jail. And I am saying this knowing that this is something people in this country have been talking and talking and talking about. The corrupt must go to jail.”