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SIU to beef up security after investigators threatened during PPE probe

Political pressure and people with links to key political players were found to be the main drivers of personal protective equipment (PPE) corruption, the head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) told parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Wednesday, adding that some of his investigators had come under threat.

“As a result, we have decided to take protective measures so that our members can continue doing their work without fear or favour,” advocate Andy Mothibi said.

The SIU investigation report came after a public outcry over influential public servants and their immediate family members benefiting from PPE procurement.

“We have handed over our report to the president who will decide what actions should be taken. Our report deals with finalised matters,” said Mothibi.

He said that some of the report’s limitations were because many government officials did not co-operate. “Those dealing with supply chain management and finance among various government departments did not work with us because of their involvement in the irregular procurement processes.”

Rookie companies get tenders 

Mothibi told the committee that some of the companies that received PPE tenders did not qualify for contracts.

“Bearing in mind that the national state of disaster was declared on 15 March 2020, whereafter PPE procurement commenced in earnest, certain service providers were found to have only been registered on the CIPC [Companies and Intellectual Property Commission] during February and March 2020 and thus would — and could — not have had demonstrable track records,” Mothibi said.

Some of the companies were not even registered on the Central Supplier Database (a requirement for doing business with the government) whereas other service providers were already in the de-registration process when they quoted government entities and were awarded contracts.

The SIU found that, in some cases, product specifications were ignored and products that were not suitable for the intended purposes were purchased and, in several instances, even against the advice of expert opinion.

The SIU will hand over the findings of their report to the South African Revenue Services and the National Prosecuting Authority, among other bodies.

“While the investigations are still underway, we continue to submit reports to the president, and we continue to execute on the outcomes and follow up on the referrals to ensure that there is consequence management. We are focusing on ensuring that there is accountability at all levels of the administration, including executive authority accountability,” Mothibi said.

He said that although the family members of government officials are allowed to bid for tenders, their contracts had to be scrutinised for compliance with the Public Finance Management Act.

“The need exists for considering additional safeguards for situations where state institutions contract with persons in these categories,” he said. 

Abusing taxpayers’ money

Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the SIU report showed yet again how those in power and in government positions continued to abuse taxpayers’ money.

“This shows that people are hell-bent on undermining and misusing the public purse. I am not shocked by this report, but every time we hear about it, it is very unsettling,” he said.

Committee member Robert Lees said he was concerned by how long it takes for SIU cases to get to prosecution.

“We understand that the resources are inadequate. We have raised the issue several times before, but the situation doesn’t change,” he said.

Mothibi said to fast-track the PPE investigations, funds had to be redirected from elsewhere.

“We have other projects running, such as SAA, Eskom and Denel. We have re-allocated resources to handle [the] Covid-19 [investigations] because it was in the public interest and people’s lives were the concern. Those irregularities attracted so much public interest that we turned our resources around.

“We have projected our resource requirements to the department of justice. We hope the treasury will respond to our project requirements.”

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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