KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala is releasing the report from the treasury investigation he commissioned into the purchase of 48 000 blankets by the provincial department of social development at the beginning of the lockdown in March.
Zikalala is at the province’s Covid-19 command centre. It’s just up the road, but I’m still participating in the meeting virtually. Why risk my life when the job can still be done this way? The spate of infections among high-profile politicians and their entourages makes it pretty clear that staying away from official gatherings, particularly indoor ones, is the way to go.
Zikalala’s report is damning. It’s the first official acknowledgement by the provincial government that Covid-19 relief funds are being looted by bent civil servants and crooked tenderpreneurs. Almost the entire top leadership of the social development department — the chief financial officer, the acting director general, the acting deputy director general, chief directors, directors, deputy directors and supply chain management officials — signed off an unauthorised payment of R22-million for 48 000 blankets the department didn’t need.
At the time, the department claimed the purchase was based on requests from its regions. This was a lie.
Only 4 000 blankets were delivered. The rest may or may not be in a warehouse somewhere. The suppliers, two of whom ran their businesses from home and whose names were given to junior officials to effect payments, were overpaid — before they delivered a single blanket — by R15-million.
I’ve only been back in the “office” for two days, but it already feels like my week off from work never happened. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that this looting is just a fraction of what’s taking place around the country.
Perhaps it’s the fact that work, play, holidays, all take place under the same roof; perhaps it’s the reality that we’ve been locked down for 117 days, with no end in sight, but I already need a holiday.
I didn’t do very much during my break.No money. Nowhere to go.
The highlight was a morning’s fishing in the harbour: four and a half hours of forgetting the nightmare we’ve found ourselves in. No Covid-19. No salary cuts. No media industry jobs bloodbath.
I didn’t catch anything. I seldom do. Catching fish is not really the point. It’s all about the act of baiting, casting, waiting, striking (sometimes), the focus on the simple exercise that could, hopefully, result in catching, or at least hooking, a fish.
I didn’t do much drinking during my week off. Like most people, I was caught off guard by the head of state’s announcement that the sale of alcohol had been halted with immediate effect the other Sunday night. I wasn’t completely dry when the lahnee blindsided us, but a Guinness or two while feeding the fish in the yacht mole wouldn’t have hurt.
I get the rationale behind President Ratherstaypozi’s sandbagging the liquor industry and the drinking public with his ambush announcement. No time to stock up means no gap for the “take it or leave it’’ operators who ran riot during level 4 and level 5 of the lockdown — at least until they get their lines of supply sorted out again. In the meantime, some pressure has been taken off emergency rooms in hospitals around the country.
The speed of the president’s move was impressive. For once. By the time people started muttering about legalities, the regulations had already been gazetted. My man Charles Bronson, who rode out the first lockdown with a case and half of Jameson, called me afterwards, horrified. Bronson was almost inconsolable: the brother was down to his last half bottle and had been planning to buy another case of whiskey the next morning.
With immediate effect.
It’s a pity the head of state hasn’t applied the “with immediate effect” doctrine to getting our Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme payments to us. Paid us our money with the swiftness, the efficiency, the vigour, that he turned off the taps on the drinkers among us and locked us in the house at night. It’s months now since we were asked to submit banking forms, but we still haven’t received a cent.
From what we hear, about six million claims have been paid, but not ours, so we appear to be screwed despite the extension announced this week, no matter the reason for the delay.
No immediate effect there.
Perhaps the payments will come, but retrospectively, after the pandemic has passed, when it’s too late. Perhaps they won’t come at all, were never intended to. Perhaps they’ve been eaten by staff members at the department of labour, who diverted the cash into one of their accounts. Perhaps they’ve been diverted to pay the comrade who did the catering for the Zoom meetings hosted by the uMkhanyakude district municipality in the far north of the province.
The suppliers were overpaid, before they delivered a blanket, by R15-million.