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Government acts to bolt the COVID-19 corruption stable door

South Africa’s National Treasury (NT) has resolved to end emergency procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other COVID-19 protective clothing after revelations of alleged corruption linked to the multibillion-rand spending programme.

This, observes TimesLIVE, is according to a Treasury presentation tabled by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and his director general Dondo Mogajane during a meeting with Parliament's Finance Committees from the National Assembly and the NCOP. The documents show government departments will no longer be allowed to hand pick PPE suppliers, and will be ordered to return to open tender processes.

The report says the procurement of PPE – such as masks, gloves and hand sanitisers – has recently been plagued by allegations of corruption and other irregularities. This after it came to light that companies linked to so-called “politically exposed people” had been benefiting to the tune of hundreds of millions of rands. These include President Cyril Ramaphosa's spokesperson Khusela Diko, her husband Thandisizwe Diko and other top ANC figures, such as Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku and his wife Loyiso Masuku.

“Emergency procurement for PPE and protective clothing is ended and institutions revert to open procurement processes. Procurement must be compliant with all existing instructions for procurement,” reads the Treasury's presentation. It adds: “Institutions to provide NT with the names of all PPE and protective clothing appointed service providers for publishing on the NT website and analysing aggregated data across all procuring agencies.”

 

Mogajane said the guidelines to be issued by the Treasury and auditor-general Kimi Makwetu would provide accounting officers with a toolkit, notes Business Day. He also said a review of the Public Finance Management Act and the Municipal Finance Management Act would be undertaken, including with regard to emergency procurement procedures and strengthening the accountability by accounting officers and authorities. He said it was critical that public procurement be modernised and automated, with enhanced due diligence and increased efficiency in processing requests.

“Politically exposed people’s participation in public procurement will require a more stringent review, including the age of the business and the history of the same or similar type of service provision.”

The committees decided to order the Treasury to report regularly to Parliament on measures being taken to combat corruption. Mboweni said he would be meeting the MECs for Finance and would stress the urgent need for transparency. This would include that all COVID-related contracts be published; which companies won them, with details of their directors and shareholders; the reasons why competitors did not win them; and the age of the companies that won the tender.

 

Notwithstanding the reported widespread looting, Mboweni told MPs that there is still much money left in the emergency pot. According to a Beeld report, Mboweni said R145bn was budgeted for COVID-19 spending, of which R122.4bn has been allocated to different departments and institutions. Of the R122.4bn, only R10.4bn has been spent to date.

 

An alarming depth of COVID-19 funding corruption at Gauteng hospitals has once again been highlighted by a staggering 190% price inflation in a tender awarded to build coronavirus-screening facilities, reports The Star. Zabelo Trading received a contract in June to build tents and partitions for COVID-19 screening at the Far East Rand Hospital in Ekurhuleni, after the company had submitted the lowest quote of R139,126 during the bidding phase.

The two losing bids had quoted R219,000 and R520,080. However, last month the company said it had under-quoted in June, and revised its price with a new invoice of R404 190, which was approved on 1 July by the hospital’s CEO, Dr ZS Mathaba. The revelations come in the wake of a series of reports from The Sunday Independent, which unearthed alleged multimillion-rand COVID-19 corruption in Gauteng involving presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko, Johannesburg mayoral committee member Loyiso Masuku and her husband, Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku.

The company’s owner, Zabelo Mndawe, declined to comment, saying: “I don’t want to undermine you, but I would rather not comment.”

The report says Gauteng Health Department spokesperson Philani Mhlungu rejected claims of corruption at the hospital, adding that Mathaba was not involved in procurement processes, and that a central database was used to source potential service providers. Mhlungu said suppliers had submitted their respective quotes, which were sent to the hospital’s vetting committee for bid evaluation and recommendation of a preferred service provider. “Subsequent to the visit to Tembisa, these companies revised their quotes appropriately,” Mhlungu said.

However, the report says sources rejected Mhlungu’s contention, saying Zabelo had not revised its specifications between June and the last month. Insiders conceded to not knowing how Zabelo was tied to hospital management, if at all, but accused Mathaba of flagrantly misusing taxpayers’ money.

 

Gauteng Premier David Makhura has ordered his government departments and their political bosses to subject all future tenders for the acquisition of personal protective equipment to public scrutiny. A Pretoria News reports the order came as Makhura told the Gauteng legislature that former provincial Health Department chief financial officer Kabelo Lehloenya abruptly resigned from her post after allegedly being linked to the R2.2bn fraud and corruption scandal involving COVID-19 funds.

Makhura said Lehloenya and her alleged accomplices will face the music for the biggest scandal of his government since he took over in May 2014. He said Lehloenya was one of the chief suspects in the alleged looting of billions of COVID-19 funds which had dented the image of his government. Makhura also expressed his outrage at social media posts which circulated at the weekend linking him romantically to Lehloenya.

 

The Health Department has released a statement to reiterate that Minister Zweli Mkhize does not own a personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturing company. This was in response to messages that appearing on various threads on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, claiming the Minister owns a PPE manufacturing company, reports Skills Portal.

“We would like to categorically state that Mkhize does not own a PPE manufacturing company nor is he involved in any way in the manufacturing of PPE. "In anticipation of any further emergence of fake news, we also categorically state that nobody in Minister Mkhize’s family is in the business of manufacturing, selling or distributing PPE,” the department said.

Creating or sharing fake news is an offence under the National State of Disaster.

“The Health Department will not hesitate to take action against those found to be creating or perpetuating fake news. This kind of content is damaging to the reputation of honest, hardworking members of the executive. It distracts from and undermines the important work of fighting coronavirus.”

The Ministry called on members of the public to be careful when sharing social media content and not find themselves becoming agents of fake news and misinformation. “We are still in the midst of a pandemic and the best way to fight it is by arming ourselves with facts and sound knowledge that empowers us to defeat coronavirus.

“We hope that this clarifies the matter and that all individuals that are either the originators of this content or those who have advanced the content by sharing or commenting will take the opportunity to immediately remove the content from their platforms and issue an apology to the Minister and to the public for advancing fake news.”

 

[link url="https://www.timeslive.co.za/politics/2020-08-05-tito-mboweni-pulls-plug-on-ppe-emergency-spending-as-corruption-allegations-mount/"]Full TimesLIVE report[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/2020-08-05-treasury-moves-to-plug-corrupt-covid-related-procurement/"]Full Business Day report (subscription needed)[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.netwerk24.com/Nuus/Politiek/noodaankope-van-ppes-gestaak-weens-korrupsie-20200805"]Full Beeld report (subscription needed)[/link]

 

[link url="http://thestar.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/showarticle.aspx?article=ee5c1b01-dd04-4ed0-b2a0-05c3797359dc&key=487ENZSnw9X45OanmVJMgA%3d%3d&issue=65102020080600000000001001"]Full report in The Star[/link]

 

[link url="http://pretorianews.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/showarticle.aspx?article=3125fbbf-9480-4597-a2c5-5de6ecaba827&key=%2bQuVi7EXMnVUuXXYebDAbw%3d%3d&issue=63252020081200000000001001"]Full Pretoria News report[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.skillsportal.co.za/content/department-denies-link-between-minister-and-ppe-company"]Full Skills Portal report[/link]

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