South Africa

GRAFT PANDEMIC

SA Government to establish ‘fusion centre’ to deal with corruption

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

The government has reacted to allegations of corruption related to the procurement of Covid-19 materials by setting up a one-stop-shop to investigate and prosecute graft that could become a permanent, Scorpions-like fixture.

Perception is almost as important as reality when dealing with corruption. The Cabinet has announced measures to deal with the epidemic of graft allegations around the procurement of Covid-19-related products – and it seems these could remain even after Covid-19 is gone, to help South Africa fight the scourge.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola late on Thursday said a “fusion centre” to deal with Covid-19-related graft will be established, but there is not as yet a clear idea what it would look like. At the same time, President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed a committee of ministers to assess all the government’s Covid-19-related procurement during the past four months of lockdown.

Lamola said the co-ordination centre will pull together the Financial Intelligence Centre, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the State Security Agency, as well as the South African Revenue Service. 

He said it could become a permanent agency, and confirmed that it was the “permanent multidisciplinary agency to deal with all the cases of white-collar crime, organised crime and corruption”, a little like the disbanded Scorpions, that the ANC’s National Executive Committee called for over the weekend.

“The president encourages them to work together, in unison, because corruption is a complicated crime. It’s complex. Some of it is very sophisticated, so it needs collaboration from a variety of angles in terms of multidisciplinary skills,” Lamola said, adding that agencies are already cooperating in an effort to prosecute perpetrators. 

Thirty-six corruption cases are already under investigation or being prosecuted. Last week it emerged that the husband of Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, had been in line to receive a R125-million tender for protective equipment from the Gauteng health department, where he has a friend in suspended MEC Bandile Masuku. 

Lamola said it’s yet to be decided where the “fusion centre” will sit in law. He said the fusion centre needed a “legislative framework and a legislative guidance that will enable it to operate with a clear line of command”.

It’s not clear where it will be located. “That is what Cabinet is still looking into,” Lamola said at a press conference in Pretoria following a Cabinet meeting the day before.

“We are not ready to say, ‘This is what it’s going to look like, this elephant,’ but it’s something that we want to allow to grow organically and we will allow it in terms of legislation to give it a proper umbrella, that will then clothe it and enable it to function with a proper legislative framework.” 

The Scorpions was dissolved in 2009 after an ANC resolution, which cited concerns about political interference in a number of high-level investigations. 

The ministers appointed to serve on the committee to look at procurement are: Lamola, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, Police Minister Bheki Cele, Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu and Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

Ramaphosa asked all ministers and premiers to provide the committee with “information on the names of companies and details of the tenders and contracts that have been awarded in national departments, provincial governments and public entities during the National State of Disaster” in the past four months. They were asked to do so this week, “as a matter of urgency”. The committee will then prepare a “comprehensive report” which will be made public. 

Ramaphosa warned of severe consequences for those who broke the law, whether they are in the public or private sectors. 

“The people of South Africa require nothing less than full accountability from those who have been elected and appointed to serve them,” Ramaphosa said. 

Ramaphosa recently signed an SIU proclamation to investigate any unlawful or improper conduct in the procurement of any goods, works and services during the lockdown. 

The alleged graft under investigation includes the fraudulent distribution of food parcels, social relief grants, price inflation in the procurement of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, as well as the “looting” of the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme.

The Cabinet’s announcements follow that of the National Treasury the day before, when Mboweni said the auditor-general’s office will in future be required to audit the expenditure of government departments on a daily or weekly basis, rather than monthly. DM

 

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