KwaZulu-Natal recorded the first Covid-19 case in South Africa on 5 March and since, the provincial government has been scrambling to get ahead of the local outbreak and set itself apart in terms of handling the virus.
Despite the horrendous unemployment and economic data coming out of the country pre and post lockdown, Zikalala told the briefing that Covid-19 had provided the government with “the chance to build a new architecture of the economy and also to introduce new systems in terms of governance and administration”.
The disclosure report, a glossy, 20-page printed document, is evidently part of the “new systems” Zikalala wants to implement in a province that is often viewed as riddled with corruption, incompetence and has a shameful record of holding senior officials, and in particular politicians, to account for malfeasance.
Nevertheless, according to the report, preparation for and management of the provincial Covid-19 outbreak had cost the public R2,928,738,480 up to 27 July. This included R 1,999,465,704 by provincial departments, R925,271,000 for municipalities, and R4,001,766 for public entities.
“Of the R1.9-billion departmental spend, R1,139,923,090.00 (representing 57% of departmental spend) was spent on infrastructure programmes. These are projects that relate to upgrades and alterations to health facilities and to the establishment of quarantine facilities,” said Zikalala, reading from the report.
“Many of these are infrastructural projects in schools, in our hospitals and in our communities. Many of these projects will benefit our communities long after the Covid-19 pandemic has passed.”
The provincial health department, for obvious reasons, had the highest spend, at R1,415,362,034.56, with the department of education (KZN has about 6,200 public schools) spending R487,447,612.62.
Incidentally, the KZN department of education conducted its own internal investigation into possible malfeasance within its PPE spend and cleared itself. But the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has confirmed with Daily Maverick that it is investigating the procurement of PPE in the department.
Social development (DSD) — at which a clutch of officials was earlier this month implicated in about R30-million of questionable expenditure, which also led to two criminal cases being laid — spent R54,241,700.92 overall.
The investigations at the DSD were conducted by the provincial treasury and concluded in record time. According to finance MEC Ravi Pillay, such investigations used to take anything between 12 and 18 months. The DSD investigations were wrapped up in about eight weeks.
The SIU is also investigating the procurement of PPEs and blankets within this department, it told Daily Maverick.
Zikalala on Thursday praised the shortened time span of the provincial treasury’s forensic investigations into DSD, but is nevertheless still intent on moving all forensic investigations into his own office.
This was not discussed at the press briefing, but was part of questions Daily Maverick sent to the premier earlier this month. He said that moving forensic investigations to his office was part of a “benchmarking” exercise with other provinces, of which “most” had their forensic investigation units located in the office of the premier.
He also said the move was a recommendation made by the SIU during a 2019 visit. The SIU did not respond to Daily Maverick’s questions about this recommendation.
Nevertheless, second to the province’s infrastructure spend, as mentioned earlier, was the procurement of sanitisers, coming in at R363,483,074.07 (18.18% of overall spend), while R196,867,829.10 was spent on masks (9.85% of overall spend).
While at first glance the disclosure report seems to be extensive, verging on a data dump, many things will be able to be verified only via oversight and good, old-fashioned invoices. For example: The R232,437,919.91 spent on “alterations and additions” to seven wards at Clairwood Hospital.
But Zikalala is evidently aware of this, and with his releasing the report – complete with names of suppliers and unit costs of items – has put himself in a position where, when corruption is found to have taken place, he can say the malfeasance was exposed precisely because he made the information available to the public.
As an example of this, when he was asked if all the companies listed as suppliers in the report were compliant and registered on the relevant databases, he said it “was expected” they would be.
“If we establish that there were one or two suppliers that was established for Covid-19, and were not in the database, we will take action.”
Zikalala, like most politicians, has been talking about “consequence management” since he took up his position.
But the recent response of a hostile public to the unmitigated gorging at the Covid-19 procurement trough seems to have lit the proverbial fire, with Zikalala also announcing that KZN politicians and officials would be undergoing lifestyle audits.
Zikalala said he was “still finalising” who would undertake the lifestyle audits, possibly the “State Security Agency”, he said, who could “co-ordinate with SARS and all of those that do lifestyle audits”.
He said details about the audits would be released following the next executive council meeting “either next week or the following week in terms of time frames and all of that”.
Zikalala’s own office, according to the report, spent about R293,525 under the line item “Catering for the Command Team” which consisted of anything from a minimum of 80 to 160 people, ranging from a minimum of R185 per head to a maximum of R275.
In terms of the spend by municipalities, eThekwini Metro (the centre of the outbreak in the province and the largest municipality by far) spent R447.4-million for its Covid-19 response and management.
What was surprising was that in second place was uMkhanyakude district municipality, in the far northern part of KZN.
It ranks eighth out of the 11 districts in the province in terms of population size, with 689,090 inhabitants.
As of Thursday, uMkhanyakude had the least confirmed Covid-19 cases in the province – at 1,934, with 1,459 recoveries. According to the report, it spent R154.4-million, almost all of which is listed under the heading “Community and Social Services”.
Earlier on Thursday, the auditor-general noted that uMkhanyakude’s audit findings had remained stagnant, with a qualified audit, and that its financial health was “of concern”.
The AG also noted that despite the poor audit outcomes, uMkhanyakude had spent R7.4-million on consultants and was also second to eThekwini in terms of annual irregular expenditure in 2018/19, spending R495-million, compared to the metro’s R2.34-billion. DM
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