The parliamentary Covid-19 tender corruption question in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) presidential Q&A wobbled slightly when DA delegate Tim Brauteseth asked about persistent rumours of an impending harder lockdown.
This unfolded as down the parliamentary corridor the National Assembly debated Covid-19 tender corruption. And in terms of the rules, President Cyril Ramaphosa could have ignored the DA’s question as it was not strictly related to what was officially before him.
But Ramaphosa answered.
“I received a report today [Tuesday]. I want to look at that report very closely and have the opportunity in the coming days, next week, of being able to address the people of South Africa about what we now need to do…
“I don’t want to be alarmist. I don’t want our people to be alarmed by rumours of going to Level 3. That is simply not true… If it ever gets there I will be the one to advise the nation where we are and where we are going to…”
The president was concerned that as South Africa moved towards what he called “the fun period of December where people will let their guard down”, increasing numbers of people are not wearing masks, ditching hand washing and physical distancing measures.
This concern stood in contrast to adherence earlier on Tuesday when before presiding over a hotel opening in Ekurhuleni, he unveiled a statue of ANC president Oliver Reginald Tambo at OR Tambo International Airport. “I was pleasantly pleased that everyone that was at that function wore a mask, without an exception,” Ramaphosa told the NCOP.
Maybe such comments are indicative of the presidential and ministerial bubble, an indication how cut off the government is from on the ground reality. Or maybe it’s a cutesy, folksy way of reminding Covid-fatigued South Africans that the risks remain.
Strictly on the Covid-19 corruption, the president seemed to downplay that too, even though expressing regret alongside his “honest wish” that there should not have been any corruption.
Earlier in October, Parliament was updated that the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is now investigating over 930 matters involving R10,5-billion, or 67% of the R15,5-billion Covid-19 PPE spend.
“I think we have been blinded by the corruption that ensued, which I must say we regret,” said Ramaphosa, adding how the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) had been “so effective that we have been able to ensure South Africans have become used to using PPE, wearing masks…”
In a wrap of what’s already known, Ramaphosa lauded his administration for action taken to deal with the Covid-19 corruption. “The action we have taken will stand us in good stead to provide more PPE as the virus is here to stay for a long time… Masks are here to stay, and for a very long time.”
He confirmed the SIU had submitted two progress reports to him on their investigations. “The SIU reports will be made public once all necessary processes are completed and there’s no risk of compromising ongoing investigations.”
That may take a while as court processes can take years to unfold, particularly if a series of appeals are lodged.
And while Ramaphosa’s Covid-19 corruption answers treaded safe ground, the National Assembly discussion on Covid-19 tender corruption was more robust.
Called by DA interim leader John Steenhuisen, he again pledged the DA’s assistance – if Ramaphosa decided to do the right thing. A similar brinkmanship promise was made in last week’s debate on the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan Ramaphosa had presented to Parliament.
“We’ll only win the fight against corruption when we see the big political fish in orange overalls. Mr President, you’ll need the DA’s help, because your party can’t help itself,” Steenhuisen said.
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald pointed to the ANC’s lack of political will to follow through on Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption statements.
But it was DA MP Siviwe Gwarube who tackled the elephant in the room. Going off her prepared script she called for action against ANC MP and former state security minister Bongani Bongo, the chairperson of Parliament’s home affairs committee who’s now facing a new set of corruption and fraud charges, this time in Mpumalanga.
Eyewitness News on Tuesday, October 27 reported the counts are thought to relate to a luxury car received in a land deal while Bongo was still with the provincial government. National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Sipho Ngwema indicated details would only emerge in court on Wednesday.
Since November 2019 Bongo has been in and out of court in Cape Town on charges of fraud and corruption dating back to October 2017 when he tried to bribe one of Parliament’s legal advisors, Ntuthuzelo Vanara, to scupper the parliamentary Eskom State Capture inquiry. He is due back in court on 27 November.
Bongo had just returned from a period of leave – he rejected that he had stepped down in line with an ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) decision – brief enough not to require a condonation motion in the House, in line with Rule 36.
“He belongs in jail not in Parliament,” said Gwarube, calling for a commitment from the ANC that everyone implicated in corruption steps down both within the ANC and government.
“Do the right thing, and send your colleagues to jail, not to Parliament.”
Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu kicked for touch when asked about this at the end of Tuesday’s debate. “The ANC makes such decisions. I cannot make such decisions…”
And that – despite Ramaphosa’s insistence in the NCOP on the “positive aspects” of providing PPE – highlighted the governing party’s paralysis on fighting corruption. Again. DM