Witnesses in SIU’s Gauteng health PPE graft investigation fear for their safety
Unit is reviewing protection processes
Gauteng health department staff who are witnesses in a corruption investigation conducted by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) fear for their safety after the brazen murder of colleague and corruption-buster Babita Deokaran.
Deokaran, 53, died in a hail of bullets last week south of Johannesburg. Sources close to the investigation told the Sunday Times the masterminds paid millions for her to be killed.
While six suspects appeared in the Johannesburg magistrate’s court on Monday in connection with her murder, some staff are on tenterhooks.
TimesLIVE spoke to three employees on condition of anonymity because they fear for their lives.
A finance department employee who contributed to the SIU investigation said Deokaran had stopped many dubious transactions.
This is really a tough situation and a part of me regrets being a witness. I’m at a point where I’m thinking of turning a blind eye to any future irregularities I may pick upSupply chain staffer in Gauteng's health department
“There are a lot of wrong things she put a stop to in the department, especially payments where proper procurement processes were not followed. She did everything by the book.”
But she is afraid.
“I’m asking myself if I will be next. The killing of Babita has left many of us with so much fear because people would rather see others dead than go to jail,” she said.
An employee in the supply chain department was also concerned about his safety and was changing routines.
“I’ve moved from my place temporarily while I try to figure out what to do or hear if the SIU will offer us protection because it is clear this investigation has angered a lot of people,” he said.
Another supply chain staffer said Deokaran's killing had left her numb. She is also a witness in the SIU investigation.
“This is really a tough situation and a part of me regrets being a witness. I’m at a point where I’m thinking of turning a blind eye to any future irregularities I may pick up,” she said.
They said most staff in both units were witnesses in the SIU investigation and only a handful of their colleagues were not. They acknowledged it may be difficult for the SIU to give protection to all witnesses but wished some form of protection could be given.
The SIU said last week the murder of Deokaran should not deter South Africans and public servants from reporting allegations of corruption, malpractice, greed and maladministration in government departments, municipalities and state-owned entities.
“It is through the reporting of procurement irregularities and corruption in the public sector that we can protect the public purse and ensure that public purse serves the interest of the public,” the SIU said.
SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said they took the protection of witnesses, whistle-blowers and their investigators very seriously. He said they were reviewing processes to see how they could be improved.
With whistle-blowers, he said their identity was always protected and the SIU used an external company to do this.
“Once we are made aware of a threat made to a witness or whistle-blower we engage with the National Prosecuting Authority and arrange for them to be put under witness protection,” he said.
Kganyago said crime intelligence was involved in cases after an alert about a possible threat.
When an investigator was under threat, a bodyguard was assigned as standard practice.
President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote in his weekly newsletter on Monday that Deokaran was a hero and a patriot.
“As are the legions of whistle-blowers who, at great risk to themselves, help to unearth instances of misdeeds, maladministration, cronyism and theft. Without their brave and principled interventions, we would be unable to unmask those committing corruption,” said Ramaphosa. “Though much focus in recent times has been on whistle-blowers in the public sector, we also owe a debt of gratitude to those in the private sector whose actions receive less attention but are equally important.”
He said whistle-blowers were important guardians of democracy, raising the alarm about unethical acts and practices in government and organisations.