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PPE in the crosshairs as AG guns for military’s R4.3bn Covid allocation

Findings were scathing on how the army conducted the procurement and management of the protective equipment

03 February 2021 - 15:05 By mawande amashabalala
Soldiers patrol the streets of Alexandra in Johannesburg soon after the lockdown was announced. File photo.
MILITANT Soldiers patrol the streets of Alexandra in Johannesburg soon after the lockdown was announced. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell

The SA military, under the leadership of the defence and military veterans department, had set aside R4.3bn for Covid-19 related missions, starting in April last year.

Of that amount, R3bn was an allocation from National Treasury while the department reprioritised R1.3bn.

This was revealed when the office of the auditor-general (AG) reported to parliament’s portfolio committee on defence and military veterans during a virtual sitting on Wednesday.

According to the AG, there were no adverse findings on the department in other focus areas, but compliance on personal protective equipment (PPE) was akin to running a spaza shop.

A quarter (R1bn) of the Covid-19 budget for the military was allocated for procurement of PPEs, R849m of which had been spent by September 2020.

The AG’s findings were scathing on how the military conducted its business on the procurement and management of PPE.

Among other shortcomings, the AG found that it:

  • had no adequate planning on the amount of PPE to be procured;
  • failed to put in place proper control of the inventory system for the receipt, accounting and distribution of PPE;
  • allowed thieving of PPE owing to the improper inventory system;
  • did not always procure PPE at market-related prices as stipulated by National Treasury;
  • disregarded local content threshold requirements;
  • awarded PPE contracts to companies whose tax matters were not in order; and
  • failed to do stock control at its main PPE depot as well as all its regional depots.

Other areas of budget allocation and expenditure that the AG focused on included deployment of soldiers, Covid-19 related medicine supply for military personnel, facilities and medical equipment.

On deployment, the department allocated R1.3bn, of which R763m went towards the salaries and allowances for soldiers, while the remainder went to other deployment related costs, such as fuel. On this expenditure item, there were “no discrepancies identified”.

The department had set aside R69.5m to spend on medicines for soldiers, but only R40m was spent during the period under review.

On facilities and medical equipment, the department had aimed to spend R1.3bn but ended up spending only a fifth of that.

“The reason was that some of the initiatives that they planned, including field hospitals and quarantine sites did not materialise. As a result the amount spent was much lower than the amount budgeted,” reported the AG office to the portfolio committee.

“Instead of building field hospitals and quarantine sites, the refurbishing of the Military 1 Hospital was done at a cost of R151m to increase capacity for self-isolation, including providing additional beds and additional ICU beds.”