Net closing in on those who unlawfully benefitted from PPE procurement and Ters, vows Cyril Ramaphosa
Those implicated in the unlawful procurement of Covid-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies in the country's fight against the coronavirus were hell-bent on defrauding the state, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.
His sentiments come days after the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) released a report on its investigation into allegations of corruption involving PPE in state institutions.
The unit subsequently referred 38 cases to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for prosecution for fraud, corruption and contravention of supply chain policies.
In his latest weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa described the findings as “horrendous”.
“What is most disturbing is that this was not simply a matter of negligence or poor oversight. There was wilful intent to defraud. As scores of people became ill and many were dying, some people saw an opportunity to cash in.
“They purposefully set out to steal millions in public money, misuse state property and divert resources meant for the South African people into personal pockets,” he said.
Detailing some of the criminal acts, the president said individuals and entities with no experience in the manufacture, supply or distribution of critical medical supplies hastily set up companies .
Some companies had been registered on national databases and received purchase orders. Others were not, but still profited.
The president said some entities operated as car washes and shisa nyamas.
He said suppliers used “front companies” to obtain multiple contracts from the same department - as PPEs and other supplies were procured at inflated prices, in some cases at mark-ups exceeding 400%.
“Some products did not meet the necessary specifications. When investigations started, some companies did not have paper trails to substantiate their procurement.
“Some officials refused to comply or claimed they were ‘only following instructions’ from their superiors. Documents were destroyed.”
Ramaphosa said the looting of resources meant for the public cost people’s health and lives.
“That is why all involved in wrongdoing will be dealt with harshly and appropriately. They will not get to enjoy their ill-gotten gains as steps have been taken to recover stolen money, including the freezing of bank accounts.”
While some cases had been referred to the NPA, Ramaphosa said additional measures were being taken.
“A number of civil litigation cases have been instituted for the return of ill-gotten money.”
He said contracts found to be unlawful have been cancelled. Government entities have been directed not to make payments to the service providers pending the outcome of investigations and/or civil proceedings.
“There have been referrals for disciplinary action against implicated officials and a number of these have commenced.”
He hailed the SIU report which he said he said was a coordinated approach to fighting corruption in several organs of state.
The president said similar action was being taken against individuals and companies implicated in maladministration and fraud around the Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters).
These include employers who pocketed the benefits owed to their staff, or kept quiet about Ters funds paid to them by mistake.
Reflecting on the lessons learnt in the process, Ramaphosa said all regulatory, legislative and procedural loopholes need to be closed to ensure no point of entry for those who sought to exploit them.
The president assured citizens the net was closing in on those involved in corrupt acts.
“This includes not just private companies but also those in the public service who thought they could collude with outside individuals to sell off resources meant for our people.
“The outstanding work of the SIU and other law enforcement bodies has sent the clear message that those guilty of criminal acts will be found and will be prosecuted.”