Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane listens during a briefing at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa October 19, 2016. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane listens during a briefing at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa October 19, 2016. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS

The public protector’s office has been inundated with complaints relating to the Covid-19 pandemic and SA’s response to it, the chapter nine institution said on Monday. 

While the government’s response to curb the spread of the pandemic was initially lauded, the focus has shifted to the allegations of corruption and the failure of those systems that  form part of the country’s response to the disease.  

A few politically connected individuals are said to be taking advantage of opportunities made available by the government and non-profit organisations to help alleviate the economic and social effect of the virus, which  is yet to hit its peak in SA. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa has already signed a proclamation for the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to investigate a number of tenders related to Covid-19 procurement.

In a statement released by her office on Monday, Busisiwe Mkhwebane said there has been a “rapid surge” in the number of complaints it has received over the past four months about conduct and service delivery failures relating to the pandemic. 

A steering committee consisting of 10 senior investigators has now been set up to focus on Covid-19-related matters, the office said.

Allegations of service failures accounted for a lion’s share of the grievances, with as many as 450 people approaching the office to complain about what they deem  to be unreasonable grounds for declining their applications for the R350-a-month special social relief of distress grant, the public protector said. 

The grant was announced in April as aid for people who are currently unemployed and who do not receive any other social grant or Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) benefit, the office said. 

In most cases, the complainants alleged that they were not provided with reasons as to why their applications were unsuccessful. Some of the complainants’ applications were declined on the basis that the applicants were found to be recipients of some form of income or they qualified for UIF, which they disputed, the public protector’s office said. 

While there were multiple procurement-related issues being investigated following complaints laid, the public protector has also started her own initiative investigations.

“We have been consistent in our call on the bureaucracy to exercise prudence when it comes to spending public funds on Covid-19-related goods and services.

“We have stressed that deviation from normal procurement processes is not a declaration of an open season to pillage. We are looking at a few other matters in which we may launch own-initiative investigations,” Mkhwebane said. 

The public protector’s first own-initiative investigation related to Covid-19 is  into allegations of maladministration, improper conduct and the misappropriation of public funds by the Eastern Cape health department in relation to the medical scooters project.

In addition to this, the office was dealing several other Covid-19-related service delivery complaints including the provision of water and sanitation, repatriation of expatriates, waste management, distribution of food parcels, access to housing, access to health, customary initiations and cultural practices and precautionary measures to mitigate employee health and safety risks.

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