Government mulls setting up special courts to tackle Covid-19 graft
President Cyril Ramaphosa says measures are being considered to change the tender system
President Cyril Ramaphosa says the government is looking into establishing special courts, similar to those set up for the 2010 Soccer World Cup, in a bid to tackle corruption allegations related to Covid-19 procurement.
Responding to questions in the National Assembly on Thursday, Ramaphosa said the state was also considering overhauling the tendering system, cutting out the so-called “tenderpreneurs”. The president said corruption allegations had caused much outrage among the public and MPs, and he himself was incensed.
“It is disgraceful that in the midst of a health crisis there are people who want to defraud the state and profiteer,” said Ramaphosa.
The government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has been marred by corruption allegations relating to procurement. Accusations that government officials have been issuing procurement deals to politically connected individuals, including family members and friends, have dominated the headlines in recent weeks.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, has taken special leave pending the outcome of investigations into allegations that a company in which her husband is a director received two contracts worth R125m to procure protective equipment for the Gauteng government. According to Diko, the contracts were later cancelled. Gauteng health minister Bandile Masuku has also taken leave after being implicated in the scandal.
In July, Ramaphosa authorised the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe all allegations of Covid-19 procurement irregularities.
The corruption allegations have prompted the Treasury to look into the possible centralisation of its procurement process. This week, the government published a list of all companies that have benefited from the state’s Covid-19-related procurement in an attempt to allay fears of corruption.
Ramaphosa told MPs on Thursday that Covid- 19 presented the government with an opportunity to introduce procurement reforms.
“I am putting a lot of hope in technology to tighten procurement systems. We will be moving in that direction as government. We cannot continue to use procurement systems that belong to the ice age,” Ramaphosa said, adding that the government would look into implementing artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to cut out corruption.
“The measures we are taking will lead to procurement reform and help to solve the many procurement maladies and ensure government does not overpay. We are meant to put this culture [of corruption] to an end, where government pays up to 800% mark-up,” he said.
“I believe that government should never pay a premium and should acquire at the right price or at best at a discount [because it procures in bulk]. In the end, when government spends money, it is the people’s money. In the end, Covid-19 will lead to the opening up of tender process [transparency].”
Ramaphosa said of the R500bn Covid-19 support package set up by the government, about R11bn had been used for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE).
EFF leader Julius Malema asked Ramaphosa why he was reluctant to reveal all his donors that bankrolled his campaign for the ANC presidency, to ensure that those who donated were not benefiting from PPE tenders. Malema also called for the establishment of special courts to speedily prosecute those implicated in Covid-19-related corruption.
“The CR17 [Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential campaign] funding matter is in court ... I do not know that [CR17 donors] benefited from Covid-19-related procurement,” Ramaphosa said.
On the special courts, Ramaphosa said: “We are looking into the issue of special courts to focus on Covid-19-related corruption and I will be speaking about this in the weeks to come”.
DA leader John Steenhuisen said Ramaphosa was doing little to tackle corruption. He asked Ramaphosa about the promotion of corruption-accused former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, who was last week sworn in as an ANC member of the provincial legislature in KwaZulu-Natal despite the serious allegations she is facing.
After initially dodging the question, Ramaphosa responded, saying that the matter was being discussed by ANC structures.
“It [the Gumede matter] has caused a lot of disquiet ... it is being discussed in a very democratic manner,” Ramaphosa said.
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