🔒 Covid-19 just makes the corruption pot bigger, activist says

For the past five months, SA has been under a stringent lockdown which has seen it face a constricting economy and job losses. And now there are reports of looting of public funds meant to help members of the public who have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, or which diverts supplies of much-needed equipment from healthcare services. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government may have made efforts to alleviate the tough social-economic circumstances that millions of South Africans find themselves in but it is said to be failing to crack down on corrupt public officials. Civil society groups have raised their voices to protest against corruption in the midst of a pandemic. Broadcaster Tim Modise engages in a compelling conversation in a webinar with three leaders who are calling for change. (Watch the full webinar with Modise, Wayne Duvenage of Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), Mike Marchant of Open Secrets, and Tebogo Khaas of the SMME Forum below.) 

By Bernice Maune

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought out more of the greed that characterises the SA government, Wayne Duvenage of OUTA believes.

According to Duvenage, this greed is to blame for the lack of service delivery, poor administration at local government level and for lack of job creation. The corruption that has epitomised the Zuma years has spilt over onto Ramaphosa’s government, Duvenage says.

“I don’t think things have changed pre Covid-19 to now, I think that the pot has gotten bigger. When you don’t have controls and transparency in place, then you’ll have opportunists. It was predicted and it’s happening every single day. It’s not that all the money was lost, but substantial amounts are lost and this is extremely problematic for South Africa. 

‘It’s not just small tenders’

Asked by Modise to share his view on the current corruption, Mike Marchant of Open Secrets said that the private and public sectors are to blame for the position that SA has found itself in.

“If you look at the way that tender processes have been manipulated over a large period of time, it’s very clear that issues within the state and individuals using access to key positions in order to access tenders and contracts, that’s absolutely widespread and that obviously involves an interplay between a public actor and a private actor. The ease with which people are able to set up companies in South Africa, often obscuring who the benefactors are is a problem because it makes that very easy. 

Read also: SA corruption: no action following theft of R500bn during Zuma’s rule

“It’s not just small tenders but it’s at the very highest levels of state capture with Zuma. Large corporations and big business are complicit in processes, which is an issue that we should confront alongside local corruption in government,” he said.

Modise recapped Ramaphosa’s mose recent address to the nation, in which he said that nine agencies have been pinpointed as hotspots of corruption and would be dealt with by the National Prosecuting Authority, Special Investigating Unit and the Hawks.

In OUTA’s view, law enforcement agencies are already under pressure to deal with a heavy backlog and staff shortages. 

Accountability is key, the guilty must be taken to court and jailed that’s when a crackdown works -Wayne Duvenage

“Hawks have to build their capacity, they are under pressure to deal with big issues. We don’t want government to put that on hold as they deal with Covid-19.

“Once the money is transacted it’s too late. Had society known that R12 million was going to be spent to build 12 toilets? You can bet your bottom dollar that before the money changed hands we would have stopped that. Money changes hands, we hear about it afterwards and it’s too late. It is gone.”

Read also: How world sees SA: an IMF loan leads to talk of corruption – Wall Street Journal

Tebogo Kaas of SMME Forum isn’t convinced by Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, stepping aside from her position after her husband was found to have benefitted from a state contract for PPE equipment. Kaas believes that she should have resigned and been made an example of.

“It’s no use to come after the fact when the money is all gone. Prevention is better than cure as the saying goes. If you don’t put mechanisms in place to ensure that your procurement processes are beyond impeachment then you’ll find problems as you have found now.”