President Cyril Ramaphosa has again expressed his anger about the rampant looting and corruption linked to the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE).
He likened the crimes to murder, saying healthcare workers and communities should have benefited from the funds.
Ramaphosa made the remarks during an engagement with the SA National Editors’ Forum on Wednesday night while giving an update on the country’s progress in the fight against Covid-19, which he said had been hindered by mass looting.
He agreed with the World Health Organisation’s statement that “PPE corruption is criminal and akin to murder”.
However, the president assured South Africans that the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) had been consistently sending him reports, and that the entity was making great strides in the investigation of PPE-related graft.
“As had been announced earlier, the SIU has been updating me every six weeks on its Covid-19 corruption investigations, and it has made significant progress,” Ramaphosa said.
He added that the SIU had informed him that it was understaffed, which led to delays in some investigations and prosecutions.
“What we can do is capacitate them and strengthen the capability of those institutions that are tasked with investigating and prosecuting corruption. They must do their work without fear or favour,” he said.
Ramaphosa added that the silver lining to the PPE corruption scandals was that procurement procedures were now being thoroughly revamped, and that the focus was “on detecting and prosecuting Covid-19 corruption” and ensuring “transparency in procurement” so that taxpayers would know that their funds were being used for what they were intended.
Ramaphosa also bemoaned the fact that politicians who were asked to step aside after being charged with corruption could not have their contracts terminated.
He said labour laws barred employers from firing staff without first going through a full disciplinary process, which meant corruption accused politicians were merely suspended with full pay.
“I know people are appalled that someone who has been suspended for wrongdoing continues to earn a salary, but this is an issue of labour laws,” said Ramaphosa.
He added that his hands were also tied due to the fact that “the state capture project” had hollowed out “numerous capable individuals” within law enforcement, meaning a rebuilding exercise needed to take place before high-profile prosecutions could be undertaken.
“I have been asked repeatedly, when are you arresting those who have been implicated in corruption? When are you going to prosecute? I understand the frustration and the slow pace this has been taking, but all I can do is capacitate law enforcement agencies and then allow them to do their duties,” said Ramaphosa.
Regarding government’s stimulus package, Ramaphosa said he would have loved to have secured more funds than the R500 billion that had been added to the fiscus.
“There were constraints to us doing this, but I wanted R1 trillion – it was not for a lack of trying or imagination. We, however, have gone big – bigger than we have ever imagined – with regards to the amount we have managed to pour into the fiscus.”
When speaking about a vaccine for Covid-19, he said: “The message that I will be putting forward during the WHO discussion tomorrow, as the chairperson of the African Union, is that when the vaccine is available, it can’t be hogged by only more developed countries. I will advocate that even developing countries in Africa should get the vaccine.”
Ramaphosa promised to speak to the nation next week.