This week, the nation heard once again how millions of rands meant to be spent on keeping South Africa safe ended up lining the pockets of corrupt individuals.
Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu presented a sobering report on audits conducted by his office into how R500 billion meant for health response and the relief of social and economic distress caused by the Covid-19 pandemic was spent.
The first part of the audit laid bare details of what happened in relation to the procurement of personal protective equipment. There were clear indicators of fraudulent activities in the procurement processes, Makwetu said.
“We have been reporting on and warning about poor financial management controls, a disregard for supply chain management legislation, an inability to effectively manage projects and a lack of accountability in many of the government sectors that now need to lead or support government’s efforts,” Makwetu said.
His findings came as no surprise. We were warned that the easing of controls and the streamlining of processes and procedures to respond to the Covid-19 crisis exposed government to the risk of misuse and abuse of public resources.
But two positives came out of the investigation: Makwetu said his office had provided advice on how to detect and protect against fraud-related transactions, adding that the report would help address shortcomings in the system, and provide emergency responses and quick actions that are “required to save lives and livelihoods”.
The second is that the findings, which were released on Wednesday during a virtual media briefing, would be shared with law enforcement agencies tasked with investigating Covid-19 fraud and corruption allegations.
So what lessons did South Africa learn from this? There are measures that have been put in place to protect the country from this sort of pilfering. People will be audited and held accountable, and will most likely face action.
But Covid-19 isn’t the first state of disaster that South Africa has faced, and it won’t be the last. What will happen next time? Have we learnt our lesson or are we doomed to repeat the same cycle of corruption and theft as we have for decades, the consequences of which always end up affecting the poor and the vulnerable the most?