Covid-19 anti-corruption unit: no one can explain why it hasn't been set up

NPA head of communications Bulelwa Makeke
NPA head of communications Bulelwa Makeke

The justice cluster, NPA, SIU cannot explain why the special unit announced by the president hasn’t been set up as Covid-19 graft allegations pile up.

On March 23, President Cyril Ramaphosa proposed the formation of a Covid-19 anti-corruption unit to expedite the prosecution of those involved in corrupt activities. However, there was no clarity as to which structure of the justice, crime prevention and security cluster would oversee the setting up of the unit.

On May 13, City Press approached National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi for comment on whether the unit had been constituted. In response to the enquiry, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head of communications Bulelwa Makeke said: “This issue is being handled by the entire justice, crime prevention and security cluster. The cluster is working on a statement and it will be issued by tomorrow at the latest.”

With no communication sent out by the cluster, City Press then approached the department of justice, whose spokesperson, Chrispin Phiri, on May 16, echoed Makeke’s earlier response.

I cannot say what steps have been taken towards the formation of this unit
Colonel Siphiwe Dlamini, the head of communication for the justice cluster

Passing the buck

“We were hoping to respond as a cluster. Get in touch with Colonel Siphiwe Dlamini, the head of communication for the justice cluster,” Phiri said.

On Thursday, City Press contacted Dlamini and the fuming spokesperson said: “That is not true [the insistence by both Makeke and Phiri that we should approach Dlamini for clarity].

“The constitution of this structure is a department of justice competence, along with the NPA. There are numerous structures under the NPA, the SIU [Special Investigating Unit] and the Hawks, and they ought to have been assembled and the unit formed from these entities. Go back to Phiri and Makeke; they were the right people to ask on this matter.

“We have addressed this issue [of passing the buck to the justice cluster]. I can only speak on matters that have been ventilated and communicated by the cluster and, as such, this has not been the case. And I cannot say what steps have been taken towards the formation of this unit.”

On Thursday, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said a structure had been assembled for “investigation, prosecution and recovery of stolen assets and funds”.

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: Deaan Vivier

“During the disaster period, the justice, crime prevention and security cluster received several allegations related to corruption of Covid-19 relief efforts earmarked for the poor. In response to these allegations, the cluster has developed a collaborative framework that will ensure prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution and recovery of stolen assets and funds.

“Law enforcement officials have established an interim structure that will address all allegations of corruption and ensure that those who are charged face prosecution. There is a special focus on Covid-19-related matters in the courts for efficient resolution, and these are listed as a priority in the directions issued by the justice minister, along with gender-based cases and others deemed paramount by the courts,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

However, a source with intimate knowledge of the steps being taken to form the unit told City Press: “Talks of forming this unit started taking shape this week, following the DA’s call on [Finance Minister Tito] Mboweni to create an office to guard against the misuse of the R500 billion relief fund announced by the president.

“To be honest, before this week there was no particular unit. It was business as usual, with criminal cases associated with Covid-19 being referred to the Hawks and the NPA, while irregular procurement and fraud cases were being handled by the SIU. However, there was priority given to Covid-19-related cases.”

Law enforcement officials have established an interim structure that will address all allegations of corruption and ensure that those who are charged face prosecution.
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula

SIU head Andy Mothibi said the unit was working with an anti-corruption task team. But as the source had indicated, Mothibi said: “Criminal matters are referred to the Hawks and the NPA, while irregular procurement contracts and other civil matters are referred to the SIU and ultimately the special tribunal.”

Piling cases

The special prosecutions unit which the president announced will only be able to prosecute corruption after it happens, but that is too late – the money is often already lost and it is difficult to recover.
DA spokesperson on finance Geordin Hill-Lewis

In the meantime, cases are piling up while the confusion over the unit continues. Mothibi told MPs that the SIU had received numerous allegations of corruption and maladministration regarding relief funds, as well as other procurement irregularities during the national lockdown. Most of the allegations relate to the distribution of food parcels and noncompliance with the Public Finance Management Act, which governs procurement processes.

Mothibi said his agency would seek a national proclamation from Ramaphosa to facilitate its investigations.

The DA said it was disheartened by what it described as a “reactive proposal”, which dealt with cases after the fact.

DA spokesperson on finance Geordin Hill-Lewis asked Mboweni to create a special office to stop the looting of relief funds.

The DA proposed that the special inspector-general be appointed by the Auditor-General and for the office to be staffed by employees from different provincial treasury departments. – Juniour Khumalo


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