Covid-19 corruption: SARS investigating 17 'politically exposed persons'

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SA Revenue Service Commissioner Edward Kieswetter.
SA Revenue Service Commissioner Edward Kieswetter.
Freddy Mavunda, Gallo Images, Business Day
  • A SARS probe into "politically exposed persons" for Covid-19 corruption involves 17 tenders worth R1.2 billion. 
  • The inter-ministerial committee appointed to deal with Covid-19 corruption says it will not be investigating.
  • According to the committee, its role is to coordinate.

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is investigating 17 tenders, involving "politically exposed persons", worth R1.2 billion, or 60% of the R2 billion it is probing, the tax collector's commissioner Edward Kieswetter told the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).

On Friday, Scopa was briefed on the inter-ministerial committee (IMC) appointed to deal with Covid-19 related corruption, and allowed short briefings by the heads of law enforcement agencies, like SARS.

Kieswetter said SARS is going to do "significant work" in this regard. He said they are looking into 370 cases, which led to revenue losses of R300 million.

READ | Covid-19 tenders in Gauteng: Here's the companies paid millions for goods and services

SARS is also investigating 139 companies for possible tax evasion – which includes not declaring income from personal protective equipment (PPE) sales, meaning that they tried to cheat the very same government whose money they took.

Among their cases is one of a 30-year-old, who received a PPE contract worth R125 million.

Some of the companies, who were awarded PPE contracts, were registered as car washes, pubs, bakeries and property agents.

The meeting got off on a slightly false note, when it was revealed only half of the ministers serving on the IMC were in attendance, despite the date for the meeting having been proposed by the IMC's convenor, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola.

DA MP Benedicta van Minnen said it is unacceptable.

"It needs to be understood by the country that these investigations are a priority," she said.

Committee chairperson IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa said it isn't a crisis; this is only the start of their work with the IMC.

READ | Accounting body strips Anoj Singh of membership

"The executive can't perform oversight over the executive. It is the role of Parliament."

Investigating ourselves

The ministers on the IMC not in attendance were Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma - who both were at a budgeting meeting - and Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu. 

The three ministers who were present – Lamola, Police Minister Bheki Cele and Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu – were all at pains to point out that the IMC will not usurp the investigations of law enforcement agencies.

"There is a lot of worries of people thinking we're going to be kicking doors, opening windows," Mchunu said.

"In case there is somebody who thinks we are investigating ourselves, this is not the case."

He said theirs is a coordinating role.

According to Lamola's presentation to Scopa, the IMC has the following mandate:
  • to coordinate the collection of data on all procurement, including PPE, which were sourced for containment and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic;
  • ensure the publication of all contracts issued for Covid-19 activities;
  • coordinate communication on what government has done and will do in so far as anti-corruption measures regarding Covid-19 procurement and the R500 billion allocated to fight the pandemic;
  • publish all relevant information about procurement, including who the tenders were awarded to, the price of the tender, amounts paid, etc;
  • develop a plan on how to address corruption concerning Covid-19 procurement; and develop measures on how to strengthen the capacity of the state to ensure that the systems and structures engaged in the fight against corruption is not undermined.  

Lamola said their role is to empower everyone who wants to hold the government to account.

"Even journalists," he added.

According to the acting director-general of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Kalayvani Pillay, the national departments who haven't as yet provided their Covid-19 procurement information to the IMC are the National School of Government and the Departments of Communication, Human Settlements, Mineral Resources and Water and Sanitation.

ANC MP Bheki Hadebe said there should be a deadline set and there should be consequences for the departments not submitting the information.

"We want to see them in orange overalls," he said of the looters.

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