OPINION | The Special Tribunal will deliver

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The Special Tribunal will be successful in recovering money that has been looted, including dealing with corruption linked to Covid-19 relief funds, writes Selby Makgotho. 

The public reaction to President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement on Thursday about the proclamations he signed authorising the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe malfeasance into the R500 billion Covid-19 relief fund was one of disbelief, frustration, rejection, anger, dismay, doubt and uncertainty.

Prior to the promulgation of the proclamations, daily news reports and complaints surfaced of widespread allegations against various national and provincial government departments as well as district and local municipalities.

This pertained to the procurement of personal protection equipment; creation of bogus NPOs; channelling of public funds into fictitious accounts; deviations from legal procurement methods in government departments and many other related financial irregularities.

The controversial R10 million Eastern Cape scooter project is the cherry on top.

Calls for investigations were made as soon as the president announced the Covid-19 relief funds.

It has since emerged some officials relied on deviations from normal procurement procedures as a way of channelling or diverting funds for corrupt means. In a way, they create an emergency situation to have quick access to the public purse. The Covid-19 pandemic is of course an emergency.

This effectively weakens the government's response to the pandemic.

Frustration and aspersions

As soon as Ramaphosa affirmed he had signed the proclamations authorising the SIU to commence with the probes, most South Africans took to social media to express frustrations and cast aspersions on the investigations, but more importantly the outcomes thereof.

Many expressed outrage that nothing is going to happen to the perpetrators, that public figures will not be prosecuted should they be found with their fingers in the till, that low-ranking officials will be made scapegoats, and that SIU reports from previous investigations are gathering dust with no consequences.

Before Covid-19, and perhaps as a blessing in disguise, the president established the Special Tribunal in terms of the SIU and Special Tribunals Act 74 of 1996 to fast-track civil proceedings.

This would be directed at the recovery of the money spent irregularly or resulting from serious maladministration in connection with the affairs of any state institution; improper or unlawful conduct by employees of any state institution; unlawful expenditure of public money or property; unlawful, irregular or unapproved acquisitive act, transaction, measure or practice having a bearing upon state property; intention or negligent loss of public money or damage to public property; corruption in connection with the affairs of any state institution; or unlawful or improper conduct by any person who has caused or may cause serious harm to the interests of the public.

The Special Tribunal, named in the 2019 State of the Nation Address, is currently functional with eight High Court judges drawn from different provincial divisions across the country. It is in its first year of its three-year lifespan and has already delivered ground-breaking judgments where evidence has proven gross financial irregularities.

The SIU is expected to fast-track its investigations and institute civil recovery proceedings with the Special Tribunal for Covid-19 relief funds, which exists precisely to hear such matters.

A fortnight back, the Special Tribunal instructed the SIU to secure a Presidential Proclamation authorising it to investigate R30 million worth of contracts in the Department of Health in the North West .

The Special Tribunal is currently sitting with several files from the SIU where investigations were concluded.

This includes the R2,2 billion contract between Eskom and an international company, ABB; the R2 billion fencing contracts at the Department of Correctional Services; R130 million yellow fleet contracts in the OR Tambo, Raymond Mhlaba and Mbhashe municipalities in the Eastern Cape; several multimillion rand Public Works Department contracts in KwaZulu-Natal; R300 million tender irregularities in the Tubatse-Fetakgomo Municipality in Limpopo; and many other corruption cases.

Most of the cases are currently going through a case-management process and will soon be ripe for hearing.


In the majority of cases, the Special Tribunal is called upon to make orders against unjustified enrichment; setting aside of contracts as well as declaratory orders. On two occasions, it has interdicted the Government Employee Pension Fund (GEPF) from paying out employees who have resigned with the hope of escaping liability.

Before the Special Tribunal, the SIU had enrolled its cases with the different divisions across the country. However, given the lengthy period it takes to finalise the proceedings, Ramaphosa established the Special Tribunal and committed it to recover an estimated amount of R15 billion stolen from public coffers over the years.

Some of the cases that were enrolled before the courts since 2013 have not been finalised. The Special Tribunal is expected to give expeditious litigation and assist the public to recover the money.

It is on this principle that support needs to be given to it to do its work faster, efficiently, and without hindrance.

The SIU, as the dominus litis, has a duty to finalise its investigations promptly and refer such to the Special Tribunal for prosecution.

At the end of its three-year lifespan, it should have delivered hope to ordinary South Africans.

Corrupt officials should be named and shamed as they are being ordered to return public funds. With the growing tendency of public officials resigning in order to avoid consequences, the Special Tribunal has set in two precedents.

The former head of the State Attorney in Gauteng, Kgosi Lekabe, and former North West health boss, Andrew Lekalakala, have had their pension and benefits frozen pending the conclusion of the investigations by the SIU.

The Special Tribunal exists to restore the public confidence among South Africans.

At the end of its three-year mandate, it should have assisted a great deal in the recovery of the money looted through nefarious means. This includes the Covid-19 relief funds.

- Selby Makgotho is the spokesperson for the Special Tribunal of South Africa. Follow him on @TribunalSpecial.

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