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Public Protector investigating COVID-19 corruption, misconduct

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Public Protector, Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, has announced that her office has launched various investigations related to  COVID-19.

In a statement issued on Monday, the Office of the Public Protector said this comes after the institution was inundated by complaints of suspected misconduct and service delivery failure in the last four months.

“Service failure allegations account for a lion’s share of the grievances, with as many as 450 people having approached the office to complain about what they deem unreasonable grounds for declining their applications for a R350-a-month special social relief of distress grant,” the office said in the statement.

For those who lost employment during the pandemic, government announced the Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme, which is to be dispersed through the Unemployment Insurance Fund. The grants were among several interventions announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in March in an effort to soften the impact of the virus on society.

“In most cases, the complainants either allege that they were not provided with reasons as to why their applications were unsuccessful or that the applications were declined on the basis that the applicants were found to be recipients of some form of income or that they qualified for UIF, which they disputed,” the Public Protector said.

Mkhwebane’s office has also began investigations into alleged maladministration and irregularities on the procurement processes relating to the R37 million Beitbridge Border Post Fence as well as the R30 million Gauteng e-Government Information Technology tender.

In Mpumalanga, the office is investigating alleged irregularities in the awarding of a Quarantine Camp tender, in which it is alleged that the facility that won the tender was in a dilapidated and hazardous state.

“In KwaZulu-Natal, the office is probing allegations of irregularities in the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by the provincial Department of Education. It has been alleged that the department procured the PPE at inflated prices,” the office said.

In the Eastern Cape, the office is investigating allegations of procurement procedures being floated in the sourcing of a quarantine site as well as suspected irregularities in the procurement of e-learning material valued at R400 million.

Beyond this, the office has initiated an investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds and maladministration by the Eastern Cape Health Department in the medical scooter project.

The office said it is also investigating a raft of complaints related to food parcels, expat repatriation, waste management, water supply.

In this regard, the office has appointed a steering committee consisting of 10 senior investigators. The team will be led by the office’s executive manager.

In the statement, Mkhwebane said: “We have been consistent in our call on the bureaucracy to exercise prudence when it comes to the spending of public funds on COVID-19 related goods and services. We have stressed that deviation from normal procurement processes is not a declaration of an open season to pillage”.

The Public Protector said she has already met several stakeholders relating to the investigations. Among these are several ministers as well as the Auditor-General and the representative of the Special Investigating Unit.

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