JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has set up a ministerial committee to investigate alleged corruption in state tenders in the fight against COVID-19, his office said on Thursday, including with businesses supplying protective gear.
Reports of suspect deals between government officials and businesses providing medical equipment, as well as food aid parcels to the poor, have sparked outrage in South Africa, where more than half a million cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 make it the fifth largest outbreak in the world.
South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog said on Monday it was investigating irregularities in these contracts, the latest in a series of high-profile graft scandals involving politically-connected individuals.
Reports of corruption are embarrassing for Ramaphosa, who took over from Jacob Zuma as president more than two years ago on a promise of stamping out the graft associated with his predecessor.
“The committee will look into corruption in the procurement of goods and services sourced for the purpose of containing and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement from Ramaphosa’s office said, adding that this “includes the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE)”.
Nurses have complained of widespread shortages of PPE that have enabled infections to spread to staff and other patients in hospitals.
The president in a newsletter this week pledged to “finally deal with the entrenched patronage networks that enable government employees to bid for state contracts through their friends and relatives”.
Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman, Khusela Diko, and a top Gauteng health official have taken leaves of absence after a media report said that Diko’s husband won PPE contracts with the Gauteng government. She and her husband deny any wrong-doing.