KNIVES are out and battle lines drawn over mass corruption in the procurement of personal protective equipment saga that has rocked KwaZulu-Natal provincial government.
The grand scale corruption was uncovered by a forensic ‘KZN COVID-19 Procurement Disclosure Report’ released last month by KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala.
The probe was triggered by whistleblowers amid widespread public outcry over the procurement of personal protective equipment for various provincial departments as a response to COVID-19 outbreak.
The provincial department of Social Development was the worst culprit with more than R30 million of taxpayers’ money said to have gone down the drain in corrupt deals.
The money was allegedly siphoned off by officials who colluded with service providers in the corruption frenzy.
Now, opposition parties in the provincial legislature are up in arms, calling for a full blown criminal investigation conducted by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).
“While the DA welcomes the release of the information, we remain concerned by lack of detail, leaving to what we call as sanitised document. It is for this reason that we are today calling on the Premier to launch a SIU investigation into every tender mentioned, across all levels of provincial government,” said DA provincial leader Zwakele Mncwango.
Last week, the provincial cabinet released a procurement report detailing all service providers who were awarded COVID-19 government contracts and are suspected of corruption.
The list included the amounts each service provider charged for supplying PPE’s to the various departments.
But the DA says this was a window dressing exercise. Instead, the party wants names of directors of the companies to be made public and be subjected to a criminal investigation by the SIU.
“This is evidenced by the fact that the Premier circulated the Procurement Disclosure Report to the media before tabling or even discussing it with members of the province’s office of the premier portfolio committee. The DA challenges Zikalala to show that he is sincere about ending corruption of the province by involving the SIU,” added Mncwango
The procurement report showed how one service provider had submitted different amounts for the supply of blankets in various homeless shelters in the province.
The service providers had inflated blankets quoting more than R600 per blanket, an item which is available for R300 or less on a normal retail price. About 13 officials have been linked to the mass scale looting.
Sandile Zungu, president of the Black Business Council (BBC), was quick to distance his organisation from the implicated service providers, saying they were feeding into long held perceptions and falsehood perpetrated about black businesses.
“In fact, our stance on this matter is that those who are responsible for stealing from the public purse should have their businesses deregistered and be prohibited from doing any work with the State. Our view is that these are not genuine businesspeople but thieves, so they must be treated in that manner,” Zungu told Inside Metros.
Following the backlash, the provincial government also rushed to announce that it was conducting a lifestyle audit on government employees and politicians.
The IFP which is the official opposition in the legislature called for a dedicated corruption court to prosecute government officials and political leaders stealing from the public purse.
“Corruption steal from the poor and for government to send a strong message a corruption designated court must be constituted to fast track prosecutions. This is the only way that government can put an end to the plundering of people’s resources by greedy individuals,” said IFP caucus leader, Blessed Gwala.
(COMPLIED BY INSIDE METROS STAFF)