JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A report into the dealings of senior South African Department of Health officials during the coronavirus pandemic was released Wednesday, exposing corruption, fraud and the misappropriation of millions of dollars intended to help the fight against COVID-19.
The long-awaited report by the Special Investigation Unit, released by President Cyril Ramaphosa, exposed wrongdoing by former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and others.
The report said Mkhize, who resigned last month, interfered in the procurement process to have a COVID-19 communications contract worth $10 million awarded to close associates. The associates then made payments for the benefit of Mkhize and his family, according to the report. Part of the funds were used for renovations to one of Mkhize’s homes and to purchase a vehicle for Mkhize’s son.
Digital Vibes, a company linked to Mkhize’s former communications adviser and former personal assistant, has won the contract to carry out consultancy work for the national health department’s COVID-19 communications strategy.
Opposition parties have demanded that Mkhize and other senior officials involved face criminal investigations. Mkhize remains a member of parliament, where he continues to receive a salary.
The scandal has angered South Africans, many of whom have been forced into hardship by the government’s tough lockdown restrictions during the pandemic. Africa’s most developed economy is the most affected by the virus on the continent, with more than 2.8 million reported cases and more than 87,000 deaths.
South Africans have heard regular allegations of government corruption in recent years. A long-running commission of inquiry into allegations of corruption under former President Jacob Zuma has aired testimony about sometimes eye-popping levels of corruption in government and state-owned companies under Zuma, who is currently on trial for charges separate from corruption.
The report on the transactions at the Ministry of Health was delivered to Ramaphosa on June 30. The president, who has made the fight against corruption a centerpiece of his leadership, had come under pressure to go public.
The report recommended that the most senior Health Department official below the ministerial level, Dr Anban Pillay, be criminally prosecuted. This week, the department placed another senior official, Sandile Buthelezi, on suspension for his involvement. The evidence implicated at least six other officials, according to the report.
The SIU, a state agency, also investigated allegations of widespread corruption in the awarding of government contracts for personal protective equipment. and other measures to combat the virus last year, which involved health officials at the provincial and local levels. The SIU said government contracts worth nearly $900 million were suspect.