As a response to the numerous challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, the government as well as other private organisations have put economic and social relief measures in place to assist individuals and businesses in combating the unique challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some of the economic measures put in place include the implementation of tax relief measures by the South African Revenue Service, to lessen the burden associated with tax obligations during the pandemic, the National Empowerment Fund which assists black-owned businesses operating in the manufacturing and supply of medical related products, the Solidarity Fund created to support South Africa’s health and welfare system, as well as the Small Medium and Micro Enterprises emergency relief fund aimed at providing financial assistance to small business throughout South Africa.
Unfortunately, the implementation of the measures discussed above created an opportunity for corruption.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his national address on 23 July 2020, stated that while South Africa continues to fight the battle against Covid-19, the country is unfortunately, simultaneously obligated to wage a war against corrupt practices relating to the exploitation of Covid-19 relief funds availed by the government.
In as far as procurement of goods and services by organs of state is concerned, National Treasury responded to the pandemic by issuing regulations permitting specific emergency procurement processes with the aim of preventing abuse and corruption within the public procurement space, and to ensure that procurement of goods and services during the pandemic adheres to the principles of fairness, equitability, transparency, competitiveness and cost-effectiveness as enshrined in section 217 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
Notwithstanding the measures highlighted above, the President’s latest address to the nation largely addressed the surge of corruption, improper conduct and the misuse of Covid-19 relief funds across all spheres of state. The President emphasised that, in the battle against Covid-19, corrupt practices have become a prominent adversary in the South African context. In discussing the devastating impact of corruption, the President stressed that corrupt practices will not be tolerated by the South African government. The President solidified this stance by signing a Proclamation under the Special Investigating Units and Special Tribunals Act, 74 of 1996 (the “Act”), empowering the Special Investigating Unit (the “SIU”) to investigate any allegations relating to the misuse of funds intended to serve as relief for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Section 2 of the Act grants the President the authority to, whenever he or she deems it necessary, on account of any of the grounds listed in the Act, by proclamation, establish a Special Investigating Unit in order to investigate the matter concerned, refer the matter to an existing Special Investigating Unit and establish one or more Special Tribunals to adjudicate upon civil proceedings emanating from any investigation of any particular Special Investigating Unit. The Proclamation signed by the President is therefore an exercise of the power conferred onto him in terms of section 2(1) of the Act.
The Proclamation grants the SIU the powers to exercise the functions assigned to it by section 4 of the Act, including the institution of civil proceedings for the recovery of any losses suffered by the State or State institutions in relation to the said matters in the Schedule as well as referral of evidence to the relevant prosecuting authority where criminal offences have been committed. It must be noted that in his address the President highlighted that as a measure to ensure the expedient halting of corruption, he will be receiving reports on investigations by the SIU every six weeks.
It is trite that state institutions, employees, officials and all businesses refrain from corrupt practices and processes that are not legislatively permitted. It is clear that the President of South Africa has adopted an intolerance towards any form of corruption relating to the misuse of Covid-19 funds. As a country we are therefore encouraged to support the SIU in its mission to eradicate corruption in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.