Last night President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation with two key issues front of mind – schools and corruption.

The former took the form of an announcement that public schools would be closed for four weeks starting 27th July. As for corruption related to illicit activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramaphosa empowered a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to look into such matters.

As for what has prompted the forming of this SIU, the presidency highlighted concerning claims with regard to corruption.

These include, “fraudulent Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) claims, overpricing of goods and services, violation of emergency procurement regulations, collusion between officials and service providers, abuse of food parcel distribution and the creation of fake non-profit organisations to access relief funding.”

The president signed a proclamation yesterday that will allow the SIU to probe any allegations related to corruption, with a specific focus on the misuse of state funds that have been allocated to COVID-19 relief efforts.

“If the SIU finds evidence that a criminal offence has been committed, it is obliged to refer such evidence to the prosecuting authority. It is also empowered to institute civil proceedings for the recovery of any damages or losses incurred by the State,” Ramaphosa explained.

The Special Investigating Unit will also be reporting to the president every six weeks regarding its findings.

“The fight against the Coronavirus pandemic is stretching our capabilities and resources to their limit. We are therefore determined that there should be no theft, no wastage and no mismanagement of public funds. The consequences for those who break the law or bypass regulations will be severe,” the president added.

Precisely what guise those consequences will take remains to be seen, but we’re hoping that they are more just a fine or slap on the wrist, especially given the dire situation that many South Africans are facing during the pandemic and national lockdown.

Along with the SIU, government will also be enlisting the aid of nine state institutions in order to create a centre focused on COVID-19-related corruption.

The nine institutions are the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Hawks, Crime Intelligence and the SAPS Detective Service, the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the Special Investigating Unit and the State Security Agency.

“With an operational hub at the FIC, this centre is investigating allegations of corruption in areas such as the distribution of food parcels, social relief grants, the procurement of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, and UIF special COVID-19 scheme,” the president pointed out.

“At least 36 cases are currently at various stages of investigation and prosecution,” he added.

While it remains to be seen what happens with those 36 cases, corruption once again is a significant problem that this government must address.

The most unfortunate element in all this, however, are the South African citizens who are not getting the assistance they require during the pandemic and lockdown as a result.

[Image – Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash]