CAPE TOWN – Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has dismissed the need for a special unit to probe Covid-19 related corruption, according to a written reply to a parliamentary question.
In response to a question posed by the main opposition DA on the establishment of such a unit, as mooted by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Lamola said none had been established.
He pointed to a presidential proclamation mandating the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe procurement graft related to the coronavirus, and said directors-general of departments particularly affected by the health crisis had discussed ways of tackling such corruption.
“The coordination is done through the Anti-Corruption Task Team,” Lamola said.
“It can therefore be deduced from the work under way that the existing law enforcement agencies have the ability and the competence to deal with Covid-19 related corruption. Therefore, there is no compelling reason for the establishment of a special Covid-19 anti-corruption unit at this stage.”
On Wednesday, DA justice spokeswoman Glynnis Breytenbach said the minister’s reply flew in the face of Ramaphosa’s undertaking on March 23 that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) would establish a unit to expedite the prosecution and sentencing of people involved in corruption related to the Covid-19 crisis.
She said Lamola’s response shifted the responsibility onto the Anti-Corruption Task Team, and that while the NPA was part of the team, along with the SIU and the Financial Intelligence Centre, its membership did not absolve it of the duty to set up a special unit to focus on Covid-19 abuses.
Furthermore, Breytenbach said, the task team had had “no successes to boast of in the recent past” and lacked the capacity to prosecute.
“That is the sole domain of the NPA, and the NPA is already sinking under the weight of the grand scale corruption perpetrated in every imaginable sphere,“ she said.
Breytenbach said Lamola’s stance was part of trend by government ministers to renege on undertakings given by Ramaphosa.
“This is not the first time that South Africa has seen ministers make a complete U-turn on announcements made by the president over these past six months,” she said.
“While the majority of South Africans have faced a daily struggle for survival during the extended Covid-19 lockdown, these ministers have sought to increase their own power with little regard for citizens or the rule of law. Minister Lamola now appears to be no exception.”
Corruption on a grand scale linked to procurement for Covid-19 material has weakened the government and added to popular anger at the economic impact of the hard lockdown imposed on March 27 in response to the health crisis.