The “costly exercise” of fighting R14.3-billion worth of Covid-19-related procurement corruption will see the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) spend about R341-million by the end of August to chase suspected criminals.
This comes as the unit announced that investigations related to the contentious R82-million Digital Vibes contract would be finalised by end June, and that the probe was “at an advanced stage”.
The Digital Vibes contract was intended to assist the health department with Covid-19 awareness, but, as Daily Maverick reported, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has been accused of nepotism following allegations that close associates received work from the government, and that his own son allegedly benefited from Digital Vibes payments.
Briefing parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Thursday, the SIU also revealed that, of the R126.7-billion Covid-19-related government spending from April 2020 to March, R14.3-billion was under investigation, while the unit is currently chasing R614.3-million in contracts to set aside and recover costs.
SIU head Advocate Andy Mothibi told Scopa that the unit had finalised 40% of its investigations, totalling R5.7-billion, that 54% of cases valued at R7.6-billion were ongoing and 6% of matters, to a value of R878.8-million, had yet to commence.
Mothibi said that President Cyril Ramaphosa had been given the progress report on 30 April, and that the SIU aimed to finalise all matters by the end of August.
The SIU had projected spending R386-million on its investigations, Mothibi added, and a reduction in internal resources by R12-million and an estimated R33-million cost on experts assisting the unit had allowed for savings.
“The initial estimates were provided based on projections by the SIU teams and, as the investigations progressed, the actual costs have become less than what was projected,” Mothibi said.
This prompted Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa of the Inkatha Freedom Party to assert that the public “were being screwed over twice” because of the hefty R341-million the SIU needed to deal with corruption.
“Fighting corruption is a costly exercise,” Hlengwa said.
Mothibi assured the committee that the 2 251 service providers that were implicated in alleged corruption would also be dealt with.
“Over and above the civil litigation process that we take to recover the monies from [service providers] while we refer them for criminal prosecution, we will also want to make sure that they are blacklisted,” he said.
“The word blacklist relates to an administrative action that is taken to ensure that these service providers are restrained from doing business with [the] government [again],” the SIU head said.
Regarding the Digital Vibes contract, Mothibi confirmed what Mkhize had said last week — that the tender was awarded irregularly — but added he was “constrained” from revealing much about the investigation.
“We have determined the accountability levels of who was involved in the actual procurement process, and those referrals will be made to the department. We will also look at various allegations that are made in respect of the other officials in the department, including the executive authority in the department (Mkhize), and the service provider that was identified, Digital Vibes,” Mothibi explained.