Report: Corruption at South Africa’s Ministry of Health during COVID

JOHANNESBURG – A report on relations between senior officials in the South African Department of Health during the coronavirus pandemic was released on Wednesday, revealing corruption, fraud and the embezzlement of millions of dollars intended to help fight the COVID-19.

The highly anticipated Special Investigative Unit report, released by President Cyril Ramaphosa, revealed wrongdoing by former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and others.

The report says Mkhize, who resigned last month, interfered in the procurement process for a COVID-19 communications contract worth $ 10 million to be awarded to close associates. The associates then made payments for Mkhize and his family, according to the report. Part of the funds were used for renovations in one of Mkhize’s houses and to purchase a vehicle for Mkhize’s son.

Digital Vibes, a company linked to Mkhize’s former communications advisor and his former personal assistant, won the contract to perform consultancy work for the National Department of Health’s COVID-19 communications strategy.

Opposition parties have called for Mkhize and other senior officials involved to be subjected to criminal investigations. Mkhize remains a member of parliament, where he continues to receive a salary.

The scandal angered South Africans, many of whom were forced into hardship by the severe lockdown restrictions imposed by the government 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 regularly heard allegations of government corruption in recent years. A long-standing commission of inquiry into corruption allegations under former President Jacob Zuma has broadcast testimony about sometimes mind-boggling levels of corruption in government and state-owned enterprises under Zuma, who is currently on trial for separate charges of corruption.

The report on the dealings 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 been pressured to make it public.

The report recommended that the top health department official below the ministerial level, Dr Anban Pillay, be prosecuted. This week, the ministry 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 last year investigated allegations of widespread corruption in the awarding of public contracts for personal protective equipment and other measures to combat the virus, which involved health officials at provincial and local levels. The SIU said government contracts worth nearly $ 900 million were suspect.

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