President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed a proclamation authorising the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe, in any State institution, allegations of corruption during or related to the COVID-19 national state of disaster.

The President announced the signing of the proclamation during his address to the nation on Thursday evening, on developments in South Africa’s risk-adjusted strategy to manage the spread of COVID-19.

The proclamation, signed on Thursday, empowers the SIU to probe any allegations relating to the misuse of COVID-19 funds across all spheres of the State.

“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,” said the President.

To ensure that action is taken speedily, the President will receive interim reports on investigations from the SIU every six weeks.

“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,” said President Ramaphosa.

The proclamation comes amid a flurry of allegations about 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.

Government has put in place several measures in efforts to counter corruption, including regulations issued by National Treasury to ensure that emergency procurement of supplies and services meet the constitutional requirements of fairness, transparency, competitiveness and cost effectiveness.

The Auditor-General also adopted special measures to safeguard funds committed to the fight against COVID-19.

Centre to investigate COVID-related corruption

In addition to all these measures, government established a collaborative coordinating centre to strengthen the efforts among law enforcement agencies to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute COVID-related corruption.

This centre brings together nine State institutions, namely, the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks, Crime Intelligence and the SAPS Detective Service, the South African Revenue Service, 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.

“At least 36 cases are currently at various stages of investigation and prosecution,” said the President.

UIF special COVID-19 benefit extended

To alleviate the economic burden on citizens, President Ramaphosa announced the extension of the UIF’s special COVID-19 benefit to 15 August 2020.

For the months of April, May and June, the UIF’s special COVID-19 benefit has paid out R34 billion, helping over 7.5 million workers, and preventing retrenchments in a number of companies.

Loan guarantee scheme increases uptake

Government has also adjusted the rules of the R200 billion loan guarantee scheme to expand the eligibility criteria and increase uptake, making it easier for businesses to access finance during this period.

In partnership with the banks, through the R200 billion loan guarantee scheme, financial support has been provided to more than 8 600 small and medium-sized companies to the value of R12 billion. – SAnews.gov.za