An activist group composed of liberation activists from the late 1960s and 1970s has sent a legal notice to President Cyril Ramaphosa calling for all work and payments on all Covid-19 tenders suspected of irregularities to be suspended pending an independent review by an external team of experts.
The letter sent by lawyers representing the ‘70s Group on Wednesday is also addressed to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu.
The non-profit organisation’s letter comes as the Competition Commission clamps down on issues of unfair pricing on Covid-19 supplies and complaints regarding councillors stealing food parcels intended for the poor.
The spotlight has recently moved to instances of lucrative COVID-19-related tenders being awarded to relatives and friends of senior government officials and a number of irregular tenders being investigated by law enforcement.
“Such gravely compromised tenders that may have been so awarded ought to be placed on hold, until reviewed by an external independent group of experts comprising persons in the public space/[polity],” the letter reads.
The ‘70s Group also wants further tenders to be placed on hold until they are reviewed by the “irreproachable group” of independent experts to determine the quality of goods and services of the service providers.
Further, payments by national and provincial governments related to these tenders should be frozen pending a review of the invoices to identify instances of overpricing and whether the tenders were awarded through proper processes.
“The State Attorney is required to give an undertaking within seven days that the payments for the service providers are on hold pending the investigations and finalisation of the review of the tenders so awarded,” the lawyers say.
Should this not happen the group of liberation activists says it will have “no option but to proceed to court on an urgent basis to give effect to the reasonable requests we have so far suggested”.
The wheels of corruption go round and round
“It’s like the bleeding continues and there is no urgent response to stop the bleeding,” said 70s Group coordinator Oupa Ngwenya.
“We think it’s not a matter of saying let’s see investigations happening, we think people will take this country seriously if everything is brought to a halt and anything that is in motion is verified so there is no cause for concern,” he added.
Professor Saths Cooper, who is the 70s Group’s treasurer, said they are awaiting the government’s response.
Cooper said the irreproachable review process would ensure that the tender contracts – whether for personal protective equipment (PPE), essential supplies or food – are valid in terms of pricing, quality and being delivered to those who need it.
The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is currently investigating over 100 cases of irregular Covid-19 tenders in Gauteng alone, according to reports by EWN. This comes after reports by the Sunday Times that the SIU is also investigating R30 million worth of irregular contracts in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.
Conflict of interest
In the wake of this came news of an R125 million tender contract for PPE awarded by the Gauteng Health Department to disputed Bhaca King Thandisizwe Diko, whose wife is presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko.
In a report by the Sunday Independent, it is said that the AmaBhaca King had inflated prices in the tender. The report also highlighted the friendship between the Dikos and Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku and his wife, suggesting there may have been some undue influence in the awarding of the tender.
While all parties have denied any illegality, Diko has temporarily stepped down from her role as Ramaphosa’s spokesperson pending investigation. Masuku and his wife have also been asked to step aside from their public office roles until a probe is concluded.
SIU not enough
The revelations come after Ramaphosa said he had put together a multi-disciplinary team of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to look into corruption related to Covid-19 funds.
But the ‘70s Group is not convinced that the teams will act quickly enough.
“There have been so many of these things happening,” said Cooper. “Where has the retribution been? Where have the prosecutions been? Has there been payback? Have some of it stopped?
“We can’t have commission upon commission or inquiry upon inquiry when we are in a dire state in our country, we are in a borrowing state,” he added, saying that this generation and the generations to come will have to pay for it.
“Those in power will pass on and leave the rest of us in debt.”