Gauteng Health officials implicated in the COVID-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) looting scandal have been ordered to pay back nearly R30m and their pensions have been frozen, reports City Press.
The order comes after an investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) unearthed damning evidence of price tampering, inflation of the value of goods, and collusion between Gauteng Health officials and companies awarded lucrative PPE contracts.
The SIU special tribunal summons reveals that former Gauteng Health chief financial officer Kabelo Lehloenya altered prices from a quotation that was submitted by a company owned by presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko’s husband, Nkosi Thandisizwe Diko.
Gauteng’s scandal, one of many that caused an uproar countrywide at the height of the pandemic, resulted in the suspension of Health MEC Bandile Masuku, whose wife, Loyiso, was partnered with Thandisizwe Diko and Royal Bhaca Projects. Khusela took leave of absence from her job, and Khusela Diko and Masuku have been suspended from the ANC’s provincial executive committee. Lehloenya resigned from her post following the discovery of the irregularities.
The couples are close friends. Masuku has not, however, been implicated by the SIU. Instead, the unit puts the blame for the massive looting squarely on the shoulders of Lehloenya and head of department Mkhululi Lukhele. It says the metadata of the quotation was created by Diko and later modified by Lehloenya, who inflated the original quote, and that the final price exceeded the maximum prices regulated by National Treasury.
The affected parties are yet to submit their defence in the cases that will be heard before the tribunal.
In the Eastern Cape, Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba has instituted an internal investigation into how five companies were awarded PPE tenders worth more than R150m combined, among them a deregistered company. While Gomba was unwilling to go into detail, the Daily Dispatch says it understands a company with no valid tax clearance certificate also benefited from tenders, which Gomba said were worth between R32m and R38m.
Gomba confirmed she had ordered a 14-day probe by the department’s internal audit unit. She said every PPE delivery claimed by the companies under investigation would be “tracked down and verified” after some “funny activities” were noted. The probe, Gomba said, “should be able to pick up any anomalies”. The companies were awarded tenders to deliver PPE in East London, Port Elizabeth and Mthatha.
The focus of the internal probe, Gomba said, would be on whether the companies had delivered all the specified PPE. She said the verification process comes after there had been “funny activities” noted around the delivery of PPE by the five companies, and their payment claims submitted, which she said sometimes came within hours or days of each other, and had “raised suspicions”.
Gomba said striking similarities from some of their payment invoices were noted.
In the Western Cape, Premier Alan Winde has dismissed opposition claims of a PPE cover-up, notes a Cape Argus report. “There has been no cover-up. This is an active and ongoing investigation and the SIU must be able to complete their work. We have co-operated fully with the SIU and have provided all of the information they have requested,” said Winde. “However, as a province, we welcome all efforts to ensure transparency and to root out corruption. Should wrongdoing be uncovered in any of these investigations, we will take immediate action.”
Winde added: “The investigation is into a purchase in May of 160 digital thermometers for use across various Western Cape Government buildings. The thermometers were purchased at a unit price below the applicable National Treasury guidelines at the time (20 May). The total expenditure amount was R216,000.
The SIU investigation into the Health Department relates to the procurement of a neurological microscope. At the Education Department it concerns the purchase of PPE, cleaning materials and sanitisers from a single supplier, and at the Environmental Affairs Department it is about the purchase of three thermometers with a total value of R8,910.”
Meanwhile, the Cederberg municipality has said the SIU has returned the computers and cellphones it retrieved during a search-and-seizure following the council’s demand in papers at the Western Cape High Court.
A Cape Times report says the SIU had swooped on the municipal offices, seizing devices and documents as part of its ongoing probe relating to alleged irregular procurement of PPE. Cederberg mayor Sylvia Qunta threatened to haul the SIU before the courts for attaching laptops and private cellphones of staff members, allegedly without a proclamation or warrant, following the 10 September operation.
The matter was postponed at the Western Cape High Court recently and is expected to be heard again on 9 October. Municipal manager Henry Slimmert said the items were returned in line with the deadlines set out in the court papers.
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