If one were to be offered an opportunity to take the reins from President Cyril Ramaphosa, in this day and age, one would refuse outright without a shadow of doubt. This because of the pressure placed on Number 1 in recent days.
First it was the pandemic, which is currently holding the country and the world to ransom, then a court finding against the constitutionality of South African lockdown regulations, and now having to account for missing COVID-19 billions under the custodianship of public office bearers, all under his command. Ramaphosa surely deserves a round of applause for keeping it together and maintaining a calm demeanour when seen in public forums.
The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has been assigned the task of investigating any unlawful or improper conduct in the procurement of goods and services during, or related to, the national state of disaster in all organs of state. This decision is preceded by months of maladministration and corruption involving food parcels, mask manufacturing and hefty bills for COVID-19 door-to-door awareness campaigns, to name a few.
The SIU now carries a mandate to probe all allegations relating to the misappropriation of COVID-19 funds in all spheres of the state. It is empowered to refer applicable evidence to the National Prosecuting Authority and can institute civil proceedings to recover damages or losses incurred by the state. Moreover, Ramaphosa constituted a collaborative coordinating centre tasked with strengthening collective efforts among law enforcement agencies in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of coronavirus-related crimes.
This centre comprises, among others, the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), National Prosecuting Authority, South African Revenue Service and State Security Agency. In spite of it being a commendable move allowing for law and order to prevail, this move brings about additional pressure on an already strained country with very little prospects of triumph, looking at the success rate of past investigations involving public office bearers.
Currently based at the FIC headquarters, this centre investigates corruption allegations in the distribution of food parcels, social relief grants, and the procurement of personal protective equipment, among others, with 36 investigations under way.
It is evident that the pandemic has created opportunities for integrity violations with heightened fraud and corruption, particularly in the public sector. Therefore, both interim and strategic measures are essential in addressing these risks, with specific focus being on reviewing the procurement process, strengthening inspection and auditing capabilities, and reinforcing integrity controls in all organs of state. Organs of state should consider strengthening their public integrity controls in order to prevent these and similar acts from manifesting in future.
This will be through a risk-based approach, empowering institutional leaders to identify and flag high-risk employees, and thereby acting decisively in containing and ultimately overcoming the risk.
An overhaul of the public sector supply chain management process would be an ideal long-term move. In the interim, however, there should be transparency and accountability in the procurement process through the involvement of senior management, enterprise risk and internal auditing teams in COVID-19 procurement processes.
There should also be random internal and external audits instituted alongside the practice of job rotations to create an opportunity for these audits to occur unhindered.
Furthermore, these organisations should leverage off and improve their digital channels and tools, with focus being on strengthening transparency, integrity and accountability.
Finally, an ethical behavioural training programme should be initiated, focusing on acceptable public sector employee conduct alongside the implications of non-compliance.
- Gwala is a data governance manager at Alexander Forbes. He writes in his personal