Report: Corruption at S Africa health ministry during COVID

Health

FILE – In this Tuesday, April 14, 2020 file photo, South African Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize, takes delivery of emergency medical equipment for COVID-19 from China, at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. A report by the Special Investigating Unit released by president Cyril Ramaphosa was made public Wednesday Sept. 29, 2021, revealing corruption, fraud and the misappropriation of millions of dollars meant to aid the country’s fight against COVID-19, as well as wrongdoing by former health minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize and others.(AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, File)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A report into dealings by senior officials at South Africa’s health ministry during the coronavirus pandemic was made public Wednesday, revealing corruption, fraud and the misappropriation of millions of dollars meant to aid the fight against COVID-19.

The highly awaited report by the Special Investigating Unit, released by President Cyril Ramaphosa, found wrongdoing by former health minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize and others.

The report said Mkhize, who resigned last month, interfered in the procurement process to have a COVID-19 communications contract worth $10 million awarded to close associates. The associates later made payments for Mkhize and his family’s benefit, the report said. Some of the funds were used for renovations at one of Mkhize’s homes and to buy a vehicle for Mkhize’s son.

Digital Vibes, a company connected to Mkhize’s former communications advisor and his former personal assistant, was awarded the contract to render consultancy work for the national health department’s COVID-19 communications strategy.

Opposition parties have called for Mkhize and other senior officials implicated to face criminal investigations. Mkhize remains a lawmaker in parliament, where he continues to draw a salary.

The scandal has angered South Africans, with many forced into hardship by stern lockdown restrictions imposed by the government during the pandemic. Africa’s most developed economy is the worst affected by the virus on the continent, with more than 2.8 million reported cases and more than 87,000 deaths.

South Africans have heard regular allegations of government corruption in recent years. A long-running commission of inquiry into alleged graft under former President Jacob Zuma has broadcast testimony of sometimes jaw-dropping levels of corruption in government and at state-owned enterprises under Zuma, who is currently on trial on separate charges of corruption.

The report into dealings at the health ministry was given to Ramaphosa on June 30. The president, who has made the fight against corruption a centerpiece of his leadership, had been under pressure to release it publicly.

The report recommended that the health department’s most senior official below ministerial level, Dr. Anban Pillay, be criminally prosecuted. This week, the department placed another senior official, Sandile Buthelezi, on suspension for his involvement. The evidence implicated at least six other officials, the report said.

The SIU, a state agency, has also investigated allegations of widespread corruption in the awarding of government contracts for personal protective equipment and other measures to fight the virus last year, which implicated health officials at provincial and local level. The SIU said government contracts worth nearly $900 million were suspect.

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