Former Gauteng Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku was a rising star in the ruling African National Congress. That was until a major scandal around the procurement of personal protective equipment for public servants on the frontline in the war against the Covid-19 pandemic in the province broke out. It led to his sacking.
Although a probe by anti-crime investigators found no evidence that Masuku lined his pockets with the State’s Covid millions, he was deemed to have been ineffective in his oversight role, a conclusion that could well torpedo his political prospects.
What this Covid-gate affair revealed is that politicians and senior bureacrats, as well as entrepreneurs (read wheeler-dealers) will not shy away from making a quick buck, even if this could result in avoidable deaths. This is how depraved our leaders – in both government and the private sector – can be.
I know this is cold comfort, but this degeneracy is not an exclusively South African phenomenon – it afflicts many other countries on our beloved continent too. In neighbouring Zimbabwe, for example, the former Health Minister is due to appear in court soon for his role in the country’s own Covid-gate scandal. He is facing charges of awarding a $60-million contract for the supply of disposable face masks to a dodgy company that invoiced $28 for a unit, compared with a wholesale price of less than $4 from reputable sources. Mind you, these are greenbacks, and not the funny stuff that’s Zimbabwe’s official currency. So, at the current exchange rate, the Ministry of Health was paying more than R400 for a disposable face mask. And the supplier, who apparently has connections in high places, bought the masks dirt cheap in China.
Elsewhere on the continent – in Kenya – where about 300 000 people have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the Ministry of Health to publish details of all the Covid-19-related contracts awarded by the State-run Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, detailing the sums paid to date. This came amid strikes at ill-equipped State hospitals and streets protests prompted by allegations that government officials had spirited away $400-million in public money meant for the purchase of medical equipment needed in the fight against the coronavirus.
In Uganda, which is in Kenya’s East African neck of the woods, four senior government officials were arrested last year for inflating Covid-19 relief food prices. They all worked in the Prime Minister’s office and were responsible for procuring foodstuffs for those most vulnerable to the pandemic. Speaking after their arrest, an anticorruption official stated: “We have clear evidence of the well-known, able and credible suppliers who offered lower prices that accounting officers in the Office of the Prime Minister rejected. And they instead took on the higher ones. Some of the people who were given offers to supply are not even prequalified.”
Indeed, the list of African countries where malfeasance involving Covid-19 funds has been exposed is quite long. It also includes the likes of Somalia and Nigeria, as well as Malawi, where the President, Lazarus Chakwera, has proven that he is more than prepared to deal with this cancer decisively. Last month, after an audit revealed that his Labour Minister had used $800 in Covid funding – yes, the amount was that small – for a government trip to South Africa, Chakwera fired the Minister in question. That the Minister had since returned the money and that the money was not diverted to private use was not enough to mollify Chakwera.
The Malawian President also ordered the dismissal of more than a dozen senior civil servants who had been exposed by the same audit as having helped themselves to Covid-19 funds totalling $7.8-million.
It’s a shame that some people don’t have qualms about stealing even during a pandemic.