South Africa warns COVID-19 corruption puts ‘lives at risk’

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s COVID-19 response is marred by corruption allegations around its historic USD26 billion economic relief package, as the country with the world’s fifth highest number of COVID-19 cases braces for more.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a wide-ranging investigation into claims that unscrupulous officials and private companies are looting efforts to protect the country’s 57 million people.

“More so than at any other time, corruption puts our lives at risk,” he said in a national address last Thursday night.

Food for the poor. Personal protective equipment for health workers. Grants for the newly laid off. All have been affected, he said.

South Africa is seen as the best-prepared of any country in sub-Saharan Africa for COVID-19, but years of rampant corruption have weakened institutions, including the health system. In October, the head of the government’s Special Investigating Unit said fraud, waste and abuse in healthcare siphoned off USD2.3 billion a year.

The unit is already investigating over 20 cases of corruption related to the COVID-19 relief money, spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said.

South Africa now has more than 434,000 confirmed virus cases — well over half of the continent’s total — and over 6,600 deaths, while a new report has suggested the real death toll could be higher. Public hospitals struggle and some health workers are openly scared. Over 5,000 of them have been infected.

While nurses and others plead for more protection, overpricing scams for badly needed supplies are on the rise. After inflating face mask prices by up to 900 per cent, companies Sicuro Safety and Hennox Supplies admitted guilt and were fined.

Other allegations include fake charity organisations that have sprung up to tap relief funds.

People affected by the coronavirus economic downturn line up to receive food parcels in Pretoria, South Africa. PHOTO: AP