TAMING GRAFT

How to solve riddle of Covid billions use

The quick and easy money in SA today is being made in trading in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

In Summary

• Transparency and accountability may be trite but it's crucial in PPE procurement

• The quick and easy money in SA today is being made in trading in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Nurses wear protective gear during a demonstration of preparations for coronavirus cases at the Mbagathi Hospital isolation centre
FORCED TO REUSE: Nurses wear protective gear during a demonstration of preparations for coronavirus cases at the Mbagathi Hospital isolation centre
Image: REUTERS

There was a time in the early 1990s when “transparency and accountability” were the hottest buzzwords on the diplomatic cocktail party circuit in Nairobi.

As a young political reporter, I attended my fair share of those.

The phrase soon became meaningless as it was repeated so often by people who were more opaque than clear and so slippery, they could never be pinned down. 

When some of the most corrupt politicians and businessmen started speaking about transparency and accountability, it was time to retire the phrase.

 
 

Recently the phrase has returned to haunt me here in South Africa, where those people who are so hopeful as to be delusional thought that once Jacob Zuma was gone, corruption and state capture would melt away in the sunshine smile of his replacement.

They reminded me of certain friends of mine who celebrated the end of corruption as the Narc government swept to power in 2002, only to be crying in their beer unbelieving less than two years later.

That sort of corruption doesn’t disappear without drastic measures being taken to uproot it, and very few, if any, governments seem to have the stomach for such “radical surgery”, to borrow a phrase.

Anyway, the reason the catchphrase “transparency and accountability” is back in my life is literally the Covid-19 business. Or, to put it more succinctly, covidpreneurs after all tenderpreneurs are so 2019.  

For those who came in late and need to catch up, the word tenderpreneur is a blending of "tendering" and "entrepreneur." These are people in government or the private sector who obtain private or government tenders and contracts to facilitate outsourced services. So it follows that a Covidpreneur is one who is making money from Covid. 

The quick and easy money in SA today is being made in trading in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson and her husband were all over the news after reports that he had won a lucrative tender to supply PPE to the government. 

 
 

Nobody cared to find out if the deal was legitimate, the fact that it was being conducted by people who practically live in the corridors of power had the whole country wondering what happened to the new dawn President Ramaphosa had promised when he succeeded Jacob Zuma at Union Buildings in Pretoria.

When the news broke, the whispers of “transparency and accountability” came with it.

Now here in the opposition-controlled Western Cape, they are trying to stem the tide of procurement corruption or covidpreneurship using a method prescribed in the law, but until recently,  ignored. 

The Procurement Disclosure Report details all PPE procurement and expenditure in the province's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, in a regular and standardised report that will be made available on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis to the public. 

The first Procurement Disclosure Report, launched this week, details all PPE procurement and expenditure by Western Cape government departments from April 1 to June 30 and, on each transaction, includes details such as the name of the supplier, a description of the item, the unit price per item and the total spent.

Reading about the issues you are having with PPE corruption there in Kenya, I wonder if this might not be one of those African solutions that those who love to "benchmark" might want to borrow. 

After all, it could turn out to be a vital measure designed to mitigate the risks in supply chain management and ensure this money is spent correctly.

But then again,  I guess it should be tried and tested first, so perhaps you might want to wait and see what happens in the case being built against a Municipality here, where the police raided just such a suspected graft scheme. 

If so, watch this space and I'll let you know if transparency and accountability can actually become a thing. 

Edited by T Jalio