The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, has admitted in a reply to a parliamentary question from the Democratic Alliance (DA) that no dedicated Covid-19 anti-corruption unit has yet been established at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and that there is no intention to establish one in the future.
This directly contradicts President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on 23 March 2020 that the NPA would establish these units to expedite the prosecution and sentencing of those who are involved in corrupt activities related to the Covid-19 crisis.
In his reply Minister Lamola shifts the bulk of this responsibility onto the Anti-Corruption Task Team (ACTT). While the NPA forms a part of the ACTT, with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the Financial Intelligence Centre, its membership does not absolve (them) of the responsibility of establishing a unit in the NPA whose focus would be the prosecution of Covid-19 corruption – especially given the serious abuses we’ve seen in terms of Covid-19 resources. The ACTT has had no successes to boast of in the recent past, and has no capacity to prosecute at all. That is the sole domain of the NPA, and the NPA is already sinking under the weight of the grand scale corruption perpetrated in every imaginable sphere.
This is not the first time that South Africa has seen Ministers make a complete U-turn on announcements made by the President over these past six months. While the majority of South Africans have faced a daily struggle for survival during the extended Covid-19 lockdown, these Ministers have sought to increase their own power with little regard for citizens or the Rule of Law. Minister Lamola now appears to be no exception.
He writes, “It can therefore be deduced from the work under way that the existing law enforcement agencies have the ability and the competence to deal with Covid-19 related corruption. Therefore, there is no compelling reason for the establishment of a Special Covid-19 Anti-Corruption Unit at this stage.”
If the existing law enforcement agencies had the Covid corruption situation in hand, why did the President feel the need to promise South Africans at the very start of the lockdown that an anti-corruption unit would be established? Did Minister Lamola know then that the President’s promise was empty, or did he decide to make it so by defying President Ramaphosa?
South Africa’s pandemic of corruption has infected every aspect and sphere of government long before Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the world. And for nearly as long, the country’s law enforcement agencies have failed to get a grip on it. Why the Minister thinks that dodgy dealing with Covid-19 resources would be different is anybody’s guess.