Daily Maverick

Investigat­ions vindicate our exposure of corruption in the sanitising of schools

- By Mark Heywood

In DM168’s lead story “What the fog?!” on 13 March this year, Ufrieda Ho and Mark Heywood lifted the lid on R117-million of unnecessar­y and potentiall­y dangerous Covid-19 fumigation by the Gauteng Department of Infrastruc­ture Developmen­t (GDID).

Earlier this year, DM168’s investigat­ions drew attention to massive spending by the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) and the GDID on sanitising schools and fogging public buildings. DM168 reported that the GDE had spent a shocking R431-million over several months in 2020. In both cases the fumigation and “fogging” took place despite the existence of recommenda­tions by government and the World Health Organizati­on that it was unnecessar­y and unsafe. In both cases DM168 drew attention to the fact that the companies contracted also had no prior experience in the office cleaning industry.

On 27 May, in a presentati­on to the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), Advocate Andy Mothibi, the head of the Special Investigat­ing Unit (SIU), made the unexpected announceme­nt of rapid progress in the investigat­ion into the school spending DM168 uncovered in January 2021. Mothibi said the SIU had been “granted a preservati­on of R40.7-million by the Special Tribunal to freeze bank accounts and assets belonging to 14 service providers”.

Describing the procuremen­t process for sanitising schools as “manifestly unlawful … haphazard, unfair and littered with procuremen­t irregulari­ties”, Mothibi announced that the SIU would “within 30 days launch review proceeding­s in the Special Tribunal and seek an order against the service providers to pay back all profits as a consequenc­e of their appointmen­t”.

He added that the investigat­ion had revealed that the vast majority of those appointed to do the cleaning were not accredited and not on the province’s Central Supplier Database and that some of the names of service providers were “received via WhatsApp from officials in the department”.

He concluded that the SIU investigat­ion into the affairs of the GDE is continuing and “evidence pointing to criminal conduct will be referred to the [National Prosecutin­g Authority] and Hawks for further action”.

DM168 believes that this is only the first outcome of investigat­ions sparked by our reporting. It is believed that investigat­ions into the six companies that pocketed R177-million for “fumigating services” are ongoing; in addition, there are outstandin­g issues to do with Gauteng’s R1-billion alternativ­e building technology contracts for ICU field hospitals.

Unfortunat­ely, the response of the Gauteng government has been to clam up and retreat from transparen­cy. Since April this year, when DM168 revealed that it had got its sums wrong by R250-million, it has stopped publishing expenditur­e disclosure reports that allow the media to examine patterns of Covid-19 expenditur­e.

The SIU findings have political implicatio­ns. Another MEC, this time Panyaza Lesufi, has been found wanting in exercising oversight over critical functions of his department. Questions must also be asked about which officials colluded and benefited from unlawful contracts.

DM168 requested a comment from Steve Mabona, spokespers­on for the GDE, on whether “any officials in the Department or the MEC [will] be subject to disciplina­ry inquiries?” No comment was received.

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