Investigations vindicate our exposure of corruption in the sanitising of schools
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.