President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken on a number of key issues facing the country right now, including corruption allegations that have been levelled against government officials and the country’s public transport system
Speaking to parliament in an oral Q&A on Tuesday (27 October), the president also flatly dismissed rumours that South Africa is returning to a hard lockdown, but said there are worrying trends related to Covid-19 infections.
On Sunday, KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala said that a return to a hard lockdown is on the cards, unless the country sees a decline in the number of daily coronavirus cases.
However, Ramaphosa said that no decision on a stricter lockdown has been made, although the issue was not completely off the cards. The president said he received a report on Tuesday on Covid-19 infections, but still has to study it.
He said after he studies the report, he will address the nation – most likely next week – about the situation and the way forward.
Ramaphosa highlighted that government is starting to see signs which are of concern, including super spreader events.
“As South Africans we need to adhere to the measures that have been put to us by the medical advisory committee,” he said.
“In the coming days, possibly next week, I will be able to address the people of South Africa about what we now need to do in the light of what we are going through,” he said.
“I don’t want to be alarmist. The rumors that we are going to level 3 is simply not true. If we ever get there, I will be the one to advise the nation where we are, and where we are going to.”
Ramaphosa was asked to speak on how the government was dealing with various reports of corruption and procurement irregularities surrounding the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
In response, the president said that the government has established a ‘fusion centre’ which brings together nine law enforcement agencies to share information and resources and ensure a coordinated response.
“On 23 July 2020, I issued a proclamation to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to investigate Covid-related maladministration and unlawful conduct in any state institution during the national state of disaster.
“The SIU is currently looking into 932 matters under the issued proclamation, and all these matters are at different stages of investigation.”
Ramaphosa said that the SIU has, to date, provided two interim reports, which outline progress in the investigations, including where investigations have been finalised.
The reports of SIU investigations will be made public once all the necessary process have been completed and there is no risk of jeopardising ongoing investigations, he said.
“On 5 August 2020, Cabinet set up a ministerial team to compile and publish details of all Covid-related contracts awarded by the state.
“These have now been published on the National Treasury website and will be updated monthly. The South African Revenue Service has established a Covid-19 Project Team to investigate and audit cases.”
Ramaphosa said that some of its reportable outcomes highlight that, as at end of September 2020, there were 307 cases with an estimated tax revenue loss of R300 million.
There are 139 companies referred for potential tax evasion investigation, he said.
“The rise in serious commercial crimes and incidents of Covid-19 procurement corruption have meant that we are fast-tracking the establishment of additional Special Commercial Crimes Courts and increasing capacity of existing ones.”
New district model
Ramaphosa said that the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) and National Treasury are working on a strategy to jointly support dysfunctional municipalities across the country.
He added that all of the country’s municipalities will be aligned under the new District Development Model which is being steered by Cogta minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
“This approach ensures that the district municipalities and their local municipalities receive evidence-based support programmes that focus on critical areas of performance, such as financial management, service delivery and infrastructure, governance and administration,” he said.
Ramaphosa said that this new model, combined with other interventions such as a ‘municipal systems improvement grant’, will make an important contribution to resolving some of the key capacity challenges that confront many municipalities.
Ramaphosa acknowledged that the country’s public transport system, specifically its rail infrastructure, was in bad shape and that government was working to address this.
“The continuous damage, sabotage, theft and vandalism of rail infrastructure is one of the worst forms of economic crime in this country,” he said.
“It has a direct impact on the lives of the millions of South Africans who rely on commuter rail services to travel to work or to study.”
Ramaphosa said that rail forms a key part of the country’s new economic recovery plan and that government will be taking decisive measures to improve security on these lines.
The National Treasury has granted approval of R900 million for the implementation of the PRASA Security Plan to combat theft and vandalism of the rail infrastructure.
“Part of the plan is to immediately appoint security personnel and to deploy remotely piloted aircraft systems to conduct virtual patrols of high-risk infrastructure. This capability will work together with specialised investigations and armed response.
“The plan will also involve the creation of an internal security capability for armed response, control room operations and increasing the number of physical security officials,” he said.
Ramaphosa said that an e-guarding solution will also be introduced for the protection of mission-critical assets – such as substations, relay rooms and communication sites – with early warning security technology and defensive security systems.
“The plan will also introduce specialised investigations with legal support and access to criminal laboratories,” he said.
“We believe this capability will improve the quality of investigation reports leading to an improved prosecution rate.”