South African companies under investigation for providing masks that don’t work: report

Dozens of South African companies are under investigation for providing substandard personal protective equipment (PPE) which was meant to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, the Sunday Times reports.

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) is working alongside the Hawks and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) on the probe, with four companies already facing charges.

Hawks spokesperson Brig Hangwani Mulaudzi said that there are more than 50 cases regarding substandard or falsified PPE. However, he said that Hawks are not yet able to quantify the the substandard PPE involved, or the total value of the equipment.

“It is a countrywide investigation and correct charges will be preferred once all the evidence has been collected. Corruption cannot be ruled out.”

Data from the  South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) shows that around 60% of the medical-grade masks scrutinised did not meet quality criteria. SABS lead administrator Jodi Scholtz said most of its inspections took place at warehouses before the PPE was dispatched.

“Non-compliant masks are harmful to the wearer as they might allow for particle penetration, might be made of material that irritates the skin and might have a higher than acceptable breathing resistance,” said Scholtz.

“It is important to remember that different batches of products may have different results, so it is not correct to assume that a manufacturer is only producing defective or substandard products.”

Damning findings

The investigation comes after Auditor General (AG) Kimi Makwetu published a report this week which found major flaws and corruption in South Africa’s R500 billion coronavirus funding.

“Based on what was audited to date, there are clear signs of overpricing, unfair processes, potential fraud and supply chain management legislation being sidestepped,” he said.

“In addition, delays in the delivery of personal protective equipment and quality concerns could have been avoided through better planning and management of suppliers.”

Some of the key issues identified in the PPE procurement included;

  • There are delays in the delivery of PPE;
  • PPE are not always procured at market-related prices;
  • There are deficiencies and non-compliance in PPE procurement processes;
  • There are insufficient controls to ensure the receipt and payment of PPE at the levels of quality and price ordered.

“The problem with the quality of PPE purchased is most evident in a few schools that were visited where the masks provided were not to specifications and were often one-size-fits-all (whether for a child or an adult),” said Makwetu.

“Instances were also found where specified PPE items ordered by a health department were substituted by the supplier with items of a lower specification, which the department accepted and even paid for at the higher price of the originally ordered item.”

In addition, poor controls were evident in auditees that received and paid for goods that were not ordered, he said.

Read: Auditor General uncovers major flaws and corruption in South Africa’s R500 billion coronavirus funding

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South African companies under investigation for providing masks that don’t work: report