Public protector investigates slew of complaints related to Covid-19

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s office says there has been a surge in the number of complaints related to the pandemic, with service failure allegations accounting for the lion’s share of the grievances over the past four months.
Image: MIKE HUTCHINGS

The public protector says her office has been inundated with Covid-19 related complaints about alleged misconduct and service delivery failures.

Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s office said there had been a surge in the number of complaints related to the pandemic, with service-failure allegations accounting for the lion’s share of the grievances over the past four months.

Mkhwebane said on Monday that about 450 people had complained about what they deemed to be unreasonable grounds for declining their applications for the R350-a-month special social relief of distress grant.

The grant was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in April for the unemployed who did not already receive any other social grant or Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) benefits.

“In most cases, the complainants either allege that they were not provided with reasons as to why their applications were unsuccessful or that the applications were declined on the basis that the applicants were found to be recipients of some form of income, or that they qualified for UIF, which they disputed,” she said.

Mkhwebane revealed that her office was also investigating alleged irregularities in the awarding of a quarantine camp tender in Mpumalanga.

“It has been alleged that the Zithabiseni facility, which got the contract, is dilapidated and a health hazard for everyone who is under quarantine at the premises.

“The complainant further alleged that there has been no provision for necessities such as food and toilet paper at the facility,” said Mkhwebane.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the office is probing allegations of irregularities in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) by the provincial department of education. It has been alleged that the department procured the PPE at inflated prices.

In the Eastern Cape, allegations that a lodge used as a quarantine site for Covid-19 is owned by an MEC are being probed.

There is also a probe into alleged irregularities around a R400m e-learning equipment (tablets) tender.

The public protector also embarked on an own-initiative investigation into allegations of maladministration, improper conduct and the misappropriation of public funds by the Eastern Cape department of health in relation to the medical scooters project.

In addition to these, the office is dealing with several other Covid-19 related service delivery complaints including the provision of water and sanitation, repatriation of expats, waste management, distribution of food parcels, access to housing, access to health, customary initiations and cultural practices and precautionary measures to mitigate employee health and safety risks.

The public protector announced earlier this year that her office was investigating alleged maladministration and irregularities in the procurement processes relating to the R37m Beitbridge border fence and the R30m Gauteng e-government information technology tender.

A steering committee of 10 senior investigators is focusing on Covid-19 related matters.

“We have been consistent in our call on the bureaucracy to exercise prudence when it comes to spending public funds on Covid-19 related goods and services.

“We have stressed that deviation from normal procurement processes is not a declaration of an open season to pillage. We are looking at a few other matters in which we may launch own-initiative investigations,” said Mkhwebane.

She said she is planning to meet social development minister Lindiwe Zulu to talk about the social relief of distress grant grievances, with a view to finding a speedy resolution to the complaints received.

By TimesLIVE

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