South Africa

Corruption is weakening Covid-19 response

Corruption is weakening Covid-19 response

Corruption is weakening Covid-19 response

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published 23m ago

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Cape Town – The 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) revealed that persistent corruption has undermined health care systems and contributed to democratic backsliding amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The index released yesterday, by the Transparency International, ranked 180 countries including South Africa and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, drawing on 13 expert assessments and surveys of business executives, by using a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

According to the CPI, South Africa has barely shifted its position, coming in once again with a score of 44 and a rank of 69, alongside Bulgaria, Hungary, Jamaica, Romania and Tunisia. For the past eight years, the country has been more or less stuck at 44, forming part of the two-thirds of countries with a score below 50, indicating serious levels of corruption.

Transparency International chairperson Delia Ferreira Rubio, said Covid-19 was not just a health and economic crisis.

"It is a corruption crisis, and one that we are currently failing to manage."

Rubio said the past year has tested governments like no other in memory, and those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge.

"But even those at the top of the CPI must urgently address their role in perpetuating corruption at home and abroad,” said Rubio.

Executive director for Corruption Watch, a non-profit organisation working to fight corruption in SA, David Lewis said South Africa’s failure to move above the 50 point on the CPI for nearly 10 years was a damning indictment of the extent of corruption and just how damaging it has been to the country.

Lewis said public trust in government has been further eroded during the Covid-19 pandemic, as blatant flouting of procurement processes has characterised the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE), at a time when all of society needed to work together with integrity.

He said the conditions imposed by the novel coronavirus on countries around the world, including the necessity for emergency procurement processes, brought with them integrity challenges.

"In South Africa, lack of transparency in public spending has characterised the response to the coronavirus, along with diversion of funds allocated specifically for managing the pandemic, and self-enrichment of people in power," said Lewis.

He said the increased efforts of civil society to uncover corruption during the pandemic and to push for greater transparency in emergency procurement has the potential to turn things around, provided there was political will to disclose decisions that were in the public interest.

“The structural gaps in national health care systems have been brought into sharp relief across the region as a result of Covid-19, along with corruption risks in relation to public procurement and misuse of emergency funds,” said Lewis.

He said in South Africa and other countries in the region, the economic shocks alluded to the fact that those countries were ill equipped to handle the pandemic.

Chief executive of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) Wayne Duvenage said the government's recent PPE procurement was a classic example of a critical project, managed by a government that was fraught with corruption that was discovered too late for much of the funds lost to be recovered.

Cape Argus

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