SA not a 'sinking Titanic' amid Covid-19 corruption icebergs: Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa has insisted that SA is not a “sinking Titanic” after shocking allegations of corruption related to procurement of Covid-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) worth more than R11bn.
Ramaphosa, instead, told MPs in the National Assembly that he was leading the country into a “new era and new dawn” of fighting corruption in all areas of government procurement.
Several party leaders, such as the DA's John Steenhuisen, Julius Malema of the EFF and Kenneth Meshoe, repeatedly told Ramaphosa during an oral question-and-answer session that he was “too weak” in fighting corruption, and that the “Titanic was sinking”.
The matter dominated the agenda of the NA, with three of the six questions put to Ramaphosa based on allegations of Covid-19 corruption.
Malema also criticised Ramaphosa for, up until now, failing to fire his spokesperson, Khusela Diko, after it emerged last month that a company owned by her husband Thandisizwe Diko was involved in PPE tenders worth hundreds of millions of rands under questionable circumstances. Family members of other top ANC figures, including party secretary-general Ace Magashule, head of elections Nomvula Mokonyane and other top government figures, also allegedly received PPE tenders in dodgy circumstances.
Diko has since “stepped aside” from serving Ramaphosa while the matter is under investigation.
But in an impassioned response to questions from MPs, Ramaphosa argued that the country was turning the corner in the fight against corruption under his leadership.
He said that for the first time ever, 11 state law enforcement agencies were working together in a joint investigation into PPE corruption at the so-called “Fusions centre”. They included the SA Revenue Service, the SIU, the auditor-general and the Financial Intelligence Centre, among others.
“What I'm saying is that this is a moment we now need to capitalise on in terms of ensuring we strengthen our resolve as a nation, as a country, to fight corruption,” said Ramaphosa.
“Our people are justifiably unhappy and agree the nation's spirit has plummeted. What we now need to do is to use this opportunity to deal with corruption,” said the president, before quoting a recently published article by analyst JP Landman on how Ramaphosa had been tackling corruption since his election last year.
“And he says these are magnificent steps. Coming from where we were, we've started turning this Titanic and I would say this Titanic, Mr Steenhuisen, is not sinking if you look at the steps we have taken.
“And now we're also saying, having noticed what has been happening in relation to Covid-19 corruption, we are now strengthening our resolve. And, listen to this, for the very first time, we've got all these agencies in government working together, looking at all acts of corruption.
“From a tax point of view, to a governance point of view, to every little move. And we're going to make great progress,” he said.
Ramaphosa also rejected criticism that he was paying lip service to fighting corruption because not a single person had been arrested since the PPE allegations surfaced, saying it was not his job to do so but to put systems in place to allow for breakthroughs and arrests in corruption cases.
“The day you have a president who is going to go around investigating people, arresting them and put them jail, then you have no democracy,” said Ramaphosa as ANC MPs applauded, with some punching the air.
“The task of the president is to make sure that we strengthen institutions, that we adhered to principle. I even say that to members of my own party and I say, my comrades, my task as president of the republic is not to investigate this one or that. My task is to set up institutions that will do their work, because one day, if you don't rely on the institutions, you will have a crazy president who will be running around arresting people and SA does not want that.”
Pressed by Steenhuisen if he supported the controversial deployment of former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede to the KZN provincial legislature, Ramaphosa said the matter was being discussed by ANC structures.
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