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Corruption hit S.Africa’s pandemic fightback, says watchdog

The coronavirus pandemic intensified corruption in South Africa last year, exposing many loopholes in the country’s health sector, an anti-graft monitor said Thursday.

Corruption Watch said it had received 4,780 reports of graft last year, the second-highest tally since it was founded in 2012.

Although the pandemic discouraged people from making in-person reports, an average of 11 cases were received each day on-line, the Johannesburg-based organisation said.

Maladministration, procurement corruption and fraud topped the list, with the “lucrative” health sector hardest-hit.

As elsewhere in the world, South Africa struggled to find protective gear for its health workers and other essential equipment for fighting Covid — a scarcity that drove up black-market value.

Politicians and those close to them exploited “already weak controls in procurement systems across all three spheres of government,” Corruption Watch said in its report, entitled “From Crisis to Action.”

“Whilst many were aware of the weakness of both the public and private health facilities, Covid-19 laid bare just how vulnerable the sector truly is.”

The report also said police corruption rose in the period.

Africa’s most industrialised economy was aleady struggling with a reputation for corruption before the onset of the pandemic, with numerous state officials accused or facing trial for presiding over wanton looting.

Corruption Watch director David Lewis noted “with anger and sadness” that the corrupt exploited the pandemic at the expense of lives, and demanded tougher controls.

South Africa is the worst virus-hit country on the continent, reporting more than 1.5 million cases of which over 52,000 have been fatal.