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S.Africa audit uncovers ‘irregularities’ in Covid spending

South Africa’s auditor-general on Wednesday said a multi-billion-dollar coronavirus relief package had been marred by “irregularities” as well as possible fraud.

In her maiden report, Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke flawed procurement processes and contract management in the 148-billion-rand ($9.9-billion / 8.17-billion-euro) initiative, set up to provide healthcare and social and economic relief.

The report’s conclusions reinforced the findings of an initial audit, published in September, into how the money was spent.

“The first special report highlighted irregularities, poor controls and systems, and indicators of potential fraud. Our latest report does the same,” it said.

It noted problems in following competitive processes for awarding government contracts for buying personal protective equipment (PPE) — masks, goggles and gowns used by frontline health workers.

It also raised questions about the tax status of bidders and said some suppliers delivered PPE that did not meet specifications.

Maluleke, speaking to the press in the capital Pretoria, recommended that such contracts be investigated, “as such circumstances can be a red flag for fraud or abuse of the supply chain management process.”

The spending package is under close scrutiny in a country where corruption has become a searing political issue.

Of the 148.06 billion rand earmarked for the package, 95.84 billion had been spent by September 30.

Since the first audit was released in September, some 3.4 billion rand that had been disbursed incorrectly has since been recovered, Maluleke said.

Maluleke served as deputy auditor general from 2014 and moved to the top job on December 1, succeeding Kimi Makwetu who died last month from illness.

South Africa is Africa’s worst-hit nation for Covid-19, notching up over 820,000 confirmed infections.

Leaders imposed a strict lockdown on March 27, aimed at controlling the virus’ spread but which also hobbled the economy.