Church Leaders in South Africa “disgusted by revelations of looting of COVID-19 funds”

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Church leaders in South Africa have expressed their displeasure over the “revelations of” looting of funds meant for fighting against COVID-19 in the country saying the acts are typical of “vultures and hyenas over dead bodies.”

“The South African Council of Churches (SACC) is extremely disgusted by the revelations of the shameless looting of funds, through alleged irregularities in COVID-19 procurement processes,” the members of the interdenominational forum say in their July 30 collective statement seen by ACI Africa.

They add, “It is shocking that taxpayers' money which was dedicated for life saving measures related to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic that is crippling the whole country, was shamelessly taken advantage of by greedy individuals who like vultures and hyenas over dead bodies, saw the pandemic as an opportunity for a feeding frenzy, with no concern for the poor people.”

South Africa’s COVID-19 response has been marred with corruption allegations regarding a US$36.6 billion relief package, aimed at facilitating efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic among the country’s 57.7million people.

The Southern African nation has the world’s fifth largest COVID-19 infections with at least 471,000 reported cases, 298,000 recoveries and 7,497 related deaths. 

Among the graft allegations the representatives of the churches in South Africa highlight in their collective statement include “the awarding of personal protective equipment contracts to people who have links in government, as well as those who serve or have previously been employed in the civil service.”

“Recently a list of companies with questionable COVID contracts at the Gauteng Province has been bandied around. These allegations have been really disappointing to us and for South Africans at large,” the church leaders bemoan in their July 30 statement.

Among the companies on the list, they say, is “a company associated with the husband of Mrs. Khusela Diko, the spokesperson of President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has taken leave of absence in the wake of allegations against her husband.”

All these allegations must be expeditiously and thoroughly investigated and dealt with effectively, the representatives of the interdenominational forum that brings together 36 member churches and organizations including the Catholic Bishops urge.

The members of the Johannesburg-based forum indicate that they are “very much alert” to the reality that the rapid response needed in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis has made the country “vulnerable from those who are unscrupulous and are committed to exploit our resources through fraudulent means.”

They explain, “In the rush of the moment, corruption does take place and others will be seeking to gain by the increase of prices, taking advantage of the desperate needs of our people.”

“Those who engage in such calculated COVID theft are behaving like opportunists that swoop to gobble up access to help, leaving the weak and sick, desperate for breath, and for protection from the deadly virus!” the church leaders say.

They continue in reference to the suspected looters, “These so-called ‘COVIDpreneurs’ have shown that the evil culture of greed and corruption triumphs over honesty, ethics and good governance in our government, and this needs to be uprooted.”

The representatives of the interdenominational forum bemoan the country’s “deep corruption scourge and the poor track record of holding people to account,” which they say “does not inspire confidence that any further funds intended for mitigation of the dire socio-economic impact of COVID-19 will be used accordingly.”

“We make an appeal for those people who are involved, some of whom are our congregants, to refrain from these criminal acts of fraud and corruption, and be reminded that they are not stealing from government, but from the mouths of people of South Africa, and more especially the poor who continue to suffer at this time,” the church leaders say in their collective statement.

They have raised their concerns two days after their Tuesday weekly COVID-19 watch meeting in which they made requests to the country’s President “to do far more than condemn and promise action.”

Among the requests include arrest and conviction of corruption suspects, reading the country’s justice system for the prosecutions, the cutting out of the middle person procedures for COVID-19 provisions in the government’s procurement systems, and the naming and shaming of all those involved in the current corruption scandal.

“The SACC will follow up with the Government and expects urgent attention to these revelations with no effort spared,” the representatives of the interdenominational forum of churches and organizations say in their July 30 collective statement.

ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]