There is the saying that once beaten, twice shy. There is also the saying that the guilty are afraid. And these may very well be true with the management and disbursement of the Covid-19 Relief Fund. The purpose of this Fund, I must state without flinching, is for a noble cause – to cushion as far as possible those who will be adversely affected by the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic. There are many of the compatriots who even at the beginning of the funds being deposited in the bank accounts have become the Fund’s undisputable beneficiaries. But when those who receive the Fund deposits, directly or indirectly on behalf of the beneficiaries are asked about how the Fund will be managed in terms of good governance, transparency and accountability, they run absolutely beserk. Looking at how public funds have been grossly mismanaged when there was no state of public emergency, it should go without saying that it is fair, reasonable and legitimate to be concerned about the Covid-19 Relief Fund under the current political climate of the State of Public Emergency. It is not enough to simply say the Covid-19 Relief Fund will be audited by the same persons or structures when evidence on the ground suggests funds under the sole care of government have been seriously mismanaged in ways that point to naked corruption. Unless one can authoritatively say something to the contrary!
I was struck by the body language and response of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Hon Dr Thapelo Matsheka on 24 April 2020 when he was asked by a journalist during a television interview about the management of the Relief Fund. What seemed to be a harmless and routine question from the said journalist evoked what appeared to be the other side of the Minister. Hon Dr Matsheka has always appeared to me to be a calm and collected individual who doesn’t easily crumble under pressure of some sort. But he appeared to do so when he, for lack of a better word, was livid during the said television interview by saying that he had heard about the remarks or comments from members of the public with regards to Covid-19 Relief Fund by suggesting that whoever was uncomfortable with the safety of the funds they contribute should instead buy whatever is required for Coronavirus and submit the same. I found his demeanour to be completely out of his character particularly with the manner he answered the management of the Covid-19 Relief Fund. Individuals and private entities are contributing generously and correctly so to the Covid-19 Relief Fund and are therefore entitled to know how the Fund will be managed. In fact, all stakeholders to the Fund should demand without fear of contradiction to be represented on the structure(s) that administer the Fund.
Covid-19 Relief Fund is susceptible to mismanagement, corruption, abuse by those who oversee its implementation. The biggest cover up will be the emergency nature of the pandemic where transparency, good corporate governance and accountability are substituted by the Emergency Powers of the State of Public Emergency. Jessica Tillipman, who is a law Professor and anti-corruption activist at the George Washington University says ‘Whenever there is a need for supplies and services quickly, the procurement system is at greater risk for corruption.’ Journalist Tammy Kufferman Thorp recently wrote an opinion piece titled ‘To defeat the Coronavirus, Stop Corruption’ in which she wrote that:
· Pandemic seen by some as an opportunity to take advantage of the emergency to abuse their power for private gain;
· Anti-corruption protections get waived or ignored, oversight becomes more lax and people take advantage of the situation;
· Counterfeit goods bound to be on the increase with goods substandard thereby endangering the lives they are supposed to protect.