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Unions in South Africa slam PPE procurement corruption

2 September, 2020IndustriALL Global union affiliates in South Africa are supporting the current probe by the country’s Special Investigating Unit into fraudulent activities in the awarding of tenders to supply the government with personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for the Covid-19 pandemic.

The tenders being investigated are worth over five billion rand (US$299 million) and were awarded for cloth masks, surgical masks, face shields, medical gowns, aprons, scrubs, overalls, gloves, sanitisers, and other products.

Had the tenders gone to reputable industries in the chemicals, plastics, and textile, garments, shoe, and leather sectors, thousands of workers would have benefitted.

Instead the tenders were given to politically connected individuals and bogus companies with no proven experience in the supply chain for PPE. These suppliers often inflated prices and imported poor quality products when better locally manufactured products could have been sourced at half the price. The tender process also flouted local content laws.

To make information available on local manufacturers for masks and other products, the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) and Brand SA set up a portal where factories and small industries could be contacted. Information is also available on the factories that can produce PPE, but these were ignored by government officials who were not transparent on the awarding of the tenders.

In a report to the South African parliament on 5 August, SACTWU and the Congress of South African Trade Unions said:

“It is a story of the betrayal of the safety of healthcare workers who are being placed at risk dues to the supply of sub-standard products.”

“It is a shameful story of missed opportunities to buy and produce locally many products which are normally not needed in such large quantities by the state which is not doing everything to possible to support factories and workers in a struggling economy.”

Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, said:

“The past three months have seen an unprecedented rise of nationwide public anger against this government because of the massive revelations of corruption involving essential Covid-19 health supplies.”

Joseph Montisetse, National Union of Mineworkers president, added:

“We must guard against corruption in all sectors of our government. It is unacceptable that others arrogantly find an opportunity to enrich themselves with millions of rands allocated to tackle the scourge of Covid-19.”

Paule France Ndessomin, the IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa said:

“It is deplorable that funds meant for the Covid-19 pandemic are stolen. These are funds meant to ease the suffering of workers, families, and communities. We agree with the unions that the government must act decisively to end this corruption.”