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The SIU says it takes the safety of Covid corruption whistleblowers very seriously

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has said that it takes the safety of witnesses and whistleblowers of corruption in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) “very seriously”.

The SIU was on Wednesday updating Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on its investigations into PPE corruption and the Digital Vibes probe.

The SIU told committee members that one of the limitations to their investigations is how witnesses are reluctant to give statements because they either fear being victimized or feel unsafe.

Some of the measures the SIU has since implemented to address this limitation include allowing witnesses to have legal representation, allowing witnesses to read questions prior to being questioned and giving statements and ensuring that the identities of witnesses are protected, the unit said.

Committee members further heard that witnesses are also encouraged to report their concerns about their safety to the SIU and the South African Police Service (SAPS).

ALSO READ: SIU: Murder of Babita Deokaran should not deter whistleblowers

The SIU said it is important to assure the committee that the safety of witnesses and whistleblowers is prioritized following the ” horrific” murder of Gauteng Department of Health acting chief financial officer Babita Deokaran last week.

Deokaran was one of the SIU’s witnesses in the R300 million personal protective equipment (PPE) tender fraud probe in the provincial health department.

Six people have since appeared at the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court in connection with Deokaran’s murder.

The national prosecuting authority (NPA) said on Monday that the six are Phakamani Hadebe, Zitha Hadebe, Nhlangano Ndlovu, Sanele Mbhele, Simphiwe Mazibuko and Phakanyiswa Dladla who were charged with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and possession of unlicensed firearm and ammunition.

The six are due back in court on 13 September 2021 for a bail application, the NPA said.

The SIU told the committee on Wednesday that it is “really pleased that the police acted swiftly” and arrested people in connection with Deokaran’s murder.

The SIU further assured the committee that in instances when witnesses feel unsafe investigators will ensure that they are protected, which can also be done by invoking the witness protection programme “under the NPA”.

The committee heard that the total value of the alleged irregularity into PPE procurement that the SIU is investigating stands at R4.8 billion.

The SIU said of that R4.8 billion, R1.39 billion has already been referred to the special tribunal “and those cases are really being processed at the necessary speed, we are pleased with that speed”.

The committee also heard that 4302 PPE contracts that have been awarded to 2421 service providers are under investigation.

The SIU told the committee that as of 30 June 2021, 30% of those investigations have been finalized, while 62% of them are ongoing and 7.9% are yet to get underway.

The SIU said the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted investigations in some of its units in certain provinces.

The unit further said it continues to receive allegations of irregularities in the procurement of PPE, which increases the total number of its investigations.

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