SANDF personnel in military court on PPE fraud and corruption charges

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A “lengthy” investigation by Special Investigation Unit (SIU) specialists has – so far – seen four SA National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel appear in a military court in connection with corruption and fraud apparently resulting from involvement in procuring personal protective equipment (PPE) when South Africa was caught in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic.

The four – a lieutenant colonel, two captains and a naval junior non-commissioned rate – appeared in a military court sitting in Thaba Tshwane last Friday (23 September). A Department of Defence (DoD) Defence Media Liaison statement issued by head of communication (HoC) Siphiwe Dlamini has it the SIU investigation led to military police opening a docket following “a prosecution guided investigation” by military law enforcement officers.

The four are among 15 SANDF personnel apparently involved in “criminal activities like fraud” as regards PPE acquisition while South Africa was under various levels of COVID-19 lockdown.

According to the statement, the SIU report found “at least 15 DoD officials” allegedly “committed misconduct” as regards PPE purchased, presumably for the military.

“The SIU report refers to the conduct of these officials as misconduct and further alleges criminal activities like fraud by some officials warranted criminal action,” the statement has it.

Those who were in the dock, with an unnamed senior military judge presiding, are named as Lieutenant Colonel VS Peu, Captains D Modise and Tshikosi and Leading Seaman SS Jiane. They are all based at the DoD central procurement service centre. Their case was postponed with a second appearance set down for the Military Court, sitting in the Thaba Tshwane town hall on 6 October, with others apparently part of the PPE fraud and corruption investigation due in court this week (26 to 30 September).

Condemnation of “this kind of behaviour” by uniformed SANDF personnel came from South Africa’s top soldier – SANDF Chief General Rudzani Maphwanya.

“The behaviour of these and other members will not be tolerated in the ranks of [the national] defence force and will make sure that we root out such elements in our ranks so that the people we serve continue to have confidence in the SANDF. We are expected to lead by example in the public eyes and anyone found to be in conflict with the code of conduct of the SANDF and the laws of this country will be dealt harshly within the confines of the law”, the statement reports him saying.

The court appearance with more to come on the back of the SIU and military police investigations show the South African military is – although slowly – working at getting to those who use it for personal gain. Ahead of Parliament re-opening for business in August, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais indicated he would be taking Minister Thandi Modise to task in this sitting for not implementing Auditor General recommendations particularly as regards the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).  He is on record as saying he wants her to explain “the shambles in SANDF finances”.

“Reports have it the top tiers of the DoD failed to ensure and monitor compliance with supply chain management laws and contravened the PFMA. That no disciplinary action was taken in the vast majority of cases amounting to R15.28 billion in wasted, fruitless and irregular expenditures through misconduct, fraud and improper supply chain management last year, shows corruption is endemic in the DoD.

“This tragic state of affairs has far-reaching consequences for the country’s safety and security. Our forces battle to comprehensively secure South Africa’s increasingly porous borders. With the SANDF set to shed three thousand soldiers in the next three years it might not be able to launch a meaningful defence should political turmoil in neighbouring countries spill over our borders or more widespread riots – like those that crippled the country in July 2021 – occur,” Marais told defenceWeb in ahead of parliamentarians returning to work early in August.