The authorities of South Africa are investigating government departments for the graft over irregularities in the coronavirus or COVID-19-related tenders amounting to five billion rands, the head of its Special Investigating Unit (SIU) told lawmakers on Wednesday.

The figure is probably going to add to pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ruling African National Congress, who have grappled to deflect the criticism from the alliance partners and the opposition parties as allegations of the fraud implicated senior ANC politicians.

COVID-19-Related Tenders Corruption

Coronavirus
Workers of Junjiang Industrial Limited Company package medical gloves in Yilong New District at Bouyei-Miao Autonomous Prefecture of Qianxinan in southwest China's Guizhou Province, Feb. 21, 2020. Medical supply companies in Yilong New District have been producing medical supplies at full capacity to support the fight against the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. (Xinhua/Yang Wenbi/IANS) Xinhua/IANS

Ramaphosa, who replaced his scandal-prone predecessor Jacob Zuma in 2017 with promises to eradicate corruption, has battled to root out criminality linked to the fight against COVID-19 in South Africa, which has the world's fifth-highest number of coronavirus infections at 592,144.

In a presentation to a parliamentary committee, Andy Mothibi, head of the SIU, which investigates allegations against public sector figures or institutions, said it was working on 658 cases nationwide involving just over five billion rand - the first time a number has been put on the alleged graft.

The provincial health department of the central Gauteng province, an economic hub and home to Johannesburg, alone accounted for just under half of the total, at 2.2 billion rand, Mothibi added. "The allegations reported to the SIU involved the procurement of PPEs (personal protective equipment), hospital and quarantine sites, catering services (food parcels), ventilators, disinfecting equipment and motorized wheelchairs," he said.

(With agency inputs)