Corrupt deals surrounding COVID-19 funds weigh down mitigation efforts in Africa

AFRICA – Africa has reported continued theft of COVID-19 response funds. Rampant corruption and theft of cash and other incentives meant to relieve impacts of the disease has been reported in several African countries.

In Malawi, 64 people were arrested in April in connection with misuse of Covid-19 funds. Recently, the president, Chakwera Lazarus,  fired the country’s Labour Minister who was alleged to have taken US$760 from the Covid-19 funds for his personal allowance, in connection to mismanagement of funds. About US$1.3 million have been reported to have been embezzled by government and private sector in the country.

In Kenya, a journalist conducted investigations which revealed gross misconduct and abuse of funds meant for Covid-19. KEMSA, the state-run medical supplies agency, is at the centre of a growing scandal regarding the Covid-19 funds. The agency is under fire over allegations government officials and businessmen pilfered US$400 million meant for medical equipment to combat the fight against the pandemic.

In Nigeria, CivicHive, an NGO revealed through the Bureau of Public Procurement that the federal health ministry had spent US$96,000 on 1,808 ordinary face masks. Nigeria’s federal government is yet to make a clear account on the relief funds it received form IMF and the US towards the disease’s mitigation.

In Uganda, four Ugandan government officials were accused of causing the Ugandan government to run at a loss of US$528,000 by inflating Covid-19 relief food prices. The four were arrested in 2020. Also, the Ugandan ambassador to Copenhagen, Nimisha Madhvani, her deputy and other staff members were heard in a leaked audio tape coercing a plan to share funds meant for Covid-19 response.

The situation is not any different in South Africa. Theft, over-pricing, and potential fraud are just but a few scandals relating to the Covid-19 funds. Experts say the government is more likely to take more decisive measures against corruption following public anger over suspicious government contracts valued at US$900 million for purchase of supplies to fight Covid.

In one instance, personal protective equipment (PPE) was bought five times more than the normal price, according to the Auditor General. Other schemes were outright, like overcharging for blankets to be given to the poor as winter set in. One, a US$670,000 order to buy motorcycles with sidecars to use as ambulances for COVID-19 patients, was just absurd.

Corruption in African states is more likely to increase the burden of bearing the aftermath caused by the pandemic. This will negatively impact livelihoods and economies across the continent.

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