9 November 2020
President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed a proclamation authorising the the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe alleged corruption and maladministration involving the National Lotteries Commission (NLC).
Signed by the President on 20 October it came into effect when it was published in the Government Gazette on Friday 6 November.
The primary mandate of the Special Investigating Units and Special Tribunals Act is to recover and prevent financial losses to the state caused by acts of corruption, fraud and maladministration.
The decision by Ramophosa to involve the SIU comes in the wake of ongoing reporting of corruption involving Lottery grants running into hundreds of millions of rand, and mounting political pressure and calls by civil society for government to take action.
The proclamation covers offences “which took place between 1 January 2014 and the date of publication of this Proclamation, or which took place prior to 1 January 2014”. It also covers any offences after the date of its publication that are “relevant to, connected with, incidental or ancillary to the matters … or involve the same persons, entities or contracts investigated under authority of this Proclamation”.
In terms of Friday’s proclamation, Ramaphosa has authorised the SIU to investigate:
(a) serious maladministration in connection with the affairs of the NLC;
(b) improper or unlawful conduct by employees or officials of the NLC;
(c) unlawful appropriation or expenditure of public money or property;
(d) unlawful, irregular or unapproved acquisitive acts, transactions, measures or practices having a bearing upon state property;
(e) intentional or negligent loss of public money or damage to public property;
(f) offences in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act; and
(g) unlawful or improper conduct by any person, which has caused or may cause serious harm to the interests of the public - “or any category thereof”.
As an independent statutory unit, the SIU is accountable to Parliament and the President. It has powers to subpoena, search, seize and interrogate witnesses under oath. The unit also is empowered to “take civil action to correct any wrongdoing it uncovers in its investigations”.
Where it uncovers criminal conduct, the SIU can cooperate with the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) “to ensure that there is an effective investigation and prosecution”. The SIU also works closely with the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) “where its powers are more appropriate or effective in recovering the proceeds of crime.”
The proclamation comes hard on the heels of the recent formation of a Hawks task team to investigate Lottery corruption.
The Hawks — the more commonly used name for the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation — began their investigation into Lottery corruption after receiving a complaint from the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) in September, according to Hawks spokesperson Colonel Katlego Mogale.
All criminal complaints involving Lottery corruption that have been lodged with the police were now being consolidated for the task team to investigate, she said.
Independent investigators appointed by the DTIC have also handed over dossiers with the results of their probe into three more multimillion-rand Lottery-funded projects. They had earlier handed over a dossier about Denzhe Primary Care to the Hawks to investigate. The latest dossiers involve Zibsimansi and Life to Impact in the 21st Century. The department is yet to make a decision on whether to lodge criminal complaints, as they have done in the case of Denzhe.
The independent investigators are still probing multimillion-rand grants to several other organisations.
Corruption Watch, which has been outspoken on Lottery corruption and is monitoring the appointment of a new NLC board chairman, welcomed the proclamation.
Karam Singh, Corruption Watch’s head of legal and investigations, said: “We are very pleased to see a proclamation in the NLC matter. It is something we have tracked given the stories for many years of alleged corruption. We hope the investigation can address the serious allegations of financial irregularities as reported. There are issues of systemic political patronage that swirl around the NLC and hopefully a well-focused investigation will lead to accountability for this.”