WEEKEND POST REPORTER
DESPITE the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) linking almost a quarter of the Eastern Cape Department of Health's workforce to widespread plundering of government funds, the corruption busters have been unable to act on the allegations.
The unit needs President Jacob Zuma to sign off on a new presidential proclamation before the investigation moves forward.
Two high-ranking government sources and opposition parties in the province claim Zuma is deliberately slowing down the process.
They believe it is because of the hotly contested ANC elective conference in Mangaung in December.
However, the stagnation of the proclamation has been vehemently denied by Zuma's office.
One of the government sources, who closely monitored the investigation, said the president was "running scared".
He said a majority of the officials exposed by the SIU held top positions in the Eastern Cape's ANC branches and regions.
"The charges involve thousands of officials who will seek revenge and try to oust him," said the source, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.
A confidential provisional report, which Weekend Post has seen, was presented to the department in February.
It alleged that 11602 officials illegally accessed social grants, child-support grants, foster-care grants and housing subsidies worth R146-million.
However, 1390 officials were later cleared and 781 civil servants admitted to the SIU that they illegally received grants or subsidies.
The officials who confessed to corruption charges signed an acknowledgement of debt totaling R5.5-million. They continue to work for the department.
A total of 80 more officials resigned after being notified by the unit about the possibility of being criminally charged. This leaves 10212 civil servants – almost a quarter of the department's workforce – who still need to be fully investigated.
In December 2011, the unit started the "scoping exercise" after the first presidential proclamation was signed off by Zuma. The investigation was requested by the department's superintendent-general, Siva Pillay.
SIU spokesman Boy Ndala confirmed the unit was waiting for the president to sign a new proclamation that would authorise a full investigation into the allegations.
A sample test done by the department found that 901 out of 1000 officials – named in the SIU investigation – accessed the grants illegally.
This comes after the department of health, which employs 47000 people, announced corruption had cost the department R1-billion from January 2009 to February 2012.
DA shadow MEC John Cupido, said the president was stalling because his support was waning in the province.
"Zuma is at a very sensitive stage right now ... he needs to bolster as much support as he can in the Eastern Cape," he said.
The biggest region in the province, OR Tambo, supports Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe for the party's top job. The ANC Youth League in the province is also punting Motlanthe as ANC president.
However, a majority of the Eastern Cape's provincial leaders, King Sabata Dalindyebo subregion and the ANC Women's League support the incumbent president.
COPE health spokesman and MPL Nkosinathi Kuluta said if the president signed the new proclamation it would be political suicide.
"The government only appoints ANC members and Zuma is not going to take a chance that some of the officials could be delegates at the national conference," he said.
But presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said allegations that proclamations were being delayed by Zuma were "baseless".
"The president has issued proclamations without regard [in the past]," he said.
As of April, four SIU investigations are on-going in the Eastern Cape, with some backdating to 2008.
"Allegations that President Zuma is acting out of party political motivations are not supported by the facts and are without substance," Maharaj said.
However, UDM MPL Max Mhlathi, who is also the chairman of legislature watchdog body Scopa, disagreed.
"Nothing will be done within in the government regarding irregular activities in the run-up to Mangaung.
"The Eastern Cape has a strong faction in the province that does not want Zuma in power. He needs everyone to side with him here to ensure a victory." he said.
Health Department spokesman Siyanda Manana said the provincial authority would continue to fight corruption before and after Mangaung.
Eastern Cape MEC of Health Sicelo Gqobana could not be reached for comment.