7 Countries Where the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Triggered Corruption Scandals

Doctors hold banners during a protest march by senior medical doctors in Harare, on December 4, 2019. - The doctors petitioned the Zimbabwe Parliament demanding improved working conditions and the reinstatement of 448 junior doctors fired for taking part in a two month long strike over low salaries. (Photo by …
JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP via Getty Images

A year into the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, government officials across the globe are facing accusations of taking advantage of the crisis to profit off of increased aid intended for public health relief.

Below are a few examples of coronavirus corruption scandals that plagued corrupt governments over the past year.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean authorities arrested the country’s health minister, Obadiah Moyo, in June on allegations of corruption regarding the government procurement of Chinese coronavirus tests and equipment worth $60 million.

Moyo faced three criminal charges for the alleged corruption, including an “abuse of office” charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years in Zimbabwe.

Authorities arrested Moyo for his business dealings with Drax International LLC and Drax Consult SAGL, “companies prosecutors claim were illegally awarded contracts by the [Zimbabwean] health ministry without a competitive tender process,” according to Reuters.

The United Arab Emirates-based Drax International denied the corruption allegations, though its local representative in Zimbabwe was also arrested shortly before Moyo as part of the same criminal investigation.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa canceled the $60 million procurement deal and later fired Moyo over the corruption scandal in July.

South Africa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa admitted in August that his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party was “deeply implicated” in the recently exposed graft of a national coronavirus relief package worth $26 billion.

The president authorized South Africa’s Special Investigating Unit to launch a probe into allegations of corruption related to the aid packages, intended for South African citizens struggling with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The allegations of corruption in the procurement of goods and services for our country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has caused outrage among South Africans and among us in the executive,” Ramaphosa said in a speech to the South African parliament at the time.

“It is disgraceful that at this time of national crisis, there are companies and individuals who seek to criminally benefit from our efforts to protect people’s health and save lives,” he added.

President Ramaphosa’s family members, along with leading members of his left-wing ANC party, were implicated in the alleged graft.

Brazil

Police in Rio de Janeiro state raided the governor’s residence in May as part of an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of portions of a $150-million coronavirus public fund package. The funds were earmarked for the construction of emergency field hospitals in Rio meant to relieve the burden placed on traditional hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Governor Wilson Witzel, a former federal judge, had promised to build eight field hospitals, but only one had been built at the time.

Brazil’s Supreme Court later ordered Witzel suspended from office for 180 days as he faced impeachment proceedings over the alleged graft.

Kenya

Kenyan investigators in September said they would recommend the prosecution of at least 15 top government officials over their alleged misuse of millions of dollars in aid meant for the purchasing coronavirus medical supplies.

Kenya’s government received $2 billion in aid and grants to direct toward coronavirus relief.

The investigators alleged that officials misused “$7.8 million meant to purchase emergency PPE [Personal Protective quipment] for healthcare workers and hospitals across the country,” the BBC reported.

The corruption scandal hit Kenya as doctors and nurses complained about a lack of PPE. Kenyan health workers went on strike in August over the lack of medical supplies and overall poor working conditions.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on August 26 ordered investigating agencies to finalize their cases within 21 days, but that deadline was missed.

Uganda

Ugandan authorities arrested four of the country’s top government officials in April following reports they inflated coronavirus relief food prices.

“The defendants worked in the office of Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and ran a program to provide food relief for the most vulnerable amid the coronavirus pandemic. They were arrested for causing government losses in excess of $528,000,” Voice of America reported.

Among the Ugandan government officials arrested were: Permanent Secretary Christine Guwatudde Kintu, Head of Uganda’s Coronavirus Relief Management Martin Owor, Accounting Officer Joel Wanjala, and Assistant Procurement Commissioner Fred Lutimba.

Nigeria

Nigerian President Muhammadi Buhari locked down the federal capital territory of Abuja and the states of Lagos and Ogun this year in an effort to control the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.

The extended lockdowns shut down businesses and prevented people from accessing food sources, leading to a rise in hunger. In response, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs Disaster Management and Social Development announced on April 1 that it would provide government food rations to poor households in the locked-down states.

However, Nigeria’s government has failed to provide food support to most hungry families, “as the distribution system is marred by corruption and opaque accountability,” Brookings reported in July.

Other corruption allegations, like in Kenya, stem from bizarre purchases of medical aid. Financial Times cited research from the NGO CivicHive in September finding “Bureau of Public Procurement data showing that the Federal Ministry of Health had spent N37.06m ($96,000) on 1,808 ordinary face masks, about $53 apiece.”

Philippines

The Philippine senate approved a report in September recommending the filing of charges of corruption against several senior members of the Philippines state health insurance corporation, PhilHealth, tasked with providing coronavirus testing and treatment to citizens. The senate accused PhilHealth officials of fund mismanagement and overpricing in relation to its coronavirus medical services.

“The recommendations follow a series of hearings in August in which lawmakers found irregularities in the implementation of the corporation’s interim reimbursement mechanism,” Devex reported.

The officials named in the report included then PhilHealth CEO Ricardo Morales and Philippine Secretary of Health Francisco Duque III.

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