South African President Cyril Ramaphosa faced tough questions Thursday from lawmakers for the first time since allegations of coronavirus financing corruption were leveled against high ranking officials.
South Africa has seen the fifth worst coronavirus case load in the world, with over 615,000 confirmed infections and more than 13,500 deaths, according to John Hopkins University data.
Allegations of corruption surfaced after the virus-stricken country announced a historic $26 billion economic relief package last month.
“Clearly, this COVID moment has given us the opportunity,” Ramaphosa said Thursday, promising changes in order to make “a much more effective” government.
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Corruption claims against high level government officials relating to the multi-billion dollar relief package have affected the country’s ability to address personal protective gear needs, unemployment benefits and even food initiatives during the pandemic.
Ramaphosa’s own spokesperson, Khusela Diko, was reportedly put on leave due to allegations of grafting.
“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,” Ramaphosa said.
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The Health Minister, Bandile Masuku, for the Gauteng province where Johannesburg is located and the epicenter for the coronavirus in the African nation, was also released after corruption allegations surfaced.
Ramaphosa has been criticized by the opposition party, the liberal Democratic Alliance party, for appointing the former mayor of the eThekwini municipality, Zandile Gumede, as a provincial lawmaker despite facing charges of corruption.
Ramaphosa has also been accused of being soft on corruption as various members of his own party, the African National Congress, have come under scrutiny.
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He faces pressure to show that he is tough on government bribery claims after replacing his predecessor who was forced to leave the presidency early due to multiple scandals in 2018.
South Africa entered into a recession prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but with the recent lockdown measures in place, the country is experiencing 30 percent unemployment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.