Corruption Watch says lives that otherwise may have been saved during the Covid-19 outbreak "will now be lost as a direct consequence of corruption".
The anti-graft non-profit organisation (NPO) released its annual report, titled "The Writing is on the wall", on Tuesday morning.
It said the more than 3 600 whistleblower reports received in 2019 "highlighted how individuals were robbed of access to their fundamental right to safety and security and basic services through corruption in policing, schools, healthcare" and other sectors.
Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis said the 2019 report was being released at the time of an "unprecedented" national and global crisis.
"This crisis has thrown into sharp relief the deadly consequences of corruption, at this stage most particularly the corruption that has resulted in dysfunctional local government and that has devastated the public health and water sectors.
"Make no mistake: lives that would have otherwise been saved will now be lost as a direct consequence of corruption," said Lewis.
He warned that South Africans shouldn't expect corruption levels to drop during the national lockdown as government and the country fight to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"The crisis may exacerbate the abuse of power and resources that accompany the necessary relaxation of procurement regulations and the extension of emergency powers to law enforcement. As attention turns elsewhere, unscrupulous elements in the private sector will engage in price gouging and procurement corruption."
The statement added: "The public healthcare system continues to crumble in the face of corruption and other factors that have contributed to its deterioration over the years. The 2019 annual corruption report has highlighted irregular expenditure, financial misconduct, theft, moonlighting and many other types of corruption as areas of concern."
Hotspots of corruption
Corruption Watch noted that it received an average of 10 reports a day over the course of a year.
A total of 3 694 whistleblowers submitted reports to the NPO in 2019.
Around 12% of the reports related to corruption in the policing sector, while 10% of complaints were linked to graft in the schooling system.
At a time when the police and the SA National Defence Force come under fire for the use of excessive force to ensure people stay indoors, Corruption Watch notes that "corruption in the policing sector emerged repeatedly over the course of the year, with members of the public reporting on abuse of power, bribery and dereliction of duty which have had a serious impact on their lives".
The organisation also said most of the accounts it received dealt with claims of bribery, procurement corruption or the mismanagement of funds.
It said all of these "impacted the delivery of services and denied people of their basic socio-economic rights".
While more than seven out of every 10 reports it received dealt with corruption in national, provincial and local government, just under two out of every 10 cases came from the private sector.
Most of the reports - just under half - were linked to Gauteng, followed by KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.
Corruption Watch sited two legal developments as "significant wins" in 2019: the Gauteng High Court's decision to set aside the findings of the Seriti Commission on the multi-billion rand arms deal; and the Constitutional Court's order that Cash Paymaster Services must pay back R316 million it received from the South African Social Services Agency.