Social services minister Lindiwe Zulu says that her department is working with the Department of Public Service and Administration, the police, and the national prosecuting authority to bring thousands of public servants to book for exploiting South Africa’s R350 Social Distress Relief grant.
A December 2021 report from the office of the auditor-general identified that at least 5,812 public servants fraudulently applied for and received the R350 Social Relief of Distress Grant, at a cost of R5.8 million.
While thousands of public servants were caught in the act of doing so, only 242 cases were sent for further investigation by the department.
In a written parliamentary Q&A this week, Zulu said that this was decided as the best course of action by a “multi-stakeholder forum” comprising the SAPS, NPA, Financial Intelligence Centre and the Department of Public Service and Administration’s Discipline Management Unit.
The intention, she said, is to fully investigate the 5,812 cases involving public servants who benefited from the social relief of distress grant, but first, a sample of 242 test cases must be dealt with “to learn from it through identification of challenges and their resolution”.
The investigations are following a process where:
- It must be determined whether the civil servants in question qualified for the grant;
- It must be determined whether the people in question were still employed by the government at the time of the alleged fraud;
- Individual disciplinary cases against the civil servants are opened up;
- Loss recovery processes are initiated; and
- Where the civil servants refuse to sign an acknowledgement of debt, Criminal Procedure Act processes are invoked.
The investigation of 242 sample cases found the following:
- Investigations revealed that 44 civil servants qualified to receive the SRD grant as they were employed on a sessional basis, resulting in 198 civil servants being taken for disciplinary and criminal action.
- Of the 198 civil servants, DPSA advised that 44 were no longer in the employ of the government resulting in 154 disciplinary files being handed over to DPSA for the coordination and monitoring of the disciplinary hearings with Departments at the Provincial and National level.
- Internal investigations involving 198 civil servants were concluded and the opening of individual cases is in progress. The process of opening 198 cases is scheduled to be concluded by the end of May 2022.
- For the purposes of loss recovery from the government, employees who refuse to sign an acknowledgement of debt forms, Section 300 of the Criminal Procedure Act, will be invoked.
Regarding the 5,812 civil servants – SASSA intends to finalise the following two processes on or before 31 September 2022:
- Handing over files to DPSA for the purpose of disciplinary hearing coordination with affected National and Provincial Departments, and
- Opening criminal cases within various provinces.
The Unemployment Insurance Fund has also provided an update on progress made in arresting fraudsters related to its Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (TERS), also tied to Covid-19 and lockdown impacts.
To date, joint efforts by the UIF’s Forensic Auditors, the HAWKS, NPA, AFU, Special Investigating Unit and other law enforcement agencies have led to 22 arrests related to UIF and the recovery of R118 million to the UIF’s coffers, it said.
The UIF said it has already received R2.5 billion in refunds as at 31 March 2022 from employers who miscalculated their claims or kept the money longer than what was agreed upon in the memorandum signed with the UIF.
The sentencing proceedings for a couple that was convicted of defrauding the UIF’s Covid-19 TERS of R10 million have been postponed to July 2022.