Johannesburg - THOUSANDS of bogus social grant beneficiaries have been unmasked, thanks to the efforts of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), but staggering levels of fraud and corruption in the R104 billion social assistance programme persist.
Sassa has registered 7 734 cases of fraud and corruption in the past year.
It finalised 2 747 of these cases in which fraudsters tried to swindle the state – and the poor – out of R59.4 million.
A further 3 643 cases were in progress and 2 102 had been closed, the agency’s chief executive officer, Virginia Petersen, said in its annual report, tabled in Parliament this week.
Law enforcement agencies smashed numerous crime syndicates involved in social grant fraud and 10 Sassa officials, three former officials and 15 agents were arrested and convicted.
A further 52 officials were suspended and 25 fired, while seven jumped ship before disciplinary steps could be taken.
In the Mahlabathini area of Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, alone, 50 people were arrested for being in possession of 127 unregistered agency cards, three machines used to register cards, and R47 000 in cash.
The agency also got stuck into unscrupulous loan sharks who prey on social grant recipients, making micro loans at exorbitant interest rates and taking the victim’s Sassa card, which can be used to make payments and withdrawals.
It confiscated 1 008 cards and R82 156 and arrested 29 people.
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini said that as part of efforts to clamp down on loan sharks, the agency would process only funeral cover deductions not exceeding 10 percent of the value of the grant.
The agency’s campaign to make beneficiaries re-register in person for grants cleaned out more than 150 000 bogus recipients, saving R150m a year.
The social safety net extends to 16.1 million people, most of them recipients of the child support grant, in one of the largest such programmes in the world.
The SIU, which has been probing social grant fraud and corruption at Sassa since 2005, said in its annual report it had brought 865 cases to court and won 822 convictions in the past year, saving R9.58m and preventing losses of R155.7m.
It also concluded 3 372 acknowledgements of debt for R68.9m.
An analysis of procurement irregularities at the agency has uncovered:
* Suspicious invoices – numbering 14 898 – where different suppliers were identified with sequential invoice numbers on the same day, indicating the possible splitting of invoices to get around supply chain management rules.
* A further 8 250 invoices made out to the same supplier, with the same invoice date and same amount.
* Invoices for 112 payments, made out to different suppliers, but for the same amount and with the same date and invoice number.
* That 2 032 staff members who had external business interests.
* Eight employees sharing bank account numbers with other employees.
* Fifty-seven employees with shared addresses.
* Fourteen staff members with ID numbers that did not match their gender.
The analysis also red-flagged “high-risk” suppliers, including a travel company that was paid R22m and a security company paid more than R60m, where numerous irregularities were picked up. Twenty-three suspicious transactions were identified involving a security company.
The SIU said it had scaled down its social grant investigations in order to concentrate on syndicate- and procurement- related probes.