Head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), Advocate Andy Mothibi briefing the media on the report of finalised investigations and outcomes of investigations. Picture: Siyabulela Duda
Head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), Advocate Andy Mothibi briefing the media on the report of finalised investigations and outcomes of investigations. Picture: Siyabulela Duda

Special Investigating Unit vital to keeping graft in check

By Opinion Time of article published Feb 25, 2021

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by Michael Bagraim

From time to time it is absolutely vital for the various sections of the Department of Employment and Labour to be checked in order to assess their efficacy.

The Department of Employment and Labour is made up of various sections, including the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and the Commission of Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

Over and above this, many members of the public will know the Workmen’s Compensation and Productivity SA.

All these entities need to report to the director-general of the department,who in turn reports to the Employment and Labour Minister. The parliamentary portfolio committee on employment and labour also exercises some oversight over the various entities. In terms of the Constitution we also have other institutions such as the Chapter 9 institutions, who exercise a vital oversight.

These institutions report to the ministries and to the other oversight bodies. For instance, the auditor-general has over the past many years done a superb job in following the financial records and the spending of each entity. The auditor-general has a crucial role in ensuring that money is well spent and that systems are kept reflecting the spending and the efficacy of that spending.

Complaints could be sent from anyone with proof, to these various entities so as to ensure that the department performs their functions without fear or favour and without wastage.

One such entity, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) received a report from the auditor-general about the Department of Employment and Labour. The SIU is governed by the Special Investigating Units and Special Tribunals Act, the Criminal Procedure Act, and the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.

This unit performs a fantastic function, able to investigate corruption, malpractice and maladministration.

They can recover state funds lost or prevent further funds from being stolen. They themselves cannot arrest or prosecute offenders. Our government has faith in the forensic investigation and litigating ability of the SIU. They provide services to the other institutions to protect the interests of the state and the public.

The UIF Ters expenditure has been an enormous problem. About 13.5 million employees received Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) payments for the UIF. These employees were linked to a million employers. The expenditure paid out by the UIF is just more than R57 billion.

As we have seen in the press, many deceased individuals were paid Ters, including imprisoned individuals, and there were also many cases of doubledipping. There have been literally thousands of over-payments and thousands of under-payments. Shockingly, even some claims for applicants below the legal age of employment.

All these issues, including many fraud risks, are currently being investigated by the SIU.

What has come out of this investigation so far is that there is an inadequate system and there have been many unfairly awarded contracts. Even government employees have been claiming from the relief fund.

What has become clear is that most of the fraud seems to have been from internal employees and it becomes all-important for the money to be retrieved and paid back to the UIF. Both the military and the prison services are co-operating with the investigation.

More than 6 000 officials were identified claiming from the relief fund benefit totalling over R40 million worth of benefits. The investigation identified almost 4 000 bank accounts which were used for illegal payments.

Many employers and workers in South Africa have been complaining about non-payment or under-payment over the past almost 11 months. These complaints have been coming in thick and fast and hopefully with the new investigation many of these complaints will be sorted out.

The investigators are working closely with the Hawks so that we can eventually get some prosecutions going after arrests. The Hawks have reported that they have arrested quite a few individuals and these cases will follow in early course. All the law enforcement agencies are working together to assist the SAPS with the criminal investigations.

The emergency payments have been extended to March 15, and hopefully with these investigations, which are ongoing, there will be a more efficient service to the individuals who are claiming.

* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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