by Michael Bagraim
All readers of Independent Newspapers would have seen the various articles expressing shock and dismay as the unemployment insurance fund bosses were suspended.
In fact, across all of its titles, Independent Media has been very carefully following the failed emergency payments from the unemployment fund to the workers of South Africa.
This story has been heartbreaking and, to a large degree, disgusting. Some of the most vulnerable people of our workforce have been left “high and dry” by the government.
I get daily emails from individuals who have not received their emergency funding (the Ters payment) since April.
We are five months down the
line and the fund is still incredibly dysfunctional. Many writers, commentators and editors have asked: What has gone wrong?
I sent UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping at least 100 emails a day for the past five months. Although I received certain responses, I have effectively not been satisfied in any way.
I have escalated my complaints to the minister of employment and labour on at least 10 occasions and confronted the minister in virtual meetings on an equal number of occasions.
Each time, I have been reassured by the ministry that the UIF is functioning smoothly and that those complaining are out of line and wrong.
Well, exactly a week ago, Wednesday, September 2, the senior management team, including the commissioner, were placed on precautionary suspension following an investigation by the auditor-general.
It must be remembered that the UIF was specifically placed in our institutions and law to help workers who have been dismissed, retrenched, retired or in some way left without income.
The money in the UIF belongs to the people, and not the government. It is collected by Sars for each worker who experiences a rainy day.
The rainy day arrived at the end of March for the entire workforce of South Africa.
Many workers were left with no income and no means to support themselves and their families.
It is at times like this that one would expect an insurance fund to step in and do the necessary.
This particular fund failed the workforce.
There was money available and it was very clearly said that Sars could step in and ensure that every worker affected by the pandemic could receive their funds quickly and effectively.
The ministry decided that they were more than competent to handle this function themselves, despite many of us warning them.
A lot has gone wrong and many excuses have been proffered throughout the pandemic.
Many commentators have been calling upon the ministry to explain the myriad problems experienced by the suffering workforce.
We have an institution within the government which has proved to be effective and honest.
“It is often very difficult to talk truth to power, but the auditor-general has done the necessary in so many instances.
About nine months ago, the auditor-general’s powers were expanded.
The extended powers gave the auditor-general a much more effective role in policing governmental institutions. It is worthwhile to read about the extended powers and what the auditor-general may or may not do.
For those who are interested, I would recommend visiting the auditor-general’s website in order to see the full outline of their functions, abilities and well-structured results.
It was fantastic to hear that the auditor-general had stepped in to investigate the various allegations about the malfunctioning UIF, in particular the emergency funding known as Ters.
In a short space of time, the auditor-general and his staff were able to outline literally dozens of loopholes and problems experienced over the past five months.
The myriad complaints have proved to be true. It became absolutely clear in the auditor-general’s interim report that the management team have been grossly lacking in almost every instance.
Following up from this report, the minister of employment and labour swiftly moved to suspend, on a precautionary basis, the management team of the UIF.
The public has not had any insight into what exactly has gone wrong on their watch, but clearly the workers of South Africa know that the system has failed them.
We need to praise the auditor-general and his staff for their intervention and hard work. The auditor-general effectively performs the function of a watchdog.
We need more interventions of this nature in other institutions, and hopefully we can start putting a lid on the numerous instances of theft and corruption within all our government institutions.
The victims of this crime are often the poorest of the poor and in the instance of the Department of Employment and Labour, we have seen thousands and thousands of workers who are literally starving.
* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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