Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said they were not prepared for a pandemic of this nature and it had taken months to design a system to distribute funds. It appears the design was faulty because of fraud, theft and maladministration. Picture: Mthuthuzeli Ntseku/Cape Argus
Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said they were not prepared for a pandemic of this nature and it had taken months to design a system to distribute funds. It appears the design was faulty because of fraud, theft and maladministration. Picture: Mthuthuzeli Ntseku/Cape Argus

UIF's system still haunted by gremlins, but outstanding claims are being tackled

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 29, 2020

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by Michael Bagraim

Seven months into the lockdown, one would have thought that the ongoing problems and glitches within the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) would have come to an end.

Miraculously, many of the outstanding claims are being tackled by the acting commissioner, Marsha Bronkhorst but unfortunately, gremlins have still crept into the system and I am daily getting hundreds of emails from Independent Media readers telling me their problems.

I’m not discouraging people from emailing me about the problems as I am more than willing and able to activate a claim with the acting commissioner.

On October 20, Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi outlined some of the problems that he was having.

Nxesi acknowledged that there were seven months of problems. The minister explained that they were not prepared for a pandemic of this nature and it had taken them months to design this system to distribute funds. It does, however, appear that the design of the system was faulty as a lot of fraud, theft and maladministration has been taking place.

It is rather shocking to see that the government was fully aware by mid-March that the pandemic would hit South Africa in a big way. We weren’t alone on this as many countries also suffered with their systems breaking down.

In April, I became aware that the entire UIF had malfunctioned and I reported this in one of my columns. Fortunately, the Department of Employment and Labour is beginning to identify and act on cases.

The new mandate to disburse enormous funds was not within their ability. There did not seem to be financial controls and they were not expecting a bloodbath of retrenchments. We now know that the UIF is not with unlimited resources and this is under threat.

Despite this, I’m still hopeful that the ministry will extend the TERS benefits until November 15.

On September 4, all payments from the UIF were put on hold so that risk management could assess the situation and try to block some of the problems. On September 21, they lifted the suspension and continued with some of the payments.

The auditor-general is still auditing all these payments and there will be a second report with the findings. Unfortunately, the public have still not seen the first report from the auditor-general but I presume this will become available in due course.

We do need to hear who the fraudsters were, and we need to hear how they’ve been punished and hopefully put into jail. As an aside, the auditor-general is coming to an end of his term of office and he will be sorely missed.

All of us in South Africa owe a debt of gratitude to the auditor-general and his staff for the fantastic work that they have been doing in following all the fraud and corruption in the country. Hopefully, their findings translate into prosecutions and these prosecutions translate into sentences.

I’m happy to report that a new auditor-general, Tsakani Maluleke has been recommended. By all accounts, Maluleke has a fantastic reputation, record and superb qualifications.

She has big shoes to fill but as South Africans, we must have faith that she will follow in the footsteps of her predecessor who successfully audited public accounts.

I hope we will recover some of the stolen TERS funds so that the minister can extend the payments to the employees who so desperately need it.

We do know that some people have been charged and that almost R3.5billion of wrongful payment has been recouped.

We also know that the SIU and the forensic auditors are looking into the AG’s findings and reports. We still need to strengthen normal systems and the director-general of the Department of Employment and Labour has launched a process for both the UIF and the Compensation Fund. It looks like there will be a lot of re-engineering in the future.

The government has confirmed and acknowledged that they need to learn and improve but they say the virus gave them no time to prepare. Despite the presidential recovery plan, it doesn’t appear that there is anything of an enormous nature.

It will be good to see new infrastructure projects as this will at least create a few jobs. We do need to praise the Commission of Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration and some of the other efforts made by the Department of Labour in trying to save jobs in the South African economy.

I hope the normal UIF benefits will now go ahead without further interruption and people who are claiming maternity benefits and retirement benefits will get their payments resumed as quickly as possible. The ordinary benefits due to the workers of South Africa should not be in any way retarded.

Despite Nxesi stating that the government has paid out over R45bn, we need to correct him in that, although the payout might be R45bn, it is not the government’s money but it belongs to the workers of South Africa by merely receiving money back from their investment into the UIF.

* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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

Cape Argus

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