Johannesburg - An 82-year-old Ekurhuleni man who died in 2011 “rang up” a debt of R4466 in unpaid vehicle licence discs as he lay in his grave.

The man was among scores of deceased people whose identities were allegedly stolen by some Ekurhuleni metro police department clerks to register them as owners of vehicles which owed the metro thousands of rand in unpaid car licence discs. Four employees have already been arrested for the alleged scam.

It’s alleged that the clerks colluded with motorists to clear outstanding vehicle licence fees and penalties by irregularly registering vehicles in the names of deceased people or unsuspecting individuals before re-registering the same vehicles back to the original owners.

The alleged scam is so widespread that Ekurhuleni has lost an estimated R600 000 from the Benoni Licensing Centre. This figure escalates to at least R80 million from other municipalities around the country.

Misconduct

In the case of the deceased man, Bryan Ayers, the R4466 that was dumped on him was from outstanding licence fees and penalties for a Nissan Hardbody bakkie which had debts from February 2005.

According to Road Traffic Management Corporation spokesman Simon Zwane, the debts were allegedly transferred to Ayers on  4 October 2012, when he was already deceased.

“On the same day, the vehicle was re-registered to the owner, who paid nothing," Zwane said. "This kind of misconduct has not been detected before, but information obtained by investigators shows that it is becoming a problem in two provinces, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.”

Documents show that on 4 October 2012, the Benoni centre clerk, Simphiwe Lesotho, transferred the vehicle’s ownership to Ayers at 1.35pm. Nine minutes later, the cashier, Monica Sefuka, processed and concluded the transaction. An hour later, the vehicle was removed from Ayers’ name and put back to its original owner without him paying a cent. The debt was dumped on Ayers.

Allegations are that EMPD employees took bribes to facilitate this process. We attempted to trace Ayers family in Northmead, Benoni, but found they had sold the house six years ago and relocated. In another case, five vehicles owing R64 000 were transferred in 2013 to another man who had died in 2011.

Arrested

It is believed that the employees targeted mostly deceased people or motorists who had not renewed their licences in a long time. An employee recently resigned after it was discovered that she had assisted several motorists in clearing R900 000 worth of debt in the same manner.

Last week police arrested the three senior clerks and cashier Sefuka at the Benoni centre. It is alleged that they were involved in at least 50 similar transactions, raking in thousands of rand. The four were released on Thursday on R5000 bail each after appearing at the Benoni Magistrate’s Court on charges of fraud and corruption.

Zwane said. “The case was uncovered through painstaking detective work and analysis conducted by law enforcement officers responsible for compliance and anti-corruption.” 

EMPD spokesman Wilfred Kgasago said the motorists who benefited from the syndicate would also be subjected to a criminal investigation by police and the RTMC.

“With regard to the arrested suspects, they are likely to receive letters of suspension when they return to work,"  Kgasago said. "The internal investigation will take a maximum of three months before a final decision is made about their employment.”

'Like she was a common criminal'

Thapelo Mokwena of the South African Municipal Workers Union slammed the manner in which the four were arrested, with “Sefuka being handcuffed in front of her colleagues”.

“Police came in seven vehicles and handcuffed her at her office like she was a common criminal. What’s worse is that internal investigation and disciplinary processes had already begun and they were aware of the allegations against them," Mokwena said.

“The officials should have summoned them to a police station instead of abusing their own powers. We stand firm against corruption but they are yet to been found guilty of any wrongdoing.”

The Star