Cape Town 110608 . Virginia Petersen , Director-General at the Premier's department . Picture Mlandeli Puzi

Johannesburg - Death threats and intimidation are some of the reasons behind why multimillions have been spent for security protection services for top personnel at the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa), the social development department said on Sunday.

“This aggressive attitude to fraud and corruption by the Minister and the chief executive has led to the numerous incidents of death threats, intimidation and threats against them and their families and other staff,” said departmental spokeswoman Lumka Oliphant in a statement.

Oliphant was responding to a report in the Sunday Times about more than R10 million spent on bodyguards for top personnel - with questions raised on how the contracts were awarded.

The newspaper reported that R2.9 million was spent on “close protection services” for Sassa chief executive Virginia Petersen and Renay Ogle, the agency's fraud management and compliance general manager.

An arrest was made in a case in which Petersen received death threats.

Oliphant said Petersen was under threat as she had been focused on tackling corruption within the grant system and had ensured already more than 7000 fraud cases had been uncovered.

According to the Sunday Times, a further R1.1 million “for close protection services” for Oliphant and her family was also spent.

The newspaper reported that the contracts for protection were given to a company Vuco Security Solutions, based in Kwa-Mashu in Durban and its report suggested that most of the contracts appeared to have bypassed normal procurement rules.

In response, Oliphant said close protection services were only used “if an official is reportedly threatened.”

She said that the department or Sassa would then investigate.

“This is followed by the use of an emergency delegation to procure the urgent service. Thereafter a bidding procurement process is used if the situation requires close protection for a longer period. The cost is from the chief executive's budget as she is required to manage this responsibility.”

The Sunday Times reported that Vuco had charged for a number of services and items which reportedly included R45,000 for erecting a fence, R17,000 for building a toilet as well as charges for buying rifles, pistols and night-vision binoculars.

Oliphant said that Sassa was extending its investigation into services procurements for the past financial year.

“This ranges from procurement of office accommodation, office upgrading to services.”

She said Vuco was one of four companies who had been providing close protection since 2012.

Oliphant listed a number of personnel receiving security protection, besides the chief executive, including two head office managers, two provincial heads, one security head, four office heads and three families. - Sapa