Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu speaks in Mamelodi. Several officials from the department have been suspended with immediate effect. File picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency/ANA

JOHANNESBURG - Several officials of the Department of Small Business Development have been suspended with immediate effect after serious allegations of corruption within the unit responsible for incentive scheme administration.

The department in a statement said it has so far on Thursday issued nine precautionary suspension letters of which seven are against Black Business Supplier Development Programme (BBSDP) and two against Co-operative Incentive Scheme officials (CIS).

"The people of South Africa deserve a professional service dispersed equitably without fear or favour. Access to finance remains a critical challenge for SMMEs and Cooperatives and so, we had to act decisively on this matter in order to prevent the possible perpetuation of corruption and further prejudice to SMMEs and Cooperatives," Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said.

The department in August 2017, conducted an investigation into incentive schemes CIS and BBSDP following the indicators of fraud identified through the Auditor General of South Africa (A-G) 2016/17 regulatory audit, the Portfolio Committee on Small Business Development Oversight visits and observations.  

"BBSDP is a cost-sharing grant offered to black-owned small enterprises to assist them to improve their competitiveness and sustainability whilst the CIS is a 100% grant for registered primary co-operatives," Department spokesperson, Noko Manyelo, said.

The forensic report implicated officials in maladministration, misrepresentation of facts, collusion and contravening the Programme Guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures.

The department said it will be laying criminal charges in cases of possible fraudulent activities against the official, grant applicants and service providers with the South African Police Services (SAPS).

"It is unbelievable that the very same foot soldiers that we have entrusted with the responsibility to provide services to our people, are the ones sabotaging our mission," Zulu said. 

"Our vision is to radically transform the economy through integrated and effective enterprise development and entrepreneurship promotion and not corruption. This cannot be tolerated," the minister said.

African News Agency (ANA)