SIU probe into Covid-19 Ters corruption recovers R23m lost to unlawful claims
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Cape Town - The implementation of the Covid-19 temporary employer/employee relief scheme (Ters) has seen heightened corruption by provincial government departments, individuals and private businesses.
To date, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has recovered R23.4 million in unlawfully-claimed Ters benefits.
A total of 303 matters have been finalised, with 80 criminal matters having been referred for prosecution.
Furthermore, eleven people have since been arrested in relation to irregular processes.
This was revealed by the head of the SIU, advocate Andy Mothibi, on Wednesday morning as he reported the status of the unit’s investigations before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).
In August last year, Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi referred allegations relating to irregularities on the Unemployment Insurance Fund to the SIU.
Nxesi requested that the investigating unit review the Auditor-General’s report on findings relating to Ters funds paid following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic
The extent of the probe revealed that even prison inmates benefited from claims, along with provincial government departments and private businesses.
As it stands, the unit is currently investigating a matter relating to the Eastern Cape Transport Co-operative Limited involving more than R19m.
Applications were submitted for 5 535 employees of which 62 bank accounts have been frozen.
A private hospital in the Free State Province applied and received Ters in May 2020, but Mothibi said this hospital had not closed due to lockdown and employees continued to receive their full salaries throughout the lockdown period.
Mothibi further maintained that the hospital opted to pay the refund of R465 591.60 directly to the UIF.
In Gauteng, 25 matters were referred by Corruption Watch and one matter was referred by the UIF to the SIU for civil recovery.
Ters-related fraud within private companies amounted to over R10m.
Mothibi said five matters had been finalised and 17 matters were still under investigation.
Another well known-case includes that of Thabo Simbini, a 29-year-old businessman who allegedly submitted 6 000 Ters claims to the tune of R111m on behalf of Impossible Services.
These claims were apparently made for various employees, but Simbini was the only registered employee at the company.
It’s alleged that he used over 1 200 ID numbers which he duplicated by himself in order to generate the claims. It was later established that the same IP address was used to generate the claims.
Seven inmates who received Ters benefits were also identified. This, however, relates to identity theft by foreign nationals who used IDs of incarcerated South African citizens to apply for work with SA entities.
These are just a few of the many probes which the SIU is currently looking into.
Mothibi said the investigations revealed an amount of collusion between government officials, in the UIF in particular, and private companies and individuals.
“The committee can see the magnitude of the investigations being conducted and the kind of outcomes that have been achieved. We will ensure that that kind of corruption is dealt with in line with the outcomes we have presented before the committee.
“We are happy to see the criminal investigation aspect and consequence management is also gaining traction,” he said.
Chairperson of the committee Mkhuleko Hlengwa welcomed the comprehensive update by the SIU, which he said was unearthing the syndicates which are taking “all of us for a ride”.
He said a broader discussion should be held with the security cluster around.
ANC committee member Sakhumzi Somyo referred to the Simbini matter as a clear indication that the UIF’s systems, or the entirety of the managerial group of the institution, were “sleeping on the job”.
Mothibi responded that there was an operational risk on the part of the UIF.
He added that the UIF should urgently develop a plan that would be monitored to ensure that the system itself was improved.
He further agreed with Somyo that there was a need for the improvement of the administration.