No heads roll over R6 mln fraud

2012-02-08 00:00

NOT a single head has rolled after five years of repeatedly delayed investigations into the embezzlement of nearly R6 million from a project launched to help the poorest of the poor in 1996.

The KZN Legislature was told this yesterday during the presentation of a report on a forensic investigation into the Social Development Department’s poverty alleviation programme.

It left members of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) aghast. The words “gobsmacked”, “perturbed”, “annoyed” and “angry” flew around.

The MPLs were told that the fraudsters used the money earmarked for uplifting the poorest of the poor to build their own homes.

“People were given money for NGO projects and instead they were building houses for themselves,” said Belinda Scott of the ANC.

The investigation is aimed at recovering more than R5,8 million in embezzled funds from the Sustainable Livelihood Programme and to prosecute the culprits.

The department believes that it will be able to recover R3 244 452, according to the report. Of this amount it has already recovered R2 121 768 from the Pietermaritzburg, Midlands, Durban and Ulundi regional office clusters.

An additional R2 627 545 has still to be recovered from 114 individuals and organisations that had signed acknowledgements of debt.

The frauds took place before the Public Finance Management Act came into operation.

ANC MPL Rina Naidoo asked how many of the 140 people implicated in defrauding the department between 1996 and 2006 were still alive.

“If they are, let’s get the money back.

“Those who are dead, let’s get death certificates from Home Affairs as proof that they are dead.”

Police who were part of the investigation told Scopa they had sometimes hit dead ends because prosecutors declined to follow through for lack of sufficient evidence.

Scopa members expressed anger that some of the eight officials being investigated have resigned and that others have moved to other departments within the province.

Reports about the investigations were forwarded to departments where some of the implicated officials had moved, which has meant that they are not being investigated.

African Christian Democratic Party MPL Jo-Ann Downs said it was shocking that since the fraud was uncovered in 2002 no action has been taken.

Roman Liptak of the Inkatha Freedom Party said the committee was concerned that the disciplinary hearings had not even been finalised.

“The numbers of disciplinary proceedings against the responsible officials per region run in single digits, with one region (Midlands) apparently having no one to discipline,” said Liptak.

He said the IFP did not understand how some officials could fail to be linked to cases of fraud that were happening under their watch or how those who had been implicated could move to other government departments with impunity.

The head of the department, Bheki Nkosi, said he empathised with the MPLs and admitted that the probe had lagged. However, he said, he was sure the investigations would yield the desired results.

The MEC for Social Development, Weziwe Thusi, assured the committee members that she and Nkosi would meet to map a way forward in addressing Scopa’s concerns.

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