SIU criticised for lower graft-fighting targets

2013-04-24 16:51

The Special Investigating Unit came under fire from MPs for slashing its targets in terms of taking on corruption cases and recovering stolen state funds.

According to its strategic plan the unit, which proceeds on the basis of proclamation by the president, aims to deal with cases involving R100 million in potential cash recoveries of misspent state funds and to reclaim an actual R32 million in the 2013/2014 financial year.

Speaking during a briefing by the SIU to Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice, African Christian Democratic Party MP Steve Swart noted that this was a fraction of the estimated amount of state funds lost annually to graft.

That figure was estimated to be between R25 billion and R30 billion by former SIU head Willie Hofmeyr in 2011, towards the end of his decade-long tenure.

“The target, in terms of that figure, is almost a drop in the proverbial bucket ... my concern is are you making any impact in the fight against corruption when one looks at the figures and the targets?” Swart said.

If it were true, as the SIU leadership stated, that the number of cases the unit planned to investigate had dropped because it intended focusing on more complex matters, then at least the monetary figures should increase.

The unit reported that it recovered R170 million last year, when its target was set conservatively at R35 million to allow for a temporary funding shortfall caused by an anomaly in its founding legislation.

Swart said that dip made sense, but given the unit’s past successes – it recovered R74 million in 2010 and R224 million in 2011 – staying at that level did not.

Similarly, it planned to deal with financial mismanagement in procurement matters to the tune of R1 billion, though it achieved twice this figure last year.

The SIU’s set target on the number of cases it would aim to refer for civil litigation dropped to 30 this year, though in recent years it had consistently referred several hundred civil matters to the courts. It is set to increase to 40 next year and 50 in 2015.

SIU acting projects director Paul Modipa said the benchmark figures had changed in part because the unit was winding down its long-running investigation into social welfare fraud. The unit’s focus was also shifting to bigger “impact” cases involving wrongdoing by government accounting officers.

Gerhard Visagie, the SIU’s head of corporate governance, said the unit’s impact on corruption could not be measured by its case load and recoveries alone, as it had a wider, deterrent effect on graft.

But ANC MP John Jeffery objected that the SIU’s presentation to the committee was woefully lacking on detail, and padded with generalities on the unit’s mandate.

The Democratic Alliance’s Debbie Schafer termed it “fluffy nothing”.

Both wanted more detail on the 25 cases the unit was currently investigating, and the 15 they planned to complete this year.

Modipa said probes concluded last year included one into graft at the SABC but investigators had yet to complete the report.

Acting SIU head Nomvula Mokhatla said reporting had lagged, because the unit was trying to get information from staff who had left the unit or moved within it.

Committee chairperson Luwellyn Landers said there should have been a hand-over process before they left.

“Indeed, that would have been the right process,” she conceded.

Jeffery said the unit was not managing to motivate why it should be awarded more funding, and demanded a comprehensive long-term plan.

“I don’t think you’ve given us what we need in order to deal with your budget. We need a slide specifically to look at the indicators and how they are going to be met.

“I think the points raised by Mr Swart is valid. I don’t understand ... the number of referrals made to the prosecuting authority – it used to be in the thousands ... but you are then dropping it to 50 this year.”

He said the same had happened to the number of recommendations for disciplinary action envisioned, and asked why 25 of the unit’s posts were vacant though it had the funding to staff them.

Landers asked the SIU to supply the outstanding information in writing “as soon as possible”.

The SIU has been criticised as having lost focus since Hofmeyr’s departure and President Jacob Zuma is under pressure to appoint a new permanent head.

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