Fraud: 96?000 officials caught

2010-09-11 00:00

A SPECIAL investigation has revealed a “festering sore” of corruption in public service ranks, with the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) having identified some 96 000 public servants who all stole welfare grants from the state.

The unit, an independent agency responsible for investigating corruption and mismanagement in the public service, has already found some 15 000 officials guilty.

It warned that a further 80 000 officials will be soon be served with similar charges.

The officials who have been found guilty include more than 900 police officers who received child maintenance grants, foster care grants and even old-age pensions to which they were not entitled.

The unit said it will charge several hundred more police for similar frauds.

Not one of these police members has been suspended or dismissed. A police spokesperson said about a third of them have been charged with disciplinary offences and have either received written warnings or had their dismissal suspended for six months.

The officials entered into plea agreements with the National Prosecuting Authority and pleaded guilty to charges of fraud. They received suspended sentences and must repay the stolen money with interest.

SIU head Willie Hofmeyr confirmed this week that his unit handed over 945 disciplinary cases to the police. Nearly 10 000 other cases were handed over to national and provincial government departments across the country.

Police spokesperson Colonel Vishnu Naidoo said the SA Police Force is aware of only 350 police members who committed fraud. Their disciplinary hearings were finalised, they were warned, and they are still in the force.

A senior researcher at the Institute of Security Studies, Dr Johan Burger, said it is “disturbing” that police who have committed fraud are allowed to stay on in the force.

“It has always been the norm that police found guilty of fraud or theft are not fit to serve in the force,” Burger said. A tolerance toward corruption seems to have crept in in the meantime, and that augurs nothing good for the future.”

Many made false sworn statements and held false identity documents and birth certificates, among other things. Others used or bribed officials in the various departments to help them obtain the grants.

Hofmeyr said the investigation into illegal welfare grants has been conducted only at national and provincial government level thus far. The investigation still has to be extended to municipal officials, which he said would increase the figure of 96 000 considerably.

Burger said corruption is a festering sore that is becoming worse. He said there should be no place for fraudsters in the public service.

“How can you say you’re serious about stamping out corruption, but you allow corrupt officials to keep their jobs?” Burger wanted to know. “The public are going to lose their faith in the police and officialdom.”

Beeld asked 23 provincial and national departments whether they held disciplinary hearings against officials who were found guilty.

After a week only five departments had replied. The police were the only national department to respond.

The four provincial departments who replied reacted to the fraud by either temporarily suspending or giving final warnings to their guilty staff.

Hofmeyr said the SIU is engaged in “very sensitive” investigations into officials involved in fraud related to disability grants, which are much more complex than ordinary welfare grants because much more money is at stake and often involves crime syndicates and corrupt doctors.

The SIU is also investigating housing fraud involving R2 billion and the police have arrested 1 910 officials.

Hofmeyr admits that he never expected the figures to be this high.

“Corruption is really very, very serious, and if we don’t deal with it now, it’s going to become much worse,” he said. “Prison is a good deterrent.”

The SIU currently has about 450 operational personnel and wants to appoint a further one hundred.

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