Suspended UIF boss is back, but not yet off the hook, says dept DG

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Thobile Lamati.
Thobile Lamati.
  • The suspension of Unemployment Insurance Fund commissioner Teboho Maruping has been lifted, but he is still facing disciplinary charges and is not yet back in his former position.
  • Employment and labour director general Thobile Lamati said Maruping would be working in the office of the DG.
  • Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said ongoing probes into UIF relief payments found R228 million in fraudulent claims so far.

The suspension of Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) commissioner Teboho Maruping has been lifted, but he is still facing disciplinary charges and is not yet back in his previous position.

Some R170 million in Temporary Employer-Employee Relief (TERS) payment irregularities saw officials at the fund get suspended last year, Department of Employment and Labour director general Thobile Lamati said. 

Lamati was speaking during a webinar organised by the Department of Employment and Labour on Friday morning regarding the socioeconomic relief interventions that government introduced to soften the blow of the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown in 2020.

One of the key interventions introduced by government was the UIF TERS, which paid funds to employers who could not operate their businesses during the hard lockdown so that they could continue to pay wages to employees.

However, the office of the Auditor-General found a number of irregularities in the payments, including undue payments, fraudulent claims - including from employers. 

The Auditor-General's findings necessitated a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe and Maruping was one of three officials placed on precautionary suspension.

Lamati told reporters during the Friday webinar that Maruping was back at the department, but that he was not in his previous office. 

"The UIF commissioner is back into the department. He has not gone back into his job as the UIF commissioner given the fact that the recommendations by the SIU were that there must be a disciplinary process and he has been served with charges," said Lamati.

Lamati said Maruping would be working in Lamati's office for the duration of the disciplinary process and that the point of the suspension was to allow the SIU room to investigate the matter. This process was at an advanced stage.

"We took a decision that he must come back because the suspension was subject to the finalisation of the investigation by the SIU. But their recommendations are being implemented, so he has not been absolved yet," Lamati said.

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said interventions from his department would remain crucial to government's pandemic response as over a million jobs were lost in the past year, and while jobless figures were stabilising, unemployment was still unacceptably high.

"The Covid-19 TERS, as of March, [has benefited] 267 000 employers and 5.4 million employees at the cost of R58 billion providing support to laid-off workers as well as their families and their communities," said Nxesi.

Nxesi said a total amount of R228 million in fraudulent claims had been traced thus far with the process still ongoing. Of 121 employers handed over to the Hawks, 16 have appeared in court, Nxesi said.

"We have to be extra careful and ensure that our systems are in place, and we do not open ourselves to fraud when it comes to these big amounts.

"The plan is there to pull us out of the economic doldrums. It is now time to focus on the implementation. We need to fast-track the implementation of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan," he said.

The Department of Labour and Employment webinar also comes as the regular UIF contributions ceiling increase to R17 712 announced by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in his February Budget Speech kicks in.

Tax Consulting SA head of technical Jean du Toit and attorney Elanie Nunez penned a joint advisory saying the increased ceiling meant that the maximum contributions of employers and employees will increase from R147.82 to R177.12 from June.

"Employers and payroll administrators should immediately implement the increased UIF contribution ceiling. Failing to do so will result in incorrect UIF contributions for June 2021, an unnecessary administrative overhaul, and non-compliance with fiscal obligations," they wrote.

They wrote that the economic impact of the pandemic may intensify, and the increased UIF contribution ceiling would provide relief as it "increases the pool from which these claims can be funded". 
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