Media Statement - 29 January 2013
The Department of Human Settlements is taking a very stern approach to fraud and corruption within its ranks. More recently three fairly senior officials were dismissed even before their criminal cases were finalised.
The Department maintains a constant vigilance. The position going forward is that there must be visible consequences for any wrong doing. The clear message is that those convicted will not only repay monies and lose their jobs but also face the very real prospect of going to jail.
There is substantial work being done with the investigative and prosecuting agencies to achieve this. In fact the KZN Premier’s integrity unit has made representation to the national Minister of Justice to allocate eight additional prosecutors to boost its capacity.
The cases referred to in the parliamentary question relate to the period 1994-2007. The Auditor-General used the sophisticated technology at their disposal to cross reference against identity numbers and pick up anomalies.
The cases identified were referred to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) which began its work in 2009. The SIU mandate was through a national proclamation and it concluded its work on 31 March 2012.
The SIU investigation looked into the affairs of all nine provinces. Of the cases addressed in the parliamentary question, only four applied to KZN Human Settlements. Of these two employees left before disciplinary processes commenced while two others were subject to disciplinary measures.
The two who were disciplined were general workers whose incomes were marginally above the R3500 threshold for housing or subsidy allocations. They were not suspended as their disciplinary cases were speedily handled. The remaining fraudsters were from other government departments and were dealt with within their ambits.
The main modus operandi was to apply for a subsidy or a low cost home by under-declaring or not disclosing income or stating that one is unemployed.
The sanctions meted out is hardly a slap on the wrist. There have been criminal convictions and suspended periods of imprisonment ranging from 3 months to five years. Employees have also received final written warnings and have been required to pay back monies with interest. These are very significant deterrents.
We need to keep in mind that labour law and the constitution provides for a fair and independent disciplinary process. The Departments can argue their case but cannot dictate the sanction. The logistical difficulty in processing 500 prosecutions influenced the decision to go the plea-bargaining route. It may have been an imperfect solution but it served the purpose of sending a strong message that there are dire consequences for fraud and corruption. The recent dismissal of three officials before the finalisation of their court cases is a clear indication of the direction the Department is headed.
Date: 28 January 2013
Source: Kiru Naidoo 0829408163