R200M FRAUD FOUND — SO FAR: DAILY DISPATCH

A PRELIMINARY probe by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) has unearthed wide-scale corruption amounting to R200-million within the Eastern Cape department of health.

The department has a long history of fraud and profiteering – from ghost workers and irregular procurements to R800million vanishing from its coffers.

Now a provisional SIU investigation that started in December has uncovered fresh allegations against public officials.

Evidence gathered by the corruptionbusting unit and detailed in a confidential report shows:

5900 officials illegally receive child support grants from the South African Social Security Agency at an annual cost of R58-million;

Almost 4 000 officials illegally get a housing subsidy from the Department of Human Settlements totalling R86-million;

R19-million worth of assets were transferred from Bhisho to district offices which could not be accounted for;

235 civil servants are directly linked to 226 companies which were paid R42.8-million by the department of health; and

The wives or husbands of 174 officials are linked to companies which received about R9-million in payments.

This comes after the department of health – which employs 47 000 people – announced last year corruption had cost the department R800-million from January 2009 to June 2010.

In the new findings, it states the SIU experienced “several constraints” during the investigation.

“Lack of SCM (supply chain management) documentation due to theft and sale of the documents to a recycling company,” the report states as one of the constraints.

 

The findings also show how 1 033 civil servants within the department have invalid driver licences.

Health department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said theft of documents has been an ongoing problem at the department.

“The department of health is committed to fighting fraud and corruption and anyone accused of such allegations will be persued, regardless of who they are,” he said.

The spokesman said he could not comment further as the investigation was ongoing and meant to be confidential.

Using customised computer software, the SIU probe – among other findings – revealed how:

76 companies were paid for work without submitting an invoice; and

217 public officials had the same address as a supplier.

SIU spokeswoman Marika Muller said: “It is SIU policy not to comment on levels of corruption in any department where we are working.”

She said while many issues may have been flagged by the unit’s preliminary work it only indicated possible fraud or corruption.

“The SIU has been working around the [department] for some time.

“The current leadership of the department are committed to the investigation, which has allowed the SIU’S work to gather significant momentum,” she said.

Listed as the provincial results of the SIU scoping exercise, the report states a comprehensive investigation will find evidence of criminal activity.

It is believed the full investigation has already started.

“No criminal cases have yet been forwarded to the [police], but that does not mean they will not be as work intensifies,” Muller said.

COPE’S health spokesman and MPL Nkosinathi Kuluta said the department was known as a cash-cow for government officials and politicians.

“Let us hope this is the beginning of the end of fraud and corruption. I hope these people are charged and arrested.”

The DA’S shadow MEC of health John Cupido called for the department to act swiftly in dealing with the allegations.

“A lot of the money could be spent elsewhere. “This is an unique opportunity to get rid of the rot in the department,” he said.

 

The ANC’S chairman for the provincial health committee Mxolisi Dimaza applauded the work done by the SIU.

“Now the law must take it’s course and those who have stolen money must be made to pay it back,” he said, adding it was clear officials had ulterior motives when working for the department.

Health MEC Sicelo Gqobana and superintendent-general Dr Siva Pillay took over the department, which was in complete disarray, in 2010.

Though still burdened with alarming levels of corruption, the department has made significant inroads into stopping the chronic abuse of its finances.

Before Gqobana and Pillay’s arrival, the department was plagued by overcrowding in hospitals and clinics, poor environmental and hygiene conditions and shortages of medication. It even went bankrupt two years ago.

Although it has made a significant dent in corruption, the department is still a long way from receiving a clean bill of health and has already earned a qualified audit after years of adverse opinions and disclaimers. — michaelk@dispatch.co.za