MPs grill UIF official on Covid-19 Ters payments made to the dead

Employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi conceded there was a problem with the department's IT system. File image.
Employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi conceded there was a problem with the department's IT system. File image.
Image: Reuters

Members of parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Wednesday lambasted an Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) official for not accepting responsibility for Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) payments to deceased people.

Employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi and UIF officials briefed the committee on progress in implementing corrective measures at the UIF and Compensation Fund.

TimesLIVE previously reported that the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) found a criminal syndicate involving government officials and private companies, among others, using ID numbers belonging to deceased people to claim Ters payments.

The SIU told parliament that during the investigation period a total of 13,447,006 employees received Ters payments or benefits from the UIF.

They were linked to at least 1,156,565 companies and employers, and R57,384,148,010 was paid out by the UIF since the inception of the scheme.

Scopa demanded that UIF officials appear before it to explain how payments were made to deceased people.

A heated exchange started when UIF acting commissioner Mzie Yawa was asked to explain why the UIF did not notice it was making payments to deceased people. Yawa told MPs it was due to initial miscommunication with the home affairs department.

This raised the ire of committee chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa, who asked Yawa why he was apportioning blame to another department.

“You have been making payments prior to Covid-19, so ordinarily these checks and balances should have been there. It’s just that Covid-19 has pushed the extent and scope of the work which you are doing. It’s everybody else and you are seemingly the victim of shortcomings of other people,” said Hlengwa.

“This is your system and you should be the ones who innovate and create a functional and effective environment. When I listen to your response, I hear that it is home affairs, it is fictitious employers, it's the families who bury the dead and not us.”

Yawa responded: “I agree. We are not responding and trying to be angels and everyone [else] is the devil. The assurance we are giving is that now, all those things paid, from whatever the source is, we do not have those problems [any more].

“There is no audit on our normal payments which shows that we have paid a dead person. When you come to claim ... our staff are trained to check the documentation you bring as proof and when it passes that [test] we make that payment.”

But the ANC’s Sakhumzi Somyo would not accept the explanation.

“That [SIU] report has given rise to a myriad of system failures, which presented an outlook of beneficiaries who ought to have been paid by the system, which is not functional in terms of making sure that payments were made to the deserving people.”

EFF MP Veronica Mente raised concerns about risk assessment by service providers who designed the system to make payments.

“This has been a problem in government in general, where service providers are involved in designing systems that do not really deliver the service required or deliver a shoddy job. The SIU told us about a lot of wrongdoing happening there in terms of the systems,” she said.

The DA’s Robert Lees said much was wrong and needed to be fixed.

“In terms of the forensic investigation, I was disappointed in the correspondence which indicated that the investigation had not yet started and was only due to start by the end of November. Why has there been such a delay in setting up the terms of reference?” he said.

Lees said this indicated a lack of urgency in dealing with problems in government departments.

Nxesi conceded there was a problem with the department’s IT systems.

“We will still need to do a serious upgrade. We continue to do it, but services should not stop as we are dealing with that IT upgrade,” he said.

“As you deal with this matter, look at the efficiency and effectiveness of the whole government IT system (Sita) which we have to rely on ... I am not trying to be defensive, but there is something that must be further probed in relation to the Sita system.”

TimesLIVE


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