Prisoners scored big in bogus government grant payouts

Minister Lindiwe Zulu says 105 inmates and 4,276 people living outside SA during national lockdown got state subsidies

07 June 2021 - 15:53 By graeme hosken
Prisoners and thousands of people living outside SA benefited from government grant payouts. File photo.
Prisoners and thousands of people living outside SA benefited from government grant payouts. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

More than 100 prisoners from across SA have illicitly benefited from the payout of social development grants while behind bars, scoring hundreds of thousands of rand in financial aid every month.

This was revealed in a parliamentary response to questions from the DA.

Among those who also benefited illegally from grants paid out by government during the Covid-19 lockdown were 1,768 postal workers and 4,276 people who lived outside SA while the borders were closed.

The Post Office took over responsibility for the payment of government grants in 2018.

Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu, in a written response, revealed last month that while “the normal practice is that Sassa [SA Social Security Agency] do not pay people who do not qualify for the different type of grants ... Sassa may under exceptional circumstances end up paying people who do not qualify, where there is misrepresentation from the grant applicant”.

She said during 2020 Sassa detected possible fraud involving:

  • 1,768 Post Office employees who were receiving social grants;
  • 4,726 grant beneficiaries who transacted outside SA, who were receiving social grants; and
  • 105 active correctional services inmates who were receiving social grants.

Zulu said the following amounts were paid out collectively:

  • R1.5m a month to Post Office workers;
  • R7m to those living outside the country while the borders were closed; and
  • R196,000 a month to inmates.

She said while there had been no incidents of double dipping detected within the social grants system administered within Sassa, the auditor-general (AG) identified incidents of double dipping involving the applicants of the R350 special Covid-19 grant, who also applied for other Covid-19 relief measures administered by other government entities.

Zulu said while the AG identified 80,117 cases in the first three months of the Covid-19 grant, “on confirming information, 25,088 people were identified” as having collectively received R8.7m “which they were not entitled to”.

“Debts are being raised for these citizens. It should also be noted that, as soon as the anomalies were identified by the AG, payment of the special relief grant to these clients was stopped, thus limiting the loss to the state.”

Illegitimate payments to those who do not deserve grants are a huge waste of money and hugely problematic. Verification processes should not be falling through the cracks.
Prof Lauren Graham

Zulu did not say when the grants to illegal recipients were stopped or how much had been recouped from those who received payments.

Prof Lauren Graham, director of the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg, said the illegitimate payments pointed to a broader issue around the Sassa system and the system’s registration and verification processes.

She said it was remarkable that SA’s social security system moved so quickly for the Covid-19 grant to be extended to so many more people than beyond the normal grant beneficiaries. The country’s system was one of the quickest in the world in terms of response times, but when working with such speed verification systems could be compromised.

“Government embarked on a massive undertaking in registering people on the Covid-19 grant and was largely successful with this process,” she said.

“While the context of the mammoth task which was undertaken by government needs to be understood, illegitimate payments to those who do not deserve grants are a huge waste of money and hugely problematic. Verification processes should not be falling through the cracks.”

Prof Leila Patel, SA research chair in welfare and social development at University of Johannesburg, said Sassa’s grant payment systems had been tightened extensively over the years.

She said the grant that was likely illegitimately paid out was the Covid-19 relief grant.

“What is good from this is that the minister has acknowledged that they were illegitimate payments to illegitimate recipients.

“However, what now needs to be known is how will the money be clawed back? And what are Sassa and the department doing to check if there are others who received grants who should not have?”

DA MP Bridget Masango said the payment of grants to those who did not deserve them was appalling.

“[This is] money which could and should have gone to desperate and deserving South Africans struggling to survive every month,” she said.

“The minister must account to the parliamentary portfolio committee on social development on how much of the money has been recouped to date, and on the security measures in place to ensure that such occurrences are stopped in their tracks.

“Those who were found guilty must face charges. South Africans deserve better than this.”

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