Makwetu flags UIF Ters/Sassa benefits paid to government officials

Besides red flags such as payments to deceased people, duplicate payments and overpayments in the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Covid-19 Ters benefit scheme, Auditor General (AG) Kimi Makwetu also flagged government officials applying and benefitting from the scheme, in the agency’s Covid-19 Relief Funds Audit.

On Wednesday, Makwetu noted that government officials were also tapping into the South African Social Security Agency’s (Sassa) special R350 Covid-19 social relief grant, which is aimed at the poorest people in distress. The AG, however, did not reveal actual numbers of such cases in the UIF and Sassa schemes, nor the values linked to this.

On the request of President Cyril Ramaphosa, Makwetu’s office said that it has undertaken “a real-time audit of 16 of the key Covid-19 initiatives introduced by government, which involved the management of R147.4 billion of funds made available for these initiatives.” This is part of the government’s broader R500 billion Covid-19 relief and economic stimulus package.

Makwetu said the Covid-19 Relief Funds Audit represents the first in a series of reports that will deal with the financial management of the government’s Covid-19 initiatives, covering R68.9 billion (47%) of the R147.4 billion spending.

The report covers the period until July 31, 2020.

Of the R68.9 billion in spending covered in the initial report, the large majority of this (around R57 billion) relates to disbursements made as part of the UIF Ters scheme and Sassa social grants payments.

“The Ters benefit, the social distress grant and the top-up of existing social grants were introduced to provide economic relief to the vulnerable and assist employers to protect jobs,” Makwetu noted in a statement.

“By July 31, the UIF had paid just over R37 billion in Ters benefits and Sassa had paid R19.6 billion in social grants.”

Makwetu said that the UIF and Sassa had to make significant changes in their processes and systems within a very short period to enable these pay-outs, without ensuring that good preventative controls were in place.

“All of this increased the risk of payments to beneficiaries that are not eligible, overpayments, underpayments, the invalid rejection of beneficiaries, fraud and double-dipping.”

“The lack of validation, integration and sharing of data across government platforms resulted in people – including government officials – receiving benefits and grants they were not entitled to,” Makwetu pointed out.

“Some applicants could have been unfairly rejected as a result of outdated information on which assessment for eligibility was based,” he added.

Listed below are the AG’s key findings on the payment of UIF Ters benefits:

  • A new system implemented for Ters incorrectly calculated the benefits for the first lockdown period (27 March to 30 April) by not taking into account the actual period of inactivity and the portion of the salary paid by employers, resulting in significant overpayments.
  • Through analysing the payment data and checking the beneficiary information against other government databases, a high number of payments were flagged that require investigation. These include payments to people who are below the legal age of employment, deceased, working in government, receiving social grants or students funded by the national student financial aid scheme.
  • Recalculations of claims and reconciliations with payment data identified overpayments, underpayments, duplicate payments and discrepancies such as approvals for payments made before the date of application.
  • Poor input and validation controls on the new system and a manual claim submission process used in the first two weeks of implementation further heightened the risk of invalid or manipulated claim information.

Makwetu said that the UIF is implementing actions to address some of the issues raised in the audit report.

“We further selected payments to employers and bargaining councils to verify that the eligible beneficiaries were paid. The observations in this regard will be included in the next report,” he said.

Listed below are the AG’s key findings on the payment of social grants:

  • There is a risk that the R350 social relief grant is being paid to people who are not in distress. The application process includes very limited verification to determine if the applicant is receiving other income and provides opportunities for people such as students or scholars older than 18 to also get access to the grant.
  • Sassa used some government databases to check if applicants have alternate sources of income which would disqualify them for the social relief grant. The databases they have access to are not sufficient, as our data analytics still flagged payments to over 30 000 beneficiaries that required further investigation. These include payments to beneficiaries employed in government or that received other sources of income such as other social grants, government pension, UIF payments and benefits from other relief funds. The databases that Sassa used are also outdated and could have led to the rejection of applicants that should have received the grant. The audit of the validity of the rejections will be dealt with in the next report.
  • Changes to the information technology system to enable the payment of the top-up grants could not be completed in time for the May grant payment and a manual workaround was used with little controls to prevent mistakes. This resulted in duplicate payments and some beneficiaries not receiving their grants – these issues were subsequently corrected.