Yet another snag for Covid-19 Ters relief payments

UIF applicants queue at the department of labour in Randburg to get financial relief during the Covid-19 pandemic. File image
UIF applicants queue at the department of labour in Randburg to get financial relief during the Covid-19 pandemic. File image
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

Payments of new and outstanding applications for the Covid-19 Temporary Employer/ Employee Relief (Ters) Scheme benefits have temporarily been halted yet again for the labour department and Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) to improve controls.

A damning report last week by auditor-general (AG) Kimi Makwetu identified poor financial management and verification controls, leading to millions of rand in payments to the deceased and to people in prison.

At the end of August, payments were suspended for a day so the UIF could address weaknesses in the online system that could expose it to potential fraud.

“While the AG has shown us a number of deficiencies in the payment of the Covid-19 Ters benefits, I must hasten to add that many of these deficiencies had been picked up already by management,” acting UIF commissioner Marsha Bronkhorst said on Friday.

“Some had already been corrected in the June payments, but we will continue to improve the system so it responds to the needs of our beneficiaries and makes the payments effective and efficient.”

Bronkhorst said the temporary halt will enable the UIF not only to deal with the gaps identified by the AG, but also offers the opportunity to ensure some improvements already identified by management are effected.

Bronkhorst said the UIF has taken steps to address systemic challenges with regard to the payments.

She said they have entered into a memorandum of understanding with government institutions to make sure they get access to their updated databases. These include the SA Social Security Agency, the National Students Financial Aid Scheme and the department of home affairs.

“These departments and institutions are currently busy verifying the UIF database to ensure payments reach the correct people,” Bronkhorst said.

She said they have updated their system to make sure bank verification happens more quickly, and this includes verification for schools and NGOs.

“We are also improving our application portal to make sure it becomes a self-service portal to make it easy for employers and employees,” she said.

To date the UIF has received more than 1.1-million applications for the benefits and has paid out about R42bn.

Bronkhorst warned that those who attempt to defraud the system will face legal consequences.

“There are already some cases we have taken to the police for investigation and prosecution — 35 out of a total of 146. This serves as a notice to those who may have intentions to try to defraud the system. Not only will it be harder to do so, but even if they do succeed, the law will eventually get them and they will pay for stealing from workers,” she said.

Following the AG’s report, the UIF’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer have been suspended, along with UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping.

The AG found that individuals below the legal age of employment of 15 years were paid by the UIF, and individuals who were indicated as deceased on the home affairs database had  received Ters benefits totalling R441,144.

Payments amounting to R685,846,671 were made for 166,619 applications relating to foreign nationals whose employers had not paid contributions for them for the past 12 months.

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