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SASSA prioritises other govt databases for future checks and balances

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The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) will, in future, consider using the databases of other government departments for its long-term social grants validation processes.

This after the agency was able to tap into those specific databases as a result of the implementation of the COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, according to SASSA CEO Totsie Memela.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit SA, government introduced a number of financial relief efforts, including the payment of R350 per month to support some unemployed citizens during the national lockdown.

However, SASSA encountered some challenges in disbursing the COVID-19 grants, most notably determining applicants that qualify, payment backlogs and paying people working in government and recipients of Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) benefits, as indicated in the auditor-general’s (AG’s) report in September.

Discussing some of the agency’s future efforts to fight fraud on the social grants system, Memela said: “The relationships developed during this pandemic will greatly assist SASSA in strengthening its validation processes, even for the long-term social grants in the future. This will enable checks to be done to ensure the financial information provided is complete and that grants are indeed provided to those who qualify for the grants.”

Zero tolerance

In its report on the financial management of government’s multibillion-rand COVID-19 relief initiatives, the AG revealed there’s a lack of validation, integration and sharing of data across government platforms.

The end result being that people, including government officials, received benefits and grants they were not entitled to and applicants were unfairly rejected as a result of outdated information.

The AG’s COVID-19 audit focused on payments of the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme and R350 SRD grant, relief of economic and social distress, and the procurement of personal protective equipment.

According to the report, even though IT systems across government carry data on almost everyone in the country −for example, information on the home affairs databases on identity numbers and deceased people, or the South African Revenue Service databases with its information on people’s earnings −the rich data is not integrated, shared across government or effectively used by the UIF and SASSA, and similar entities, to check if people applying for benefits and grants qualify for these.

Regarding the R350 SRD grant, the AG recommended it be scrutinised.

At the time, the AG said: “We identified that somewhere around 30 000 beneficiaries require further investigation. For example, among these are people working in government and recipients of UIF payments, and other social grants and government pension that also picked up a benefit in respect of this R350.

“The databases that SASSA used are also outdated and could have led to the rejection of applicants that should have received the grant.”

Responding to recent findings that revealed more than 1 500 City of Johannesburg employees to be in receipt of social grants, SASSA says it pursues an active fraud prevention strategy and has always exercised a zero tolerance to anyone who commits, or is complicit in fraud in the social grant environment.

“It is precisely because of the implementation of this strategy that the City of Johannesburg employees were identified. In addition, SASSA and the City of Johannesburg have been co-operating on this matter since July 2020,” states Memela.

Moreover, the agency says its active risk-based fraud prevention strategy led to the confirmation that there are 4 726 social grant beneficiaries who withdrew their social grants outside the country’s borders during the lockdown period.

“The grants were all suspended in September, as the legislation requires any grant beneficiary to be a resident in South Africa. The fact that cross-border travel was not permitted indicates that in all likelihood, these social grant beneficiaries are resident in our neighbouring countries.”

It adds: “It should further be noted that all social grants are means tested. This requires the applicant for any social grant to declare his/her income on application. In addition, each and every beneficiary of a social grant carries the responsibility to report any change in his/her financial circumstances to SASSA immediately there is a change.

“It could happen that a citizen applies for a grant when he/she is not employed, and subsequent to approval of the grant becomes employed. SASSA will not know about this unless the beneficiary reports the matter; it is to deal with these situations that SASSA has to regularly review social grants.”

SASSA says every citizen in this country has a responsibility to report wrongdoing wherever this may be seen, adding this responsibility extends to the reporting of grants being received by citizens who do not qualify for them.

“Unfortunately, it appears it is acceptable for citizens to take from government with impunity, as it is government money and [they believe] there is plenty more where that comes from, rather than to understand that the money being used is taxpayers’ money, and everyone who receives what they are not entitled to is in fact taking away from someone who depends on that money.

“SASSA will continue to call on citizens to report the misuse and incorrect payment of social grants. In addition, we will continue with the implementation of our fraud prevention strategy, and strengthening collaborative efforts with any organisation that can support us in our endeavour to ensure the social grants system, which has been internationally acknowledged, continues to support the most vulnerable members of our society.”

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