Government shrugs as thousands of grants go to public servants
Public servants who are not entitled to receive the R350 Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRD) are applying and receiving it, despite it being illegal to do so.
Answering a recent parliamentary Q&A, acting public service and administration minister Thulas Nxesi said that the department does not have a mandate over the management of any grants; therefore, there are no measures or interventions that it has put in place to prevent public servants from unlawfully receiving the grant.
This follows a significant scandal in May 2020, where 5,812 public servants fraudulently applied for and received the R350 grant at the cost of R5.8 million.
While thousands of public servants were caught in the act of doing so, only 242 cases were sent for further investigation by the department.
The investigations revealed that 44 civil servants qualified to receive the SRD grant as they were employed on a sessional basis, resulting in 198 civil servants being taken for disciplinary and criminal action.
Nxesi said that the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and other grant-providing government institutions manage grants in line with their constitutional mandates through the use of systems that run independently from that of the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA).
He added that his department has no mandate to interfere in the operations of any grant-providing government institutions, has no access to their systems and cannot put measures in place to stop the practice. Nxesi said that as of 21 April 2022, the department distributed 153 disciplinary cases to identified departments.
So far, no one has been dismissed, and the results of the disciplinary hearing are still pending.
The department and Sassa have agreed on a draft charge sheet to guide departments when instituting disciplinary processes and agreed on the act of misconduct as these cases involved fraud and therefore are serious, said Nxesi.
Despite this, he noted that the department, in collaboration with Sassa, has put in place some initiatives to discourage and punish unethical behaviour amongst public servants.
On 26 August, Sassa recorded just under 12 million applicants for August – after the income threshold for eligibility increased from R350 to R624 per month.
Changes were made to regulations after a low number of approved applications for the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) caused concern for both the Department of Social Development and Sassa.
On top of record high applications, Sassa is seeking to be more precise in who they allow receiving the grant. When onboarding to the system, prospective grant holders are now questioned regarding the work and education history of an applicant:
- When the applicant last worked;
- How the applicant usually sustains themselves, and;
- Whether the applicant is employed, receiving other forms of income, etc.