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HomeNewsGovernment to follow ‘money trail’ to recover stolen Covid-19 relief fund millions

Government to follow ‘money trail’ to recover stolen Covid-19 relief fund millions

Pretoria – The Department of Employment and Labour, through the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) will be “following the money” trail of all payments made to employees and employers negatively affected by the Covid-19 lockdown.

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Through the use of seven auditing, accounting and forensic investigation expertise, the UIF has already deployed more than 360 auditors to visit employers who benefited from the Covid-19 Temporary Employee, Employer Relief Scheme (Ters).

They examine their financial records, verify the authenticity of their claims and confirm if the correct amounts of money were paid to workers at the right time.

During the national lockdown, the UIF provided wage subsidies to employees and employers affected by the lockdown, for which it budgeted R40  billion to finance the Covid-19 scheme for an initial three months.

The period was extended due to the continued implementation of the national state of disaster and the impact of staggered economic activities up to July last year.

The Accounting Village, NKS Chartered Accountants, Inqaba Kadiya Consulting, Leolo and Partners Chartered Accountants, Morobi Chartered Accountants, Ndemex Business Solution, as well as Ligwa Advisory Services, will kick-start the second phase of the project which started in July this year.

According to the UIF, the “follow the money” project entails verifying that Covid-19 funds reached the intended beneficiaries at the right time, were not abused or misused by the employers, ensure claims were validly lodged, that employees for whom claims were made were employed by companies; and to assess if information used for claims was not manipulated.

UIF spokesperson Trevor Hattingh urged employers to grant auditors access to their premises and to pro-actively prepare for the audits by having at least three months’ pre-lockdown payroll reports, bank statements proving that funds were paid over to employees, employee salary advice related to the payments, as well as salary reconciliation readily available for the auditors.

“It must be noted that the UIF is empowered to audit employers through the memorandum of understanding which it signed with employers before the release of funds. Among other things, the memorandum of agreement (allows) the UIF to audit the benefit scheme at any given time.

“Where employers are found to have a case to answer for illegally receiving funds or being in contravention of any part of the memorandum, legal proceedings will be instituted for them to account for the funds.”

UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping said employers who benefited from the fund should get their ducks in a row to ensure compliance with the UIF internal auditors and enlisted audit companies.

“Over the past few months, we have witnessed how some employers were being convicted and jailed for benefit fund fraud. It is quite disturbing that the UIF is still receiving complaints about companies who have allegedly received monies, but who failed to pay these over to their workers.

“Allegations have also come to light that some employers were only paying part of the money to workers and not the full amounts and that companies were using the money for other purposes,” he said.

Maruping added that they were concerned about a recent death threat that was made against one of their officials who was at the forefront of conducting the audits.

He added that they condemned the conduct and would ensure that it did not deter the fund from executing its important work.

To date phase one of the “follow the money project” has seen the UIF audit R14.1 billion.

Of the money audited, R12.8bn was deemed as accurate payments, while the UIF recovered R918 million; R387m, however, was suspected to be fraudulent payments and were referred for further investigation.

The court had already sentenced 10 people, while another 46 suspected of committing offences had been arrested and were facing prosecution, added Maruping.

Pretoria News

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