News / South Africa / Crime
An exclusive plant-based restaurant in Salt Rock, north of Durban, is under investigation for allegedly misappropriating R180,000 in Covid Temporary Employer and Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) funds.
According to the case before the department of labour’s risk anti-corruption and integrity management, Bridget van As – owner of Leaf Cafe Salt Rock – claimed about R180,000 in Ters funds on behalf of her employees, but never paid it to them.
Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) spokesperson Makhosonke Buthelezi confirmed the investigation.
“We can confirm that Van As is under investigation by SIU [Special Investigating Unit] following a possible fraud picked up by follow the money auditors.
“Unfortunately we cannot indicate how far SIU is with the investigation as that is outside our area of control,” he said.
Workers who spoke to The Citizen anonymously said they have been devastated by the effects of Covid but were shocked their employer withheld their relief funds.
“I have lost everything. So now I understand that I am suffering, not because our government did not think about us, but because of thieves like my boss,” one of them said.
READ MORE: UIF welcomes court action against Covid-19 Ters fraudsters
SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said he could not confirm whether the unit is investigating the matter since it has no mandate to investigate private entities.
He said the unit has a proclamation to investigate allegations of corruption related to Ters, saying private entities were probed as part of the investigation into public entities.
“We do not investigate people. Our mandate is to investigate corruption allegations in state departments and entities.
“We are investigating Ters but not from private entities. If the investigations leads us to a private entity then we act but that is not our starting point,” Kganyago said.
He explained the investigation into Ters was two-pronged – businesses that were able to operate during the hard lockdown and those that had to close.
Kganyago said businesses that were able to operate during lockdown had no right to claim Ters, saying their focus was on entities that claimed Ters from government although they did not qualify.
“We have 90,000 government officials that were working during the lockdown but they were paid Ters. We have state doctors that were moonlighting and we are looking into those issues,” he said.
Kganyago added that the SIU was looking at the government payroll system to pick up officials who were paid Ters irregularly.
Van As has denied the allegations, saying workers were paid, but that there was an overpayment due to an incorrect payroll submission that both UIF and the auditors were made aware of.
She said there was uncertainty regarding some pay-outs due to what was received in TERS and out of this how much needed to be paid to staff as in some cases the UIF payout exceeded salary.
“I had sent mails to UIF in three occasions to no response. Auditors were given this correspondence. I have no knowledge of this been handed over to SIU as last I was waiting for a reconciliation of account post audit which I requested,” Van As said.
She added that Leaf Cafe closed down eight months ago and that they were currently in the official process of liquidating the business.
Businesses, staff suffer as faulty UIF systems hamper payouts