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Massive grant fraud probe in Empangeni

MEC suspends workers amid fraud allegations

A MULTI-MILLION rand fraud investigation resulted in the temporary closure of the Empangeni Department of Social Development office on Monday, with all staff members suspended with immediate effect pending the outcome of the probe.

KZN Social Development MEC Weziwe Thusi announced the drastic measures after visiting the Lower Umfolozi offices in follow-up to fraud and corruptions allegations.

Thusi, accompanied by department officials, the uThungulu District Speaker and City of uMhlathuze Deputy Mayor, convened a meeting with the employees, who were later escorted off the premises by security officials when tempers flared during the MEC’s address.

The fraud allegations pertains to foster care grants worth at least R19-million a year (R1.6-million per month) which the minister said were paid out to 1 396 ghost beneficiaries. Thusi did not say for how long the fraud is suspected to have taken place.

The MEC further accused the social workers of being rude and unhelpful towards the public.

‘We took a decision to put a stop to the massive fraud which has been making a mockery of a system which is supposed to benefit the needy,’ Thusi said in a statement.

‘Initial investigations indicate that there is some element of collusion. It is deplorable that people who are at the centre of this fraud are people who are supposed to protect the vulnerable.’

She said employees are suspended on full pay while the provincial department investigates the allegations.

‘We hope to conclude the probe within 60 days. While the employees are on suspension, the office will nevertheless remain fully operational. We request all affected community members to be patient with us while we try our utmost to provide the necessary services.’

Union response

The National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW) Provincial Secretary Mfanufikile Nkosi said the union was unhappy about what it called ‘the unilateral decision taken by the Department of Social Development.

‘We were never involved in any discussions with the department about the matter. The MEC was adamant the decision taken was necessary to diffuse the volatile situation at this office,’ Nkosi said.

Months of infighting between the staff and the Acting Service Office Manager ME Nkosi has regularly disrupted operations and soured working relationships.

Mfanufikile Nkosi confirmed that the union was investigating employee allegations against ME Nkosi.

‘We demand that ME Nkosi should also be suspended. We were given the assurance that he will be asked to vacate the office after an official handover,’ Nkosi said.

He added the contents of the suspension letters will determine the steps the union will take to fight the dismissals.

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