/ 31 March 2022

SASSA tops corruption complaints as 347 cases opened in government

Graphic Tl Calland Whistleblowers Twitter
(John McCann/M&G)

The Public Service Commission (PSC) said on Wednesday that it had observed a gradual climb in reported cases of alleged corruption for the third quarter of the 2021-22 financial year as whistleblowers felt more confident coming forward.

Between October and December 2021, 347 cases were reported.  

Anele Gxoyiya, PSC commissioner, ascribed the upwards trend to an “increased awareness of legislation relating to the protection of whistleblowers”. This afforded whistleblowers confidence “in the process and outcomes of blowing the whistle”, he said.  

“This may also be due to the fact that whistleblowing is no longer viewed as a negative act, as it was under the previous dispensation, [thereby] removing some of the stigma that is often associated with whistleblowing,” Gxoyiya said at a press briefing for the release of the organisation’s quarterly Pulse Bulletin. 

When accepting part one of the Zondo commission final report into state capture in January, President Cyril Ramahosa thanked various whistleblowers who had testified “sometimes at great risk and cost to themselves”. 

During his testimony at the commission in April 2021, Ramaphosa thanked the numerous whistleblowers who had testified, saying they had been subjected to “enormous pressure”, because they had chosen to speak out about corruption. “I regret that in some instances, they have not been treated well,” he said. 

Although she was not a whistleblower before the commission, the assassination in August last year of Babita Deokaran made national and international headlines. A senior financial officer at the Gauteng department of health, Deokaran was suspected of being gunned down because she was assisting the Special Investigating Unit in its probe of graft involving Covid-19 procurement to the value of R300-million that could implicate senior officials and politicians. 

Deokaran was posthumously honoured with a special recognition award by the international nonprofit organisation, Blueprint for Free Speech in December. 

South Africa does have legislation that can be used to protect whistleblowers, but it has been described as “all bark and no bite”. The Protected Disclosure Act allows for the consideration of compensation when whistleblowing leads to occupational detriment, but there are well-known cases in which this did not happen, such as that of anti-corruption activist and whistleblower Athol Williams, who blew the whistle on US-based consultancy firm, Bain & Co, which was heavily implicated in state capture.  

Gxoyiya said that over a period of three months, the PSC recorded 347 cases relating to alleged corruption, compared to the previous quarter’s 337 cases and 282 received in the first quarter of 2020-21.  

Comparing the recent quarterly data with the 2017-18 financial year, the increase from 182 to 347 in three years was described as a “surge”. 

Of the 347 cases, the majority, 46%, referred to the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), with 159 cases related to social grant fraud. 

Additionally, 114 cases involve national departments; of these, the PSC finalised 32 cases. The majority stemmed from the department of correctional services (11), followed by the South African Police Service (eight) and the department of home affairs (six). 

However, of those top three departments receiving the most cases, only two cases were supported by substantiated evidence. 

Gxoyiya encouraged members of the public and whistleblowers to provide full, detailed

information “to enable investigators to make informed conclusions. All complaints are investigated regardless of the nature of the allegations in order to determine the extent of the allegations”.

Alleged corruption relating to procurement irregularities in the department of basic education that could be successfully substantiated resulted in almost R2.7-million being recovered. 

Since its inception in 2004 to the end of 2021, the PSC’s national anti-corruption hotline has received reports of 24 650 cases of alleged corruption from callers and whistleblowers.