Two suspended senior UIF officials – CFO Fezeka Puzi and COO Judith Kumbi – “returned to work quietly about two weeks ago”.
TWO SENIOR UIF officials – the CFO and COO – who were suspended along with the entire management team for the alleged misuse of Covid-19 Temporary Employment Relief Scheme (Ters) funds have returned to work at the UIF’s Pretoria head office.
One of them has been cleared of any wrongdoing “for now”, while the other is still subject to a disciplinary hearing.
Independent Media had been reliably informed that chief financial officer Fezeka Puzi and chief operations officer Judith Kumbi returned to work at the UIF’s head office two weeks ago.
“The CFO is back, the COO is back, they returned to work quietly about two weeks ago,” said a source.
Kumbi has been cleared of any wrongdoing “for now”, but could still be subject to further probe, while Fuzi is also back at work despite having a pending disciplinary hearing.
In September last year, Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi and director-general Thobile Lamati placed UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping and the entire management on suspension over allegations of fraud and mismanagement of Covid-19 relief funds.
This came after former auditor-general Kimi Makwetu highlighted a litany of potential fraudulent activity in the use of the relief funds both in terms of procurement processes and the disbursements of Ters by the UIF.
The auditor-general (AG) found that UIF Ters payments were being illegally made to grant recipients, students who were NSFAS beneficiaries, public servants, UIF employees, inmates, dead people and minors.
“We have now received the AG’s reports which point to numerous gaps, risk and inadequate controls and verification processes,” said Nxesi at the time.
The auditor-general also found that there had been overpayment and underpayment of beneficiaries.
UIF spokesperson Makhosonke Buthelezi confirmed that the two senior officials had returned to work about two weeks ago.
“Yes, I can confirm that they are back at work,” he said.
Musa Zondi, a spokesperson for the Department of Labour also confirmed the two were back at work.
“The suspension of the senior officials was a precautionary step pending the finalisations of the investigation. The SIU has finalised the aspect of the investigation that involved the two officials so we had to lift the suspension as it no longer served any purpose,” he said.
Asked if the two officials had been cleared of wrongdoing, he said: “The SIU has not completed the entire investigation so for now the COO (Kumbi) has been cleared of any wrongdoing. However, if anything is found, the department will take action.
“When it comes to the CFO (Fuzi), there were things that she needed to answer to which will be the subject of the disciplinary process. The internal disciplinary inquiry has not taken place yet for the CFO. She was, however, served with charges,” said Zondi.
Zondi said Maruping remains “suspended pending the processing of the report we have just received from the SIU”.
A decision on Maruping’s suspension – he has been suspended since September last year – would be taken by the close of business on Tuesday.
In April, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed a proclamation authorising the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) to probe the allegations of corruption and maladministration of the UIF special Covid-19 Ters benefits.
The SIU probe was expected to focus on the payments of Covid-19 Ters benefits to people who were not entitled to receive such payments or submitted false, irregular, invalid or defective applications to the UIF, including the causes of such maladministration.
The proclamation came after the SIU head, advocate Andy Mothibi, said in February that they had already uncovered allegations of misuse of Ters funds after they entered into a secondment agreement with the Department of Labour, which ended in December last year.
He said at the time that there were 75 criminal cases that had been opened and were under investigation, while they also conducted a red flag analysis using Ters data, which found that more than 6,100 government officials had claimed more than R41 million from the UIF.
It found that of the R41m, more than 3,959 bank accounts were used and that there were 3,079 beneficiaries.
“Of the 3,959 bank accounts identified, a total of 581 bank accounts were associated to multiple beneficiaries (3,079),” said Mothibi.
They also found that 59 SANDF members were paid a collective R327,000.
“The seconded team also looked into payments to inmates at the Department of Correctional Services as well as payments to deceased individuals. The SIU has processed a proclamation to fully investigate the UIF matters,” he said.