Efforts by the South Africa Social Security Agency (SASSA) to clamp down on social grant fraud are yielding positive results, with the agency saving R150 million per annum.
Presenting the agency's 2012/13 Annual Report to the National Council of Provinces' select committee on social services on Thursday, SASSA CEO Virginia Petersen said since the implementation of the project to re-register listed beneficiaries, SASSA has received requests for voluntary cancellation of over 150 000 social grants - leading to a saving of R150 million per annum. The number has since increased to 299 837 to date.
The project, which aims to ensure that the correct recipients received grants, involved the mass collection of data of existing and new beneficiaries, children receiving grants and procurators.
The information collected from beneficiaries includes 10 fingerprints, voice biometrics and documentation to allow for Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA) registration. The biometric system allows for monthly authentication of recipients of grants, ensuring that the right person is receiving the grant.
18.9 million successfully re-registered
"A total of 18.9 million people were successfully re-registered onto the new system by end of the financial year. The number has since increased to 20.7 million. The re-registration resulted in life certification of all beneficiaries, children and procurators," Petersen said.
She told the committee that in managing fraud, the focus of SASSA has shifted from beneficiaries to its own staff members, who collude with beneficiaries and other organs of State, including crime syndicates, to defraud the system.
"The target was to investigate 50% of fraud cases identified; 78% of fraud cases were investigated and 98% of suspicious grants were verified for validity.
"Efforts to clamp down on corruption in specific regions resulted in arrests and convictions of 10 current agency officials, three former agency officials and 15 agents/touts. Fifty-two SASSA officials were suspended from duty, 25 dismissed and seven resigned prior to the completion of their disciplinary cases. The monetary value related to cases finalised amounts to R59.4 million," Petersen said.
Other successes, she said, include the arrest of 50 individuals in the Mahlabathini area within the Ulundi District, who were found to be in possession of 127 unregistered SASSA cards, three CPS registration machines and R47 000 in cash. Five of these suspects remain in custody.
Petersen said that money lending also became a focus, with 29 individuals arrested and 1 008 agency cards and R 82 156.00 cash confiscated.
10 million biometric payment cards issued
Ten million SASSA biometric payment cards are being issued to social grants recipients, which allows beneficiaries an option to use the SASSA card to access their grants at several payment gateways including ATMs, pay point station or retail point of sale.
"The introduction of the current payment system has broad positive benefits to both SASSA and beneficiaries and to a large extent, the South African economy. The current payment system has absorbed the previously unbanked beneficiaries and incorporated them into the banking community.
"Beneficiaries have also used the increased payment channels to access their social grants within seven calendar days of the month. It [payment system] significantly reduced the costs for transacting, from an average of R30 to R16.44 per transaction. Through this system, for the first time, SASSA has automated intelligence on all payment activities," Petersen told the committee.
Community outreach programme
Through the Integrated Community Registration Outreach Programme (ICROP), a total of 61 110 beneficiaries in 430 poverty wards had access to social assistance during the period under review. This exceeded the target of 60 000 beneficiaries.
The ICROP was established to improve access to and equity in services to beneficiaries in rural and semi-rural areas. Petersen attributed its success to partnerships with key stakeholders, such as government departments, non-governmental organisations, faith-based organisations, traditional leaders and ward councillors.
Currently, SASSA is paying approximately 16 million social grant benefits monthly to approximately 9.5 million recipients.
However, Petersen acknowledged that the implementation of fraud management strategy is among the challenges facing SASSA.
"SASSA had to close-out some offices due to the number of officials that were implicated in fraudulent activities."