Minister of Small Business Development Lindiwe Zulu has placed nine officials in her department on suspension for their involvement in alleged corruption and fraudulent activities.
The suspensions came after the Auditor General's forensic investigation identified a "well-established network involving officials who were inherited from the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), network facilitators and service providers who operated outside of the DTI, in collaboration with officials in the Department of Small Business Development to enrich themselves".
This "network", according to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Small Business Development, was "designed to defraud the government, thereby sabotaging efforts to address poverty and unemployment".
In a statement issued on behalf of the chairperson of the committee Ruth Bhengu, Zulu is lauded as having acted "swiftly" against "officials who were fingered in the forensic investigation report by the office of the Auditor General".
The forensic investigation was initiated in response to complaints from frustrated entrepreneurs and members of cooperatives who were struggling to get their businesses off the ground.
They spoke to parliamentary committee members during oversight visits between 2014 and 2017 to KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
According to the statement, it was then and there that the committee "observed that grants from the Department of Small Business Development that were meant for small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), as well as cooperatives, did not impact positively on the recipients".
The recommended forensic investigation, conducted by the AG's office, probed two programmes of the department - the Black Business Supplier Development Programme (BBSDP) and the Cooperatives Incentive Scheme (CIS).
In the statement Bhengu said: "Although it took the former director general, Professor Edith Vries, a long time to see the need for a forensic investigation to be conducted, she later agreed, following continuous engagements.
"The committee would recommend that further forensic investigation should include the years preceding the establishment of the Department of Small Business Development when the BBSDP and CIS grants were belonging to the DTI.
"History will judge us harshly if we fail to remove corrupt officials who sabotage government programmes designed to uplift those who are poor and struggling to get out of poverty," Bhengu added.