As fraud and corruption continue to hold many of this country’s government departments in a firm grip, the news that a massive housing scam has been uncovered in Durban makes for a refreshing change. What makes the news even better is that so far, R10.6-million in subsidies has already been recovered from unscrupulous government employees who were illegally occupying low-cost houses.
In a report published in the Mercury recently, KwaZulu-Natal Human Settlements MEC Ravi Pillay noted that of the R3.5-billion allocated to his department, R135.4-million was used for administration costs to fight fraud and corruption within the department.
The initiative, which has been under way for the past four years and involves the police's Special Investigating Unit and the Anti-Corruption Unit, appears to be working and so far 566 criminal charges have been laid, resulting in 449 convictions. He noted that the internal investigation had also exposed more than 1 500 other swindlers who were not linked to government.
According to the report, these non-qualifying beneficiaries had confessed to the illegal occupation of houses and had volunteered to pay back about R18.2-m, to the department to escape prosecution. It was also noted that to date, there had been a total of 351 internal disciplinary cases.
While the news that criminals are being exposed and, by the sounds of things criminally charged, corruption remains one of South Africa's greatest concerns. There seems to be no end to the lengths to which some people will go to swindle the system. Unfortunately, their heinous deeds affect those who need protecting the most - the poor.
In February this year, the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) stated that the financial woes plaguing local government created an ideal environment for fraud and corruption to fester. Corruption Watch also released statistics which show that the highest instance of graft occurs at local government level. It said traffic police, education, health, SAPS and housing were also identified as 'hotspots'.
Although MEC Pillay should be saluted for his efforts to combat corruption within the KwaZulu-Natal Human Settlements department, the situation remains a major concern throughout the country. The sad state of affairs is highlighted by one individual whose story appears on Corruption Watch's webpage.
"I am a resident in a local municipality. Over the past five years there has been a problem of land invasion in the area because some people were selling land illegally. People bought stands from those people and now council officials from (the) electricity and water dept are also illegally helping those stand owners to connect the services illegally with payment of some sort. The municipality is turning a blind eye to the problem. There is no political will on the part of the council to tackle the issue. Some of the council officials are involved 'cause they are making quick bucks with connections. (The) Lenasia land issue is small compared to what is taking place in our area. I have reported the matter to (the) petition office and housing dept, but nothing is changing."
It is fairly obvious that something radical needs to be done and officials who are caught taking advantage of the less fortunate should face the full wrath of the law. It would seem that although some provinces have taken a firm step in the right direction, it is time for everyone to take a stand and stop the rot, before it eats any further into the fabric of our society.