Fearless: How the SIU recovered millions in 2017

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

For the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), 2017 was a demanding year.

Working with other law enforcement agencies, in the past year, the SIU manged to recover on behalf of the State about R 20,5 million and further identified R63 million which is the value of money and/or assets potentially recoverable by the state. The unit was also able to refer 168 matters for disciplinary action and submitted six reports to the Presidency.

The SIU is probably the most powerful government agency in South Africa when it comes to corruption investigations.

The unit is also one of the most feared in the country rivalled only by the police’s priority crimes unit, the Hawks. In its 21 year history, the SIU has been at the heart of several high profile cases, some successful and some controversial. The agency, as complicated as its work may be, remains powerful as ever.

When it was established in 1996, the SIU mandate was to investigate serious malpractices or maladministration in connection with the administration of State institutions, State assets and public money as well as any conduct which may seriously harm the interests of the public.

To this day, this mission, hanging on the reception wall, greets visitors at the agency’s headquarters, in Meyer’s Park, Pretoria.  Portraits of President Cyril Ramaphosa and Justice Minister Michael Masutha that hang in the reception area provide a clue to the kind of authority that is given to this important unit.  At this building, hundreds of investigators work around the clock to bring cases to finality and ensure perpetrators of corruption are brought to book.

As the SAnews team is ushered to the offices of the Deputy Head of the unit, Advocate Caroline Mampuru, during a recent visit, one is amazed by the high level of security through the building.

For every door to open, a fingerprint verification is required.  These strict security measures come as no surprise given the sensitive environment the SIU operates in. Fraudsters, con artists and corrupt individuals, both in the public and private sector, are not really friends of the SIU.

Three Mpumalanga officials, who are languishing in jail for defrauding a municipality of R2.95 million are just an example of many unscrupulous officials who have been at the receiving end of the SIU’s wrath in the past year.

So how does the SIU conduct investigations and why should the tax payer be thankful for this unit?

Mampuru, who has been at the unit since 2017, explains that although the President has to sign a proclamation prior to the SIU commencing with an investigation, the unit recommends most cases for investigation and in many circumstances these are successful.

The SIU was also instrumental in exposing corrupt practices at the South African Social Security Agency where investigators were able to nab beneficiaries that were not entitled to specific grants. The beneficiaries of the grants worked with corrupt SASSA officials to milk the state of millions of rands.

“We receive complaints from a number of people and we look at these issues, analyse them until we are satisfied. We would then have a committee look at the matter and we then draft a motivation for a proclamation,” says Mampuru.

Once the motivation is in place, these documents are sent to the Department of Justice and then to the Presidency for a decision.

“The President would then apply his mind to what has been placed before him and then make a determination. When the president makes a determination that this is the matter for investigation and that the SIU has the necessary mandate, a proclamation is published in the Government Gazette.”

Anyone can report corruption directly to the SIU

Although it is not entirely straightforward, Mampuru says the SIU does allow members of the public to walk in at the unit’s offices to report cases of corruption.

“We also have offices in eight of the provinces and the only province that we don’t have offices is the Northern Cape. In every office there are specific people that are responsible for attending to members of the public,” she says.

For members of the public who may want to report corruption but wish to remain anonymous, the SIU has an email service where anonymous tipoffs can be sent.

“We would look at the allegations and we look at what information is already out there. After an analysis, if we believe that the matter can be looked into and whether we have a mandate or not, we proceed with the case,” she says.

Some critics argue that the discretionary powers of the President over SIU investigations process may open the unit to abuse and political manipulation.

Mampuru says this is far from reality.

“The possibility is there, but experience has not quite led to that. Most of the matters that we have sent to the President for proclamation are accepted. Remember the motivation has sufficient grounds, so there could be very few instances where the SIU requested a proclamation and the matter was declined. In fact sitting here I do not know of any.”

The SIU’s interim results for 2017 indicate that the unit continues to be a catalyst for fighting corruption in South Africa.

Last year alone, the unit received nine new proclamations allowing it to investigate matters in relation to, among others, fraud in the Eastern Cape Department of Social Development, corruption and maladministration at Thabazimbi Local Municipality in Limpopo as well as Gauteng Department of Health.

“I find fulfilment when government resources are used for what they are intended for. When government spends money and the life of an ordinary citizen gets improved, I get gratification. That’s what government is about. When we have corruption taking place, it takes away what we should be doing for the citizens,” Mampuru says.

As the Deputy Head of the SIU, Mampuru’s role is to make sure that operations at the unit and its eight divisions across the country are efficient for it to carry out its mandate of forensic investigations.  She holds a B Proc Degree and LLB both from the former University of the North (currently University of Limpopo).

“My role is to make sure that the process of taking decisions is effective, making sure that there is accountability and timelines. I make sure that the decisions around which matters we will investigate and which ones we will not investigate are taken in a transparent and constituent manner,” Mampuru says.

A good day for her is seeing a team of investigators working very hard to save the South African government billions of rands that would otherwise be misused through corruption.

SIU in numbers

168

The number of referrals made for disciplinary, executive and/or administrative action

R20.5 million

The actual value of money and/or assets that has been recovered for the State

39

The number of referrals made to the relevant Prosecuting Authority

R63 million

The value of money and/or assets potentially recoverable

686

The number of investigations closed out under a published proclamation

R197 million

The value of matters in respect of which evidence was referred for the institution or defence/ opposition of civil proceedings (including arbitration or counter civil proceedings).

All these figures are reflected in the SIU 2017 report. – SAnews.gov.za

 

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