Pensioners collect their Sassa grant money in Mpumalanga. Picture: SOWETAN
Pensioners collect their Sassa grant money in Mpumalanga. Picture: SOWETAN

The South African Social Security Agency’s (Sassa) Western Cape manager has threatened to close down the regional fraud unit while lambasting investigators for leaking information about the disappearance of files linked to a fraud syndicate operating within the organisation.

Fraud unit staff expressed their fear and distrust to regional manager Henry de Grass at a staff meeting last Friday. De Grass responded by telling them his intention was to disband the unit and replace them with “fresh people”.

De Grass and Sassa spokesperson Shivani Wahab said they cannot comment on staff meetings because they are confidential.

Several sources who attended the meeting said De Grass tried to isolate individuals suspected of leaking information. Allegedly naming several people in the room‚ he told them: “If you lose your integrity as a person‚ then you’re worthless.”

He asked whose interests it served to leak information about Cape Town ANC councilor Nolufefe Mbombo‚ who Times Select revealed was reported to the unit for not declaring social grants she received for more than a year after being elected in 2016.

“Who has an interest in reporting the matter on the councllor? Because these are all questions the journalist is asking‚” said De Grass. He then told staff he wanted to shut down the unit‚ despite its ongoing investigations into officials and fraudulent grants.

An investigator warned him that such a move would mean officials under investigation would not be prosecuted‚ and would give the impression “that a group of people were being protected”.

De Grass responded by saying his “recommendation” to Sassa’s executive committee would be to consider disbanding this unit. 

Fraudulent grants

The unit was responsible for busting a syndicate alleged to have defrauded Sassa for nearly two decades. Seventeen people were arrested in 2016 and four have pleaded guilty to the charges against them in the Bellville specialised commercial crimes court. They are expected to testify against other defendants‚ which include eight officials.

The syndicate operated over five provinces and processed upwards of 4‚000 fraudulent grants‚ according to a Sassa statement at the time of the arrests. Information from investigators suggests the syndicate is still operating and that there is an attempt to cover the tracks of officials who are still working for Sassa.

Sources with detailed knowledge of investigations into “ghost children” — non-existent beneficiaries of child welfare grants — told TimesLIVE that files stolen in August from the unit’s Bellville office were “prosecution ready”.

Asked whether Sassa intended to rebuild the cases in the stolen files‚ De Grass said they had “no merit”. However‚ “if it’s proven to me that any official was involved in any fraudulent activity ... I will prosecute that. I will ask for the investigations‚” he said.

In response to detailed questions from TimesLIVE about De Grass’s remarks about closing the investigative unit‚ Wahab said: “Please note that all Sassa internal meetings are, per policy‚ strictly confidential. We unfortunately cannot comment on the content of any staff engagement. That said‚ our failure to comment herein should not be construed as an admission thereof.”