Small business development minister Lindiwe Zulu has suspended nine officials for their alleged involvement in corruption and fraudulent activities. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Small business development minister Lindiwe Zulu has suspended nine officials for their alleged involvement in corruption and fraudulent activities. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Small business development minister Lindiwe Zulu has suspended nine officials for their alleged involvement in corruption and fraudulent activities.

Chairperson of the portfolio committee on small business development Ruth Bhengu applauded Zulu’s swift action against the officials, saying corruption in government should be uprooted and those fingered in a forensic report should be criminally charged.

“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 said.

According to Bhengu, during oversight visits between 2014 and 2017 to KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, the committee found that grants from the department that were meant for small, medium and micro-enterprises, as well as co-operatives, did not have a positive impact on the beneficiaries.

She said many frustrated entrepreneurs and co-operative members had struggled to “get off the ground”, despite having received grants. Following this, the committee recommended a forensic investigation by the office of the auditor-general on programmes of the department, including the Black Business Supplier Development Programme (BBSDP) and the Co-operatives Incentive Scheme (CIS).

Bhengu said that former director-general Edith Vries only agreed after some time for the investigation to be done.

“Corruption and fraudulent activities identified in the forensic report point to a well-established network involving officials who were inherited from the department of trade & industry (DTI), 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,” she said.

The committee recommended that a further forensic investigation should include the years preceding the establishment of the department of small business development, when the BBSDP and CIS grants belonged to the department of trade & industry.

Bhengu said the national development plan had a job creation target of 9.9-million by 2030.

“That target cannot be achieved when resources designated to enable small businesses and co-operatives to create much-needed jobs are diverted to line the pockets of greedy officials,” she said.

pijoosi@businesslive.co.za