19 April 2020
When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown 24 days ago, it was apparent from his statements that small businesses and companies already struggling would require immediate assistance.
As a consequence, government announced that the Unemployment Insurance Fund with R50-billion would immediately move into action to help distressed companies and individuals navigate the harmful effects of the lockdown. While not enough, it represented a commendable start from a government whose economy is in recession and has been junked by all three major rating agencies. The R50-billion, as part of a mix of interventions, was expectedly welcomed with great enthusiasm by employers and employees.
But the collective sigh of relief was short-lived. As we report elsewhere on our business pages, the telephone numbers provided to assist employers claiming on behalf of their employees go unanswered and the UIF’s filing system is not coping with the traffic.
This boggles the mind because, as stated, the lockdown announcement created an impression that UIF leaders had applied their minds on what assistance would be required by employers and employees and where it would come from. How then can the UIF’s systems become so messed up just three weeks after the lockdown announcement?
A consequence of this disorganisation is that both employers and employees have been left gnashing their teeth in frustration. An employer organisation put it thus: “It is extremely disappointing that a scheme developed to assist vulnerable employees has been made unnecessarily complicated and is seemingly failing at every step.”
UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping argued the process was all the more frustrated by those taking chances, hoping for a quick buck. Granted, chance-takers are everywhere. But Maruping ought to have anticipated this.
That the UIF IT bright sparks could not, in three weeks, work extra hours to ensure help for distressed workers beggars belief. That the UIF is clueless on how to increase its switchboard capacity so that people can at least be heard, much less their problems resolved, is completely unacceptable. Maruping ought to understand that the UIF can’t adopt a business as usual attitude at a time like this. People’s livelihoods are at stake.
The dysfunctionality of the UIF is what could be standing between an owner’s decision to unleash workers into the burgeoning belly of unemployment — or holding for until after the lockdown for a more sober analysis.
Our economy requires that technocrats like Maruping must match the hard work and pace of Ramaphosa and his cabinet colleagues, who work on holidays and through the evenings. Leadership requires that Ramaphosa and his ministers must demand accountability from the technocrats. They must not just get reports about whether a call centre has been established, but must in fact use their government-issued cellphones to test and establish the veracity of what is contained in reports they get. Otherwise this will make a mockery of Ramaphosa’s early evening addresses to the nation and Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu’s press conferences. IF is failing the nation