6 September 2020
The suspension of Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) boss Teboho Maruping by the Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi was both necessary and long overdue.
This newspaper raised concerns about Maruping’s leadership as early as April 19 in an editorial that cautioned against his lackadaisical approach to the global health crisis occasioned by COVID-19.
Maruping and his team were given the crucial responsibility to assist employers and employees in distress through relief payments. But many complained that, three weeks into the crisis, they were unable to get through to the UIF on telephone numbers communicated to the public while the website was intermittently down.
“In an editorial titled “UIF is failing the nation” on April 19, we expressed concern that UIF and its management adopted a business as usual approach to COVID-19 global pandemic.
“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 until after the lockdown for a more sober analysis.
“Our economy requires that technocrats like Maruping must match the hard work and pace of President Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet colleagues…”
While we paid attention to the public’s inability to access Maruping and his team, things were falling apart behind the scenes.
The auditor-general announced this week that the UIF’s compromised control systems resulted in illegal payments, among others, to recipients of state grants, students receiving National Student Financial Aid Scheme payments, public servants, UIF employees, inmates, deceased persons and minors.
Nxesi announced that: “The director-general for the Department of Employment and Labour has suspended the UIF management, the CFO, COO and head of supply chain. These moves allow the special investigating unit to conclude its forensic investigations completely
unfettered.” While this investigation must be welcomed, we believe this reactive leadership style is problematic. It focuses our attention on the wrongs that have happened and, hopefully, what ought to be done to ensure there is no repeat.
However, we believe that the minister, his director-general and even the president too are complicit in the mess at UIF.
We suggested back in April: “Leadership requires that Ramaphosa and his ministers must demand accountability from 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 the reports they get.”
We would not be here if this was done. The crisis would have been picked up much earlier. Some companies that closed might have been helped if money was not directed to inmates, UIF employees and students. Saying that those who corruptly benefitted from this UIF dysfunction must be jailed is to state the obvious. We, however, feel that the custodian of our public funds must do better than react to looting.