By Chantelle Benjamin
16 March 2012 – The Western Cape government's efforts to combat fraud and corruption are yielding results, with the work of its specialised unit leading to the arrest of 16 people, including former health department employees, in George.
The Western Cape's Forensic Investigation Unit, which is unique in that it partners with an outside body, forensic auditors Deloitte, has had particular success fighting crime in George because its strong relationship with the municipality's police, according to Premier Helen Zille's spokesperson Zak Mbhele.
"The work of the FIU has been greatly assisted by the help of the police in George, who follow up the cases immediately," he said.
Eight suspects were initially arrested for alleged involvement in the illegal sale of government-owned milk formula and defrauding Paarl Hospital of over R2-million. The arrests came less than 48 hours after the FIU received evidence of the crimes, Mbhele said.
The other eight suspects, some of them former health department employees, were arrested on 9 March.
The first group have already appeared in court, with their second appearance set for 18 May.
"Government and the public are being defrauded of a lot of money through the theft and illegal sale of baby formula, which is supposed to be distributed free at the clinics for infants," said Mbhele.
Deloitte started working with the forensic investigation unit in December 2011 as part of the Western Cape's efforts to recover money misappropriated or stolen from the public sector. The intention, according to Deloitte Risk Advisory director and former Scorpion Graham Dawes, is to save taxpayers money by rooting out and dealing with fraud and corruption as quickly as possible. This could save taxpayers millions of rands otherwise lost by delays.
The unit has also been hired to recruit and train forensic investigators to eventually operate from the Western Cape government and continue to investigate crimes after Deloitte's three-year contract has finished.
Research has revealed that fraud and corruption are particularly high at provincial level in the departments of health and education because of their large budgets and difficulties with supply chain management.
Jack Bloom, DA Gauteng caucus leader, said the Western Cape FIU was unique in that it was set up in collaboration with an outside organisation. "Most provincial structures have some kind of investigative unit, or bodies set up to investigate fraud and corruption within government, but they tend to be all internally based, and so can be open to political pressure and may be slower to react."
He said in order to fight corruption and fraud, the government needed a unit or individuals able to gather evidence necessary for the police to investigate.