Fresh scandal erupts at Usaasa - TechCentral

Fresh scandal erupts at Usaasa

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams

The department of communications has initiated an independent investigation into the Universal Service & Access Agency of South Africa (Usaasa) following fresh allegations of corruption and maladministration at the state-owned entity.

A report detailing the independent investigators’ finding is expected in four weeks. The department says it won’t comment further on the matter until the investigation has been concluded.

Usaasa administers the universal service fund, which receives contributions from licensed telecommunications operators and broadcasters, and which is meant to be used to provide services to poor communities in underserviced parts of the country.

Government has earmarked part of the fund for the subsidisation of set-top boxes that consumers will need to receive digital terrestrial television signals.

Deputy communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams says the ministry takes the allegations about a possible abuse of funds allocated by parliament “very seriously”.

“We are working tirelessly to restore the public’s faith in government institutions that are established to serve the citizens.”

The move comes just days after president Jacob Zuma sacked communications minister Dina Pule, replacing her with Yunus Carrim.

In October 2012, the Democratic Alliance called on Pule to lay criminal charges against those at Usaasa responsible for authorising a withdrawal of R4,7m from the agency’s universal service fund to settle a tax bill.

DA MP Marian Shinn said the transfer of funds was illegal under the Public Finance Management Act because it was not authorised by the minister of finance. She added that a similar transaction in 2011 resulted in the resignation of the agency’s former chief financial officer, Keith Keys.

Usaasa was also in the news last November when it emerged that the agency spent more than R1 400/person on its year-end function. At the time, Pule defended the spending, arguing that it was justified because it “alleviated pressures” Usaasa staff had been under when the agency was faced with a forensic audit into earlier allegations of maladministration.

Shinn has called Usaasa the “worst-performing entity” that reports to the department of communications.

She tells TechCentral that she has “been concerned for some time about the dysfunctionality of Usaasa and the almost cavalier attitude some of its management had towards spending taxpayers’ money”.

Marian Shinn

Marian Shinn

She says examples include paying its executive management team “excessive bonuses” despite the agency having “failed to achieve most of its targets”.

“I hope that one of the issues to be investigated — or discussed after what seems to be another investigation — is the dissolution of Usaasa as it has achieved nothing.”

She says she wonders how the latest investigation differs from two previous ones initiated by the department of communications, the results of which have not been communicated.  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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