I have today written to Communications Minister Dina Pule asking her to instigate criminal charges against the official or officials who authorised the withdrawal of R4.7 million from the Universal Service and Access Fund (USAF) to pay the PAYE bill of the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA).
The Auditor General discovered the unlawful transfer from the fund to USAASA and it is recorded in the annual report for the year ended March 2012 as irregular expenditure.
The illegal transfer was not picked up by the two executive caretakers – Directors-General Sam Vilakazi and Themba Phiri – who were appointed last November to oversee the administration of the entity when its executive management team was suspended at the start of a forensic investigation into financial mismanagement.
The transfer of R4 758 000 from the USAF is illegal in terms of the Public Finance Management Act because it was not authorised by the Minister of Finance. A similar transaction in the previous year led to the ‘resignation’ of the former Chief Financial Officer, Keith Keys, for financial mismanagement.
In terms of the Electronic Communications Act the USAF receives funds from licensed telecommunications providers and broadcasters specifically to fulfil universal access obligations in under-serviced areas.
Its priority project is the subsidy of set-top boxes that will enable poor households to receive digital television signals and other digital migration projects that support the vision of universal, affordable access to telecommunications services.
The Minister must also explain why the executive caretakers did not take immediate steps to identify and address the flaws in the system that USAASA’s previous executive management exploited, why they did not identify the illegal transfer before the Auditor General uncovered it, and state what disciplinary action is being taken against these top officials in her department.
USAASA came under fire at the recent hearing by the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications for excessive salaries and bonuses paid to current top management in a year when 91% of its targets were not achieved.
One also wonders why, if the majority of the entity’s programmes were on hold because executive management was suspended, there were insufficient funds to pay PAYE dues to the Receiver of Revenue?
During the financial year legal fees amounted to R1.1 million and overseas travel cost R682 000; R248 000 more than in the previous year and before the executive was suspended.
About 43% (R35.4 million) of the government allocation to USAASA (R83.1 million) was spent on staff costs.
This is clearly an entity focussed more on the enrichment of officials than the expansion of access to broadcasting and telecommunications.