The Group Forensic and Investigation Service (GFIS) department has in just under four years exceeded expectations and successfully established itself as a major part of the fight against fraud and corruption in the City of Johannesburg. Commissioner Shadrack Sibiya was appointed in November 2016 to lead the fight against corruption in the City and handle all internal investigations. The role of GFIS is to ensure that an effective fraud risk management process is in place to provide operational effectiveness to CoJ?s prevention, detection, investigation and response to the risks of fraud, corruption, theft and maladministration.
GFIS has developed and continues to implement the anti-corruption strategy in support of the City?s strategic objectives. This strategy enables the City and its Entities to address the high levels of fraud, corruption and maladministration. The GFIS is of the firm view that it is the responsibility of every employee within the City, including Councillors and its residents to contribute to the fight against corruption in order to ensure a corrupt free City.
The reasoning was simple. There was an urgent need to root out fraud and corruption that had for long deprived residents of the City quality service that they deserve. Sibiya, a decorated former Gauteng provincial Hawks head, has proven time and time again to be the best man for the job. He has led from the front to fast turn the fraud and corruption unit into an almost overnight success story.
?Our work speaks for itself. We only had 14 employees when we started but we are now sitting on 74. This on its own is remarkable progress,? said Sibiya. The career crime fighter takes even greater pride in the achievements of the anti-graft unit on the ground, including taking on the feared building hijack and cable theft syndicates in such a short space of time. Just under a year after stepping into the hot seat, Sibiya and the GFIS seized City Power infrastructure worth approximately R80 million in a joint operation with the South African Police (SAP) detective service and Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD).
The crack unit had received a tip off from a member of the public that infrastructure material provided to contractors and sub-contractors for maintenance, repairs, and major projects, was not returned to City Power?s stores upon completion of projects. According to Infrastructure News: ?The whistle-blower identified 12 properties belonging to the contractors and subcontractors where the infrastructure was being held and following an investigation the GFIS, SAPS and the JMPD conducted raids at 10 of the properties?.
The GFIS has recorded many other successful operations since then that have not only saved the City of Johannesburg millions of rand but has also put away corrupt officials working with crime syndicates to defraud residents of quality service. Sibiya highlighted the swoop on over 200 JMPD police officers that were involved in corruption as another example of the unit?s relentless fight against crime and efforts to weed out corruption within the force. The corruption busting unit was again central in exposing the R66 million Eldorado Park substation scandal and arresting the leading culprits.
A City Power employee was dismissed after he was found guilty of misconduct and collusion with contractors, including granting payment of invoices for work not done at Eldorado Park substation. The contractor had allegedly received payments exceeding R66 million for work that was never completed in the building of the Eldorado Park substation and refurbishment of the Hopefield sub-station. They had secured the contract through a fraudulent bank guarantee which led the City to believe that they had the balance sheet to handle the project.
?GFIS is committed to fight fraud and corruption, and maladministration in the City, those that are found to be involved in criminal activities will face the full might of the law,? warned Sibiya. He said there has also been a number of other fraud cases involving city employees that have since been dismissed. Although he did not name some of the masterminds, Sibiya revealed that the list is long and GFIS counts MMCs, top business people, managers and political figures among their victims.
It is no rocket science or secret about the crime bedeviling the Joburg CBD because of the alarming deterioration that has been allowed to manifest over the years. The GFIS has taken the lead in Operation Buya Mthetho which is a new multi-departmental operation aimed at enforcing by-laws and bringing the rule of law to the City of Johannesburg. Operation Buya has launched several crackdowns on the crime infested and inhabitable hijacked properties and illegal connections.
Operation Buya Mthetho owes a lot of its success to being a joint operation between all key City departments and entities such as JMPD, Environmental Health, Social Development, Infrastructure Services, the City?s legal department, and Development Planning to name but a few. The operation?s main focus is to ensure city by-laws are adhered to by all within the City and that the rule of law becomes the order of the day. ?Local government is about producing services. If people steal from the City, they are stealing from the poor,? said Sibiya
Raids of hijacked properties and the war on undocumented foreign nationals and small businesses operating illegally has stretched outside the Joburg CBD to areas such as Rosetttenville, Cresta and Roodepoort with many arrests being recorded. Just in February, 6 suspected property hijackers were arrested in an evening raid at a hijacked property in Kensington, East of Johannesburg.
The suspects have appeared in the Jeppestown Magistrate Court on charges of trespassing and contempt of court. It is alleged that the complainant bought the property in May 2018 but later discovered that there were people who occupied the property and paying monthly rental to an alleged hijacker. The matter was then reported to the City?s Group Forensic and Investigation Service (GFIS) department and the South African Police Service for investigation. An operation led by GFIS working together with the Saps and the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) was then set up.
To date 77 hijacked properties have been handed back to their rightful owners. About 1473 properties are confirmed as hijacked in the City. Criminals must know that they might run but there is no place for them to hide in Johannesburg. The City will not leave any stone unturned when dealing with criminal activities within its area of jurisdiction and we will continue to intensify the raids at these bad and hijacked properties with the assistance of Saps and other law enforcement agencies.
Sibiya said it would be simplistic to quantify the value of the GFIS solely on the number of fraud and corruption cases that it has solved. He underlined that having a specialised vehicle to fight graft in Johannesburg is a big cost saver. The City used to spend millions paying service providers. We no longer need external service providers because we are doing those cases ourselves. ?Today people know that there is a group forensics unit that fights crime in Johannesburg,? said Sibiya.
Still, the former Hawks boss said there is not a day that he does not wake up and not think of ways to improve the unit. ?Yes, there are many successes to be proud of but there is also plenty of room to improve. We still require more personnel. For example, We only have 10 people that deal with hijacked properties. Ideally, it would be more effective to have two teams, one working a night shift and the other during day time. Remember, crime does not sleep,? said Sibiya.
The immediate plans that he wants to see created is that of a city which can respond to closing all loopholes that allow fraud and corruption to thrive. In the long term, Sibiya has a clear vision to ensure that Johannesburg is able to benchmark against the best run cities in the world. ?We call Johannesburg a world class African City. It must just be that in every respect. We must tighten our processes in such a way that it is difficult to steal from our city. We need to build quick responses that our people can trust to solve their problems.? My greatest wish is for residents to trust the City of Johannesburg enough to be able to report to the GFIS,? said Sibiya.
The GFIS is not waiting for the city to provide it with more capacity for its work but is already steaming ahead with initiatives that will realise the short term and long term plans the unit has set itself. It has embarked on community awareness campaigns to highlight the menacing scourge of Cable thefts. Teams are sent out to different communities to teach them about the burden cable thefts place on both business and residential areas when they are left with no electricity for weeks.
According to the copper theft barometer issued by South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) (2013), the estimated costs of copper cable theft ranges between R5 and R7 Billion a year. ?We want to encourage communities to help curb this scourge by reporting these criminals,? said the GFIS boss. The crime busting unit further strives to be proactive in the fight to plug loopholes that can be manipulated by criminals. GFIS is presently vetting all the City?s senior managers and employees as part of the Minimum Information Security Standards (or MISS).
MISS is a standard for the minimum information security measures that any institution must put in place for sensitive or classified information to protect national security, in this case that of the city. Sibiya described this programme as the ?heartbeat? of his department because it is a proactive initiative. He is motivated that new Joburg mayor Geoff Makhubo and his administration are fully supportive of the work that the GFIS.
?So far so go good. The mayor and his team have really allowed us room to work. We are thoroughly enjoying the support from his office,? said the GFIS head. Sibiya concluded by saying: ?I encourage members of our communities to report any fraud and corruption activities through our 24-hour tip-off hotline 080 000 2587 or visit the offices of GFIS situated at 48 Ameshoff Street, Braamfontein.?