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Cashiers fired over R43m MyCiTi theft but fraud kingpins escape

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Twenty-two cashiers have been fired amid an investigation into the theft of up to R43-million from Cape Town’s MyCiTi bus service.

Many of them have admitted guilt but were “too intimidated” to reveal who was behind the syndicate, said Cape Town transport commissioner Melissa Whitehead.

Eight of the 22 have been charged with theft, according to City of Cape Town documents made public in the row that has sparked an investigation of officials and politicians.

Weaknesses of financial controls in the MyCiTi fare system were pointed out by auditors PwC in a December 2014 report to Whitehead, the documents say.

In a report to the council arguing why she should not be suspended pending an investigation into allegations of misconduct, Whitehead said she learnt of the thefts only in 2016.

A disputed council forensics report on March 24 2016 recommended that city manager Achmat Ebrahim investigate Whitehead’s role in the fare system. This recommendation was removed when the final version of the report was issued on March 30.

In her report, Whitehead said 22 cashiers and supervisors had been fired by November28. On Tuesday the city council declined to provide an updated figure.

Whitehead said the cashiers unplugged point-of-sale equipment, causing “zero transactions”.

Customers’ MyCiTi cards were credited but the cashiers pocketed the cash.

The commissioner said point-of-sale devices had been adapted so they could not be unplugged; increased security had been placed at stations where most thefts took place; “zero transactions” had been banned; and a theft syndicate had been uncovered.

“Many of those who were identified as part of the fraud admitted guilt but were too intimidated to reveal who was behind the fraud,” Whitehead said. “I am aware that the theft of about R36-million has been uncovered.”

The figure of R43-million has been suggested by Craig Kesson, executive director in the office of mayor Patricia de Lille. PwC has been investigating the scale of the fraud since May, but Kesson said it had struggled to quantify it because of anomalies in data.

PwC’s target to deliver the report of its investigation was December 8, but the council would not say if the deadline had been met.

According to Kesson, a preliminary report on August 29 by law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr said the city council had “failed to assert its rights to obtain such financial reports and information as it requires” from the fare system service providers.

It said this “constitutes a material breach” of the Municipal Systems Act, and despite PwC’s 2014 warning about the fare system “it does not appear that anything was done to address these very real concerns”. It recommended an investigation of Whitehead and Ebrahim, said Kesson.

Whitehead laid disciplinary charges in December 2014 against two managers involved in the MyCiTi fare collection system: the project engineer and project manager. Both still work for the Transport and Urban Development Authority.

The commissioner said the engineer escaped sanction on four charges because a witness from the council corporate finance department “lied under oath”. The project manager pleaded guilty and went through training. “In addition, major supervision and certain new systems were put in place.”

However, thefts continued, and steps to halt them were implemented as recently as December 1, when a new cash reconciliation system was introduced.

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