Help­ing the state re­cover mil­lions

Foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tor Jandé van der Merwe is com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that state funds go where they are in­tended, by root­ing out cor­rup­tion.

Public Sector Manager - - Contents -

Jande van der Merwe, a young foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tor at the Spe­cial In­ves­ti­gat­ing Unit, is fast be­com­ing the fixer when it comes to dif­fi­cult cases

From sav­ing govern­ment mil­lions, to re­vers­ing a mul­ti­mil­lion rand lease, to the dis­missals of senior of­fi­cials and a crim­i­nal con­vic­tion, a young Spe­cial In­ves­ti­gat­ing Unit (SIU) foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tor is fast be­com­ing the fixer when it comes to dif­fi­cult cases.

Thirty-four-year-old Jandé van der Merwe cut her teeth in the world of foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tions at the SIU. She started her ca­reer as an in­tern and has grown through the ranks to be­come one of the lead­ing foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

The SIU's pri­mary man­date is to re­cover and pre­vent fi­nan­cial losses to the state caused by acts of cor­rup­tion, fraud and mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Un­der Procla­ma­tion R38 of 2010, she was part of a team that in­ves­ti­gated a case which re­sulted in the dis­missal of three top of­fi­cials. Van der Merwe was re­quired to tes­tify in the dis­ci­plinary pro­ceed­ings.The case re­sulted in the re­ver­sal of a lease agree­ment to the value of R137 mil­lion which was de­clared in­valid by the North Gaut­eng High Court.

She also helped in the re­cov­ery of R1 092 630.59 in re­spect of over­pay­ments made to a ser­vice provider, after an ac­knowl­edge­ment of debt was signed.

Cur­rently, she is work­ing on a case which could re­sult in the re­cov­ery of R103 mil­lion in re­spect of a R1.9 bil­lion con­tract.

Un­der Procla­ma­tion R5 of 2015, she was part of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led to the crim­i­nal con­vic­tion of a com­pany pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity ser­vices.This was in re­spect of the Pri­vate Se­cu­rity In­dus­try Reg­u­la­tion Act 56 of 2001. The ac­cused was sen­tenced to a fine of R100 000, of which R50 000 was sus­pended for four years.

Van der Merwe says these achieve­ments did not hap­pen overnight but were the re­sult of hard work, com­mit­ment, ded­i­ca­tion, build­ing strong re­la­tion­ships and pay­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail.

Her jour­ney to be­com­ing a com­pe­tent foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tor started over a decade ago when she grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria in 2005 with an Hon­ours de­gree in Crim­i­nol­ogy.

She says her love for foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion was fu­elled by watch­ing tele­vi­sion pro­grammes in which crim­i­nal de­tec­tives would rush to mur­der scenes to work their magic.

‘When it comes to in­ves­ti­ga­tions that are po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive, one must ex­er­cise ex­tra pre­cau­tion not to be­come en­tan­gled in po­lit­i­cal webs.’

High-pres­sured cases

Van der Merwe says at some stage, every in­ves­ti­ga­tor comes across a chal­leng­ing case that gives them sleep-

less nights. She per­son­ally finds ‘po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive' cases the most tricky to deal with. How­ever, as an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor she has never let her judge­ment be clouded.

“When it comes to in­ves­ti­ga­tions that are po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive, one must ex­er­cise ex­tra pre­cau­tion not to be­come en­tan­gled in po­lit­i­cal webs. I try not to be in­flu­enced by any of that. As in­ves­ti­ga­tors, we try to ig­nore that as­pect.”

She adds that it is not only such cases that present added pres­sure. “You'll also have peo­ple who try to in­flu­ence your in­ves­ti­ga­tion by feed­ing you in­for­ma­tion that is not al­ways cor­rect.”

She says when things get out of hand and some­one wants to chat off­line with her about a case she is in­ves­ti­gat­ing, she re­ports it to her man­ager for fur­ther in­ter­ven­tion.

Chal­lenges that comes with her job

Van der Merwe says her job throws many chal­lenges in her di­rec­tion, from lack of co-op­er­a­tion by dif­fer­ent role play­ers and eva­sive eye­wit­ness to her per­sonal safety.

“Wit­nesses who do not al­ways keep to ap­point­ments or are re­luc­tant to fully par­tic­i­pate in in­ter­views are some of the chal­lenges I come across.The roles played by wit­nesses can cause de­lays in the progress of in­ves­ti­ga­tions.”

She adds that the re­luc­tance of wit­nesses to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion due to fear of in­tim­i­da­tion, vic­tim­i­sa­tion or for per­sonal se­cu­rity rea­sons also proves to be a chal­lenge.

Van der Merwe says it is im­mensely sat­is­fy­ing to see in­ves­ti­ga­tions through to the end, es­pe­cially when the out­come pos­i­tively im­pacts the lives of or­di­nary cit­i­zens.

“It is very sat­is­fy­ing for me to com­plete an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, es­pe­cially those cases in which or­di­nary peo­ple have suf­fered as a re­sult of the un­scrupu­lous con­duct of a ser­vice provider who may have de­frauded a govern­ment de­part­ment, mu­nic­i­pal­ity or state-owned en­tity.”

She adds that cases in which money is re­cov­ered are par­tic­u­larly sat­is­fy­ing be­cause the funds come from tax­pay­ers and are meant to be spent mean­ing­fully.

Ad­vice to young po­ten­tial foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tors

Her ad­vice to young women who would like to get into the field of foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion is to have a strong char­ac­ter and never give up be­cause the ca­reer comes with a lot of chal­lenges.

She adds that you have to have an eye for de­tail and pay at­ten­tion to small de­tails that might be missed by an or­di­nary per­son. Another im­por­tant as­pect is to build re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple from all walks of life be­cause you never know who might help you with some­thing im­por­tant one day.

Van der Merwe says she is happy with her ca­reer progress as well as the ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­po­sure it has given her.

She says young women who would like to be­come foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tors should not fear any­thing but should rather have con­fi­dence in their abil­ity to make a dif­fer­ence. There are al­ways op­por­tu­ni­ties to em­brace and ex­plore within the field of foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion, such as cy­ber foren­sics, foren­sic ac­count­ing and foren­sic law, she says.

Foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion is a di­verse sec­tor that can al­low women to find their feet and make a dif­fer­ence in com­bat­ing cor­rup­tion while lov­ing what they do. “It may not al­ways be easy, but if you work hard it will be worth every ef­fort. Fol­low your dreams.”

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