New rules make fraudulent BEE certificates easier to produce

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Companies are increasingly falling victim to suppliers using fake BEE compliance certification and face losing business and clients if found to be basing their broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) scorecards on unverified information.

Jenni Lawrence, managing director – BEE verification and consulting at Grant Thornton, said that her team have recently uncovered BEE certificates that are irregular and upon closer inspection, have been found to be forged or faked.

“It is important to remember that forging a BEE certificate constitutes fraud and carries a sentence of up to 10 years for anyone found guilty of such a crime,” Lawrence said.

The purpose of introducing verified certificates is to provide confidence in an assessment of an organisation’s B-BBEE progress, against the Department of Trade and Industry’s (dti) codes of good practice scorecard.

The certificate is used to verify an entity’s contribution to transformation and therefore having genuine, accredited BEE suppliers is an important aspect of B-BBEE compliance for companies.

Fake certificates on the increase

Grant Thornton’s Verification Services advisors have discovered cases where service providers have altered scores and dates on their out-of-date BEE certificates in order to improve their status and to avoid having to renew a certificate.

“In some cases, complete forgeries – certificates that have been created using a letterhead of a reputable agency – have been issued in order to win contracts. These forged documents can be difficult to identify and only by contacting the purported verification agency named on the certificate is it truly possible to confirm the authenticity and validity,” Lawrence said.

Grant Thornton said that with the introduction of affidavits as a form of proof of an entity’s BEE status, it has now become even easier for businesses to create fraudulent certificates.

“The new dti rules allow companies with a turnover of less than R10 million, as well as those with a turnover of less than R50-million and Black ownership of at least 51%, to use an affidavit to confirm their BEE status.”These rules were originally designed to alleviate the burden and cost of compliance on small and medium businesses.  In some cases, however, it has led to unscrupulous business owners taking advantage of the affidavits and making false claims in order to qualify as exempt from verification,” Lawrence said.

The tax and advisory firm said that here is the view among some that it is the responsibility of companies relying on suppliers’ BEE certificates for their B-BBEE scorecard, to check the information provided to them in their bids and tenders.

This is particularly relevant when vetting potential enterprise or supplier development beneficiaries, who only need an affidavit to prove BEE status.

“If a company uses a supplier or contributes to a beneficiary whose certificate is a fake, there is a risk that the company’s own scorecard can be declared invalid, or spend with that entity excluded from the final score,” Grant Thornton said.

Companies are therefore well within their rights to request that suppliers or beneficiaries provide supporting information in order to verify that the affidavit is reliable, as part of their procurement approval process. Examples of these include share registers and certificates and independent confirmation of turnover, it said.

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