Graft hotline saves R110m over 8 years

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GAYE DAVIS

EIGHT years after it was set up, the government’s national anti-corruption hotline has managed to claw back only R110 million in public servants’ ill-gotten gains.

Fewer than 1 500 officials have had action taken against them.

And two out of three corruption cases referred to national and provincial departments for investigation since 2004 are still outstanding – because the referrals are simply ignored.

In its latest review of the hotline it has managed since 2004, the Public Service Commission complains about the same problems it identified in 2008.

It says departments “generally do not” investigate the cases referred to them. They put this down to a lack of investigative capacity, or specialised units.

This comes while billions of rand in public funds is being lost every year to corruption, incompetence and negligence in the public service.

Former head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) Willie Hofmeyr said last year that 20 percent – between R25 billion and R30bn – of the government’s procurement budget alone – was siphoned off each year.

This was through officials’ fingers in the till, providers overcharging for goods and services or officials failing to properly monitor how money was being spent.

The Public Service Commission’s third report – released every two years – measures the hotline’s effectiveness from its inception in September 2004 until the end of August 2010.

“Investigators do not receive adequate resources from their departments to conduct full-scale investigations… Furthermore, investigators often do not have the requisite knowledge or skills to deal with complex cases of alleged corruption,” the report says.

The commission also complains that departments fail to give it proper feedback on cases that just need department records to be checked, such as social grants, RDP housing and ID fraud.

A means for people to call in with tip-offs about fraud, corruption and other abuses in the public service, the hotline’s effectiveness depends mostly on officials in national and provincial departments properly investigating cases referred to them – and ensuring action against guilty officials.

“It is, therefore, of concern that the commission received feedback on only 2 948 cases – 37 percent of the 7 922 cases that were referred,” the report says. More significantly, of the nearly 8 000 cases referred for investigation, only 23 percent (1 821) were concluded.

Previous studies by the commission “have shown that departments generally do not investigate cases of alleged corruption reported (on the hotline) and referred to them”.

Over the eight-year period under review 106 799 calls were made to the hotline, including general queries, requests for feedback and hoax calls.

These generated 10 700 cases of alleged corruption, reduced to 7 922 after the PSC evaluated them.

In all, over the eight-year period, 1 273 officials were charged with misconduct for corrupt activities – 600 in provincial departments and 673 in national government.

Sanctions were as follows:

l 603 officials were sacked;

l 226 were suspended;

l 134 were fined (three months’ salary docked);

l 16 were demoted;

l 330 given written warnings;

l 190 were prosecuted.

Cases of alleged corruption reported to the hotline involved mostly fraud and bribery (1 522), abuse of government resources (995), mismanagement of government funds (889), ID fraud (781), procurement irregularities (720), appointment irregularities (627), corruption relating to criminal conduct (588), unethical behaviour (600), RDP housing fraud (450), social grant fraud (440) and service delivery (310).

While it mentions “notable gains”, and claims the hotline has proved to be an important tool in fighting corruption, the review reflects little progress in resolving key challenges the commission identified as far back as 2008.

Key constraints remain a lack of investigative capacity in the departments and entities that must investigate the cases referred to them.

Worryingly, the report also notes departments reporting that whistle-blowers were “sometimes intimidated by senior officials and executive authorities” – politicians – when they informed on or were investigating corrupt activities.

“Perhaps lack of protection of the whistle-blowers is the key reason why many callers prefer to remain anonymous when they report cases of alleged corruption,” the report says.

Warning that failure to investigate and act against corrupt officials could undermine public confidence in the hotline, the commission makes several recommendations.

It wants “urgent attention” to be given to regular performance audits by departments of cases referred; proper feedback to the commission

and departments setting up systems to track and analyse corruption trends to devise strategies to counter them. It also recommended a review of the Protected Disclosures Act to shield whistle-blowers from victimisation, so their identity could remain confidential.


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