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Durban - The Education Department has come under fire for failing to take strong action against its employees who are doing business with the department in violation of the law.

The Public Finance Management Act bars government employees from doing business with the state.

A report released by the department to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) in the provincial legislature yesterday, revealed that 66 employees were either members or directors of companies that had done business with the department, worth R17 million.

A further 62 had close relatives, who had links to suppliers that did work or rendered services at R17m.

About 111 employees had business associates or partners, with links to suppliers, that did business worth R41m with the department.

Members of the Provincial Legislature said the department must dismiss employees found guilty of doing business with the department or the state.

The department said in its report that it had disciplined four employees and several others were being disciplined with the outcome of those disciplinary processes expected at the end of the year. It said it was investigating several others who were doing business with other government departments and was waiting for confirmation from those departments.

Sanctions range from one month’s suspension without pay to three months’ suspension.

“In addition, the employees have been directed to either resign from employment or from the directorship of the companies and provide proof of this,” said the report.

However, Scopa members were not satisfied with the disciplinary action taken, the department giving employees the option of resigning from the business or the department and the sanctioning of only four people.

Ntokozo Maphumulo of the department’s legal department said the sanctions handed out were in accordance with guidelines of the Department of Public Service and Administration.

Scopa chairperson Maggie Govender said: “If you are a state employee, doing business with the state - when you know that it is illegal - is a crime.”

IFP MPL Lourens de Klerk said those found guilty should be fired.

“Giving people an option to resign is not going to stop this behaviour. What you are actually doing is encouraging this behaviour because these people must be fired,” he said.

The Mercury