The excuse that Facebook is just a technology firm, an aggregator not up to the task of policing its users, started out thin and is only getting thinner, says the writer.

Durban - KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport officials have been urged to spend less time on social media and get on with their jobs.

Excessive use of social networks, pointless meetings and coming to work late were diagnosed as reasons officials had failed to curb unwarranted use of public funds.

MEC Mxolisi Kaunda told the standing committee on public accounts at the legislature in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday that laziness was the reason his department had incurred more than R407.8 million in irregular expenditure this financial year.

ANC MPL Sipho Nkosi accused the department of having tried to conceal R400 million of the spending, which was uncovered by Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu.

Most MPLs echoed National Freedom Party MPL Erickson Zungu’s call for Kaunda to fire lazy officials before the department collapsed.

Kaunda, who recently replaced former MEC and current Premier Willies Mchunu, was happy that his other department, Safety and Liaison, had performed well in its audit report, but transport remained a major headache.

The auditor-general had also found that transport was facing R150 million in legal claims, R28 million in overexpenditure, and had failed to collect outstanding traffic fines worth R600 million.

Kaunda acknowledged the seriousness of the situation and called for an “extraordinary (change of) behaviour on our side”.

He said the officials were in a “comfort zone” as if they were on holiday while at work.

“How much time do our employees spend on social networks? You may think you take five minutes, but if you calculate that five minutes per day and per week and per month, it is equal to something else.”

He said the department lacked systems to check whether staff arrived at work on time, and whether they executed their responsibilities.

“Do we have effective supervision? So I have made a call that let’s reduce meetings, let us reduce the wastage of time. People have forgotten what they are there for.”

To turn things around, he had made a call that officials should work on Sundays without overtime payment.

Scopa chairwoman Maggie Govender told Kaunda that the financial status of his department was worse than that of the provincial Department of Health, which Scopa members described last week as being the worst in the province for incurring R4.1 billion in irregular expenditure.

Govender noted that the department had regressed from last year’s unqualified audit findings and said the audit report also revealed that it had a bank overdraft.

“Your department is in a terrible state. Out of 48 vacant posts, only six have been filled since January.”

She also pointed out unauthorised expenditure, “fiscal dumping” and discrepancies with invoices.

She said it was unforgivable that the department could not collect R600 million in traffic fines while it required additional funds to survive.

The department had 31 investigations of procurement, financial irregularities, fraudulent payments to suppliers and employees, with only 12 having been completed.

Zungu expressed frustration that the department had violated procurement processes. “We would like to see action taken for officials committing mistakes,” he said.

The Mercury