File photo: Reuters

Johannesburg - Expensive whisky, pens, cash, traditional outfits, tickets and hotel stays for jazz festivals are among undeclared gifts valued at R6.3million senior state managers received as possible kickbacks.

The Public Service Commission (PSC), a statutory public service watchdog, said in a new report that 493 senior managers in the public service accepted gifts worth over R6.3m in just one year.

They accepted gifts that far exceeded the threshold set by the code of conduct.

The code bars public servants from accepting any gifts valued at more than R350 from any person other than a family member, unless cabinet ministers granted permission.

Compiled for the National Assembly, the PSC’s report focused on financial disclosures from the 2015/2016 financial year. Nearly R5m of these gifts were received by 338 officials in national departments. The PSC slammed the trend, which was most prevalent in the provinces.

It said a comparatively small number of senior managers in provincial departments had received gifts of a higher value than those in national government departments.

Gifts worth over R1.4m disclosed in the provinces went to 155 managers.

“The situation in provincial departments is alarming, considering the levels of (senior management) members who received gifts and the values thereof,” said the PSC report.

“In KwaZulu-Natal, three senior management members at head of department level received gifts with the combined value of R255900 during the financial year 2015/2016.

“This is the highest value of gifts received by such a small number of senior management members during the year under review.”

Also in KwaZulu-Natal, 18 directors accepted gifts totalling R235000. In Mpumalanga, five directors got gifts worth R129000.

The PSC pointed out that the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act - legislation that barred officials from receiving gifts worth more than R350 - was adopted in 2004 to prevent bribery.

“In essence, the offering and acceptance of gifts should not serve as a springboard for improperly influencing officials in the performance of their public duties.”

But the PSC went easy on one director in North West, who received a sheep worth R800.

Said its report: “This was probably a cultural gift, which cannot be refused under any circumstances, lest the giver feels offended by such refusal.”

PSC spokesperson Humphrey Ramafoko said other gifts included artwork, books, chocolates and camping packs.

David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch, told The Star that gifts to public servants in decision-making positions were seldom innocent.

“The question is what do those issuing expensive gifts get in return?” Lewis asked.

The PSC also commended satisfactory levels of financial disclosures by officials. It said 99% of the 10257 senior managers had submitted their financials in 2016/17.

But a worrying number of managers failed to reveal all their business interests when submitting these financial disclosures, the PSC said.

The report said 827 managers - 19 of whom are on the level of director-general and head of department and 52 deputy directors-general - had concealed their involvement in companies.

“The PSC finds it unacceptable that there are directors-general in national departments and heads of provincial departments who are still not complying with regulatory requirements.

“These senior management members are not exemplary and will find it difficult to inculcate a culture of compliance in their departments.”

At Statistics SA, 25 officials received written warnings for not disclosing their business interests. Four officials at the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation got written letters.

One head of department in Mpumalanga was paid R500 000 for external work. And in the Western Cape, 10 officials scored nearly R1.2m in outside work.

The Star