File picture: Philimon Bulaway/Reuters

Johannesburg - The trend of the Gauteng government paying suspended employees to stay at home doing nothing is getting worse, with nearly R76 million of taxpayers' money blown in the past seven years.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) - a government watchdog established in terms of the constitution - has slammed Premier David Makhura’s administration for failing to ensure efficient and effective use of resources on good human resource management and career development practices.

In the first three of the seven years, the current Water and Sanitation Minister, Nomvula Mokonyane, was the province’s premier.

“Gauteng departments have paid a total of R75.7m on salaries of officials placed on precautionary suspension,” reads the PSC’s State of the Public Service in Gauteng 2017 report, which The Star has seen.

The report also revealed that 607 cases of financial misconduct amounting to over R1.26billion were reported in Gauteng government departments.

The provincial government paid R22.5m in 2013/14, while in the financial year that ended in March this year, over R10.3m was spent on the salaries of the officials placed on precautionary suspension.

“The amount of funds spent on precautionary suspension has increased by 10% compared to the previous financial year (2015/16), and the amount paid to officials placed on suspension for a period more than required has increased by 4%,” stated the report.

The PSC, which is tasked and empowered, among others, to investigate, monitor and evaluate the organisation and administration of the public service, found that grievances and disciplinary hearings not being concluded within time-frames was one of the provincial government’s “fundamental recurring systemic challenges”.

According to the PSC, Gauteng government departments are not complying with the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council’s resolution on disciplinary codes and procedures for the public service.

The code states that disciplinary hearings must be completed within a short period of time.

But since 2011 only 23% of the disciplinary hearings have been held within the prescribed period, while 76% took place after the prescribed period (beyond 60 days).

The PSC report said this implied that for every 41 officials placed on precautionary suspensions, only six officials were invited to attend the disciplinary hearings within 60 days.

The PSC has recommended that departments consider including the management of grievances as a standing point on the agenda during management meetings, as this may assist in speedy resolution of grievances and determine trends to enable prompt action.

“Decisive action should be taken against employees who are bullying or harassing subordinates or colleagues. Where it is found that grievances are justified or there has been abuse of powers or processes, the perpetrators should be called to account for such actions,” the report urged.

Earlier this year, former public service and administration minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi revealed that between April and December 2016, national government departments had paid about R112.5m to suspended officials, while provinces paid over R24m in the same period.

Mbongeni Radebe, chairperson of the Gauteng legislature’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), said proper oversight and putting pressure on government departments was needed, and not just by Scopa.

He proposed that the public service laws needed to be changed as they allowed state employees to be suspended with full pay.

“Maybe if people are suspended without their salaries it will speed up the disciplinary processes,” Radebe added.

He said some public servants took advantage of the current system by "falling sick" and prolonging the processes.

Financial misconduct is the broad term used in the public service to describe corruption, financial mismanagement, fraud, gross negligence, misappropriation and abuse, as well as theft.

The involvement of senior officials in financial misconduct cases still remains a worrying factor for the PSC.

Between 2012 and March 2017, 418 officials were charged with financial misconduct.

In the 2016/17 financial year, six senior officials were charged with financial misconduct, while the highest number of senior managers charged with financial misconduct was reported in the 2014/2015 financial year, with 10 cases reported.

The PSC found that Gauteng government departments rarely lay criminal charges against officials guilty of financial misconduct.

The Star