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Public servants cost taxpayers millions of rands as government’s legal bills soars

File image.

File image.

Published Mar 6, 2021


Johannesburg - Thousands of public servants have been sitting at home for the last year, at a cost of R100 million to the taxpayer.

They are on full benefits and full pay pending their disciplinary hearings, but one former senior manager believes they have been suspended to prevent them from blowing the whistle on state capture.

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This week, Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) communications director Moses Mushi confirmed that as of January this year, 6 344 public servants had been suspended “pending disciplinary process at both national and provincial governments”.

Disciplinary cases are supposed to be finalised within 21 months according to public service regulations, but many remain unresolved beyond this.

The DPSA reported to the Forum of South African Directors-General (FOSAD) on Monday this week that misconduct cases in national government dropped from 1 079 to 379 last year, but the costs involved ballooned from just over R11-m in 2019 to more than R20.5-m last year.

The public service finalised two-thirds of these cases within 90 days, 11 cases took longer, but 165 cases are still pending in the new year, 196 public servants were placed on precautionary suspension.

The South African Police Service leads the way in disciplinary costs at R3.8m, closely followed by the Departments of Small Business and Development (R 3.6m), Higher Education and Training (R 3.5m) and Correctional Services (R3.3m).

Provincially, misconduct cases increased from 1626 to 1691 year-on-year, with the costs spiralling from R74m to more than R87m. KwaZulu-Natal’s Department of Education is the biggest culprit, spending R52-m on precautionary suspensions, followed by the Free State’s Department of Education at close to R11m.

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The executive director of the Public Affairs Research Institute Dr Mbongiseni Buthelezi recently wrote a public letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa bemoaning cronyism and cadre deployment in the public service:

“The problem is clear. South Africa’s public service allows politicians to appoint associates and side-line principled public servants, facilitating inappropriate political interference and corruption. Institutions that once served to democratise the state now undermine democratic control.”

This week, a former senior manager told the Saturday Star R2.1m was spent on a forensic audit to fire him.

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The man, who has requested to remain anonymous, said he had been charged with three counts of misconduct after he raised concerns about his director.

“I was in that department for six years and worked for the government for 33 years. These charges were brought against me 18 months before I was due to retire. This (same process) happened to a number of people and is a clear example of the ‘weaponising’ of disciplinary processes against people who were actually just doing their jobs,” said the man.

After being forced to seek treatment in a mental clinic for stress, the man resigned to start his own consultancy business.

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“Because of what happened to me, I lost out on leave payments of just more than R400 000 and my pension pay-out was cut by between R2.5 and R3 million,” he said, claiming his former employer followed him to his house, the gym and even the supermarket in a bid to intimidate him.

“That was the most traumatic six months of my life. Trusted colleagues refused to testify on my behalf because they too feared for their jobs. I spent close to half a million rand on lawyers and the government must’ve spent double that just to prove its case against me. It was harsh,” he said.

Buthelezi, in his open letter, reminded Ramaphosa of the president’s pledge to craft a clean, competent and efficient public service: “At the centre of this commitment, you put the need to professionalise the public service, to ensure the people who staff it are skilled, selfless and honest, that they are insulated from undue political interference and devoted to serving – over and above any specific party or interest group.

“The problem we’re facing is clear. South Africa’s public service institutions give broad and largely unconstrained powers of appointment and removal to political office bearers.”

On Monday, Ramaphosa announced in his weekly open letter that government is working on an important policy document that aims to root out corruption among public service officials.

He said the draft National Implementation Framework towards the Professionalisation of the Public Service “aims to build a state that better serves citizens, that is insulated from undue political interference and where appointments are made on merit.”

“The framework was approved by Cabinet in November in 2020 and structured consultation with various sectors of society are now under-way. All too often, people have been hired and promoted to key positions for which they are neither suitable nor qualified,” Ramaphosa said.

The president said that directors-general and provincial heads of departments were particularly affected.

Some of the proposals contained in the policy include: extending the tenure of Heads of Department based on merit and performance; performing occupation-based competency assessments; involving the Public Service Commission in the interviews of Directors-General and Deputy Directors-General; and, introducing integrity tests for all shortlisted individuals.

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