More public servants doing business with the state, parliament hears

02 September 2020 - 21:32
The number of public servants caught doing business with the state is on the rise, parliament heard on Wednesday.
The number of public servants caught doing business with the state is on the rise, parliament heard on Wednesday.
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The number of public servants caught doing business with the state is on the rise, with 1,539 suspected cases flagged by April this year - an increase of 471 cases from last year.

The department of public service and administration told parliament's portfolio committee on public service and administration on Wednesday that despite the practice being a criminal offence, the numbers increased in six of the country's nine provinces -and at national level - between February 2019 and April 2020.

The department's Dr Salomon Hoogenraad-Vermaak said in February 2019 it was found that 1,068 public service employees were conducting business with the state. The majority of them (798) worked for provincial governments, while the remainder (270) were employed by national departments.

By the end of April this year, this number had shot up to 1,539 - an increase of 471. Hoogenraad-Vermaak said 1,111 of them worked for provincial departments and 428 for the national government.

No province had recorded a decline during this period.

The public service regulations prohibit public servants from conducting business with any organ of state, or from being a director of a public or private company conducting business with an organ of state.

The Public Administration Management Act criminalises the practices. Contravening the act can earn an offender a fine, up to five years in prison or both. Government employees may also lose their jobs due to the practice.

But the picture painted by the department of public service and administration suggested that the government itself was not moving with the necessary urgency to curb the practice. 

MPs heard that in March 2017, the National Treasury started to monitor all new registrations of public service employees on the online Central Supplier Database system by matching prospective suppliers against the Personnel Salary System (Persal) using an identification number.

“When a match is obtained, the person is flagged and is then required to provide proof that he or she is not a public service employee,” said Hoogenraad-Vermaak.

He said on June 30 this year, his department requested national departments and all provincial premiers' offices in which employees were listed as possibly conducting business with the state to provide feedback by July 15 on their investigations and/or disciplinary actions taken.

To date, the department has received responses from only 10 national departments and three provinces: KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and the Northern Cape. 

Deputy minister of public service and administration Sindi Chikunga said there had been engagements between minister Senzo Mchunu and his cabinet colleagues to deal with the matter and to confirm whether the information they have is correct. 

“We have been engaging in trying to deal with this matter, which is both misconduct that requires disciplinary action if it is proven to be true, but also is a criminal act that requires law enforcement intervention so that it can be put to rest,” said Chikunga.

“Our belief is that if we can set an example and have some of the public servants that are indeed engaging in this criminal act taken to court and actually be punished for that. That would send a message to others, to say, ‘We can’t continue’.”