Sickening: public officials paid millions to stay home

04 August 2019 - 00:04 By MPUMZI ZUZILE
Sonia Lupondwana has been off work for 17 months, while still being paid.
Sonia Lupondwana has been off work for 17 months, while still being paid.
Image: Supplied


In “Sickening: officials paid to stay home” (below), we reported that Sonia Lupondwana had been suspended for poor performance when she returned to work following a lengthy absence. She was not suspended for poor performance.

We also said she had been placed on sick leave in February 2018 after being diagnosed with high blood pressure, then returned to work only to be placed on incapacity leave because of depression.

She was diagnosed with hypertension only in May 2018, and she told us she was placed verbally on suspension for six months. We apologise for these errors. We also apologise to Lupondwana for identifying her and using her photograph when she had asked to remain anonymous.

Sonia Lupondwana has been paid just over R1m in the past 17 months - without lifting a finger.

A director in the Eastern Cape health department, she was placed on sick leave in February 2018 after being diagnosed with high blood pressure. She returned in May last year but a day later was placed on incapacity leave for six months, due to depression.

Within a week of returning to work in November last year she was suspended for poor performance, but in February this year she was told her post had been declared redundant. Since then she has been "doing household chores and watching TV", while on full pay.

Lupondwana is among the hundreds of civil servants being paid to sit at home. In the past financial year, government departments paid out more than R310m in salaries to staff on sick leave or suspended.

Of this figure, the national government has spent R115m paying 734 suspended employees, public service & administration spokesperson Dumisani Nkwamba said.

He confirmed that 8,097 national employees had been granted sick leave of more than three months since January 2014.

The Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) says poor management is to blame for prolonged time away from work, and that those managing leave have "no respect for the public purse".

A report presented to the Eastern Cape provincial legislature in November last year stated that 372 civil servants were on extended sick leave. The province had spent more than R121.6m in the past five years paying staff suspended or on sick leave.

Among them is a driver in the transport department who had both his legs amputated five years ago. He is still waiting for the process to be medically boarded to be finalised, according to Nkwamba.

Meanwhile, the case against chief information technology officer in the premier's office Ayanda Madyibi, who was suspended more than nine months ago over allegations that a R2m software tender was unduly awarded, has not yet been finalised. The average annual package on that level is R1.3m.

The report said at least two Bhisho officials had been on sick leave for about five years.

Lupondwana said she was frustrated sitting at home, with her future unclear.

"I want the case finalised," she said. "I have even approached new MEC Sindiswa Gomba, but to no avail."

Provincial health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said they were investigating why it was taking so long to resolve Lupondwana's case.

Mpumalanga has spent nearly R26m on 305 staff members either sick or suspended in the past financial year, and Western Cape provincial government spokesperson Bianca Capazorio said the province had 224 government employees who have been on sick leave for longer than three months. Together with three suspended officials, they had cost nearly R34m in salaries in the past financial year.

Limpopo provincial spokesperson Kenny Mathivha said they had 277 officials on sick leave and five on suspension, costing the provincial government R14.69m in the past financial year.

He said departments had been advised to consider lifting the precautionary suspension of employees who had been suspended for a long period and consider putting them on precautionary transfers. This would mean they could work in other departments until their case is concluded.

Other provinces did not respond to requests for their figures.

Nkwamba said the government was duty bound to prevent the abuse of sick leave, hence the introduction of the policy and procedure on incapacity leave and ill-health retirements in 2006.

PSAM head Jay Kruuse attributed the problem of prolonged sick leave to poor management.

"To have people on extended sick leave without being boarded is a system failure and breakdown in management. This is a clear sign there is no respect for the public purse by those managing leave."

Kruuse said any official suspended was entitled to a speedy disciplinary process.

"By law, officials are not supposed to be suspended for longer than 30 days."

He said in cases where an official was suspended for an extended period, the heads of department should also be charged for not doing their jobs.

Public Servants Association of SA deputy general manager Tahir Maepa said retirement due to medical ill health was "a nightmare" in Gauteng.

"In most of the cases where members apply for medical retirement, they are too ill to perform duties and are at home - getting paid - while the employer takes its time to approve the application," Maepa said.


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