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08 November 2012 at 12:01 - Posted by Midrand

Call for ban as public service corruption nears R1bn - SANEWS


PUBLIC servants should be prohibited from doing business with the government, according to the Public Service Commission (PSC).

It has proposed the radical measure to combat the corruption plaguing state administration.

According to the commission’s data, the cost of financial misconduct to the state in 2010 -11 was R932m — up from R346m in 2009 -10 and R100m in 2008 -09.

Commission director-general Richard Levin said in a hard-hitting briefing on corruption trends to Parliament’s public service and administration portfolio committee on Wednesday, that 2011 -12 figures for public servants’ corruption and misconduct were not available yet, but he was hoping it would not hit the R1bn mark.

Public servants are allowed to contract with the government but are required to declare their interests. Prof Levin said this requirement was not sufficient and was often not complied with or enforced.

Auditor-general Terence Nombembe found in his 2010 -11 provincial audit outcome for the Eastern Cape, for example, that 698 awards, totalling R978m, were made to public servants or their relatives.

About 90% of senior managers in the Eastern Cape education department were in business with the government. There were 567 tenders valued at R894m awarded to the department ’s staff or their close family members.

Prof Levin said the commission believed that more legal weight should be given to its recommendations to counter the "culture of no consequences" in the public service which allowed corruption to flourish.

The commission recommended that, in the absence of a total prohibition on doing business with the government, offending heads of departments and senior managers should be charged with misconduct for failing to disclose conflicts of interest.

The commission’s recommendations should have the status of directives with legal force and with consequences for noncompliance, Prof Levin argued.

The government’s senior managers, especially, and officials working in supply chain management should be prohibited altogether from doing business with the government, he said.

Democratic Alliance public service and administration spokesman Kobus Marais urged that legislation be introduced to prevent senior government officials from doing business with the state.

Prof Levin said there was a "sizeable number" of public servants who had private financial interests in businesses which aspired to secure contracts with the government. "Our view is that it is wrong," he said.

An examination by the commission of public servants’ financial disclosures in 2010 -11 found that 20% of senior managers in the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs had interests in many firms; 19% in the Department of Transport and 17% in the Department of Public Works. He questioned whether these officials could do their state work when they were involved in a host of outside activities.

"The perpetrators of corruption are increasingly at a more senior level and this highlights the need for better, more ethical leadership," Prof Levin said.

"It is worrying that over the years there has been a steady increase in the number of SMS members (senior managers) charged with financial misconduct."

In 2010 -11, there were 838 senior officials charged with financial misconduct, compared with 689 and 652 in the preceding two years. At middle-management level, the figures were significantly lower at 126, 166 and 106.

Of concern, Prof Levin said, was that in 2011 -12 many national and provincial departments had not submitted their financial disclosure reports — the most basic level of compliance.

He added that departments had "consistently failed" to demonstrate their commitment to fighting corruption by instituting criminal charges wherever this was appropriate.

Discipline was not managed effectively due to an inadequate capacity to chair disciplinary hearings and to represent departments, resulting in many accused officials spending long periods under precautionary suspension, he said.

"Ensuring professional ethics in the public service is an ongoing priority but requires dedicated capacity and so resources are needed," Prof Levin said.

He recommended that the code of conduct for government employees needed to be promoted more vigorously.

Prof Levin proposed that lifestyle audits of key staff be undertaken as well as audits into the indebtedness of employees. Investigative capacity needed to be strengthened and policies on whistle-blowing and access to information needed to be developed and implemented.

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