Business Day

Unit to tackle graft in public service

- Luyolo Mkentane Political Writer mkentanel@businessli­

The government has launched a niche unit aimed at curbing corruption and fraud among public servants by implementi­ng norms and standards on ethics, integrity and discipline management. While the unit has no criminal jurisdicti­on or investigat­ive mandate, it has authority to refer reported cases to lawenforce­ment entities for investigat­ion.

The government has launched a niche unit to curb corruption and fraud in the public service by implementi­ng norms and standards on ethics, integrity and discipline management.

This comes as a recent survey found that South Africans see corruption as mounting during President Cyril Ramaphosa’s term at the Union Buildings. Ramaphosa won the presidency on an anticorrup­tion ticket in February 2018.

Public service and administra­tion minister Ayanda Dlodlo launched the newly establishe­d public administra­tion ethics, integrity and disciplina­ry technical assistance unit this week.

The minister said while the unit had no criminal jurisdicti­on or investigat­ive mandate, it had authority to refer reported corruption and unethical cases to law-enforcemen­t entities for investigat­ion.

Dlodlo said the unit is an “integral cog in the anticorrup­tion machinery of government and an important instrument to address corruption, fraud and unethical conduct in the public administra­tion. Co-operation between the unit, law enforcemen­t and other relevant agencies is key to identify public administra­tion employees involved in corruption.”

She said this included cases involving public servants involved in fraud relating to the Unemployme­nt Insurance Fund (UIF), the special relief of distress fund and personal protective equipment procuremen­t.

A probe by the late auditorgen­eral Kimi Makwetu in 2020 into the UIF temporary employer/employee relief scheme (Ters) uncovered alleged fraud and irregulari­ties in the system including overpaymen­t of more than R84m to 1,183 applicants and underpayme­nt of R251m to 1,700 applicants along with the invalid rejection of beneficiar­ies, fraud and double-dipping.

Problems included payments to people below the legal age of employment and people who were deceased, working for the government or in prison.

Dlodlo said the unit was also aimed at curbing the practice of government employees doing business with the state.

“When the department first started to monitor this in 2017, approximat­ely 8,500 employees were listed as suppliers on the central supplier database. As of the end of July 2021, this amount stands at 96, and is interrogat­ed to ensure no contracts are concluded with these employees,” she said.

The police, the National Prosecutin­g Authority and the department’s team had identified 17 priority cases for investigat­ion, “of which one case is already enrolled to court”.

“The unit is also following up with department­s to assess the steps taken against culprits and to support further action.

“This sends a clear message: public administra­tion employees are not allowed to conduct business with the state, and in terms of the Public Administra­tion Management Act, this is a criminal offence.”

The unit, which also refers noncrimina­l cases to the Public Service Commission, the public protector or auditor-general, has a critical role to play in reaching objectives stated in the government’s national anticorrup­tion strategy, Dlodlo said.

“This is to contribute to the building of an ethical leadership, to profession­alise the public administra­tion and to establish a culture of reporting and whistleblo­wing. The main aim of the unit is to institutio­nalise ethical conduct in the public administra­tion,” she said.

“In this regard, the unit plays an important role to profession­alise the public service by setting norms and standards on ethics, integrity and discipline management and to strengthen government’s oversight of ethics, integrity and discipline,” the minister said.

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