How SA’s servants bend the rules

2012-12-02 10:00

The Public Service Commission is turning the screws on civil servants after an investigation revealed just how many officials’ businesses intersect with their work for government.

But first it has to make sure any changes it makes to the rules around conflicts of interest aren’t unconstitutional.

Research conducted by the commission has found that more than 30% of senior managers in the departments of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, human settlements, public works and transport had potential conflicts of interest in their private businesses.

Another 30% of the senior managers in the departments of human settlements, public works and transport showed a correlation between their official responsibilities and the work done by their private companies.

A further 17 directors-general in national departments failed to disclose their interests by the deadline last year.

Part of the commission’s work is to scrutinise the compulsory disclosure of interests that the 8 000 national and provincial senior managers in

the public service must make each year.

What the research revealed is only the tip of the iceberg.

Public Service Commission director-general Richard Levin admitted in an interview with City Press that the commission could only pick up conflicts of interest from officials who bothered to declare interests.

The commission is now pushing for senior managers to be banned from doing business with the state and is already introducing closer scrutiny of private interest disclosures.

In some recent cases:

»A top official in the Eastern Cape health department was discovered to have been linked to more than 100 companies doing business with the state and a forensic probe tracked more than R7 million in payments to these entities;

»In the department of rural development and land reform, where investigations into land claim frauds are ongoing, officials fraudulently made their relatives beneficiaries of land claims.

Among the illegally awarded land were three farms worth R51 million, which were forfeited to the state last year following a probe by the Special Investigating Unit; and

»In the Eastern Cape education department, a company linked to a civil servant was paid R1.4 million “for no service rendered”.

Research published by the commission shows last year that 12 national departments’ senior managers failed to make any disclosure by deadline.

These include all 241 senior managers in the defence department, all 240 senior managers in international relations and cooperation, and all 202 senior managers at Stats SA.

A total of 1 808 senior managers in national departments failed to submit their disclosures, which means it was impossible for the commission to scrutinise whether or not they had conflicts of interest.

Currently, the commission only scrutinises 30% of submitted business disclosures for potential conflicts of interest, but Levin said the aim was to study all disclosures received.

It is piloting an e-filing system on which managers submit their business interests electronically and update an entry as their interests change rather than filing only once a year.

“This will enable us to scrutinise much more rigorously and also make scrutiny easier. If the filings are done electronically, you can include other databases, for example eNatis, which enables you to check car ownership and pick up if someone owns three Mercedes-Benzes, for instance. You can establish far more about someone’s lifestyle without actually doing a lifestyle audit.”

In future, officials’ disclosures would also be checked against departments’ databases of suppliers to pick up instances where they were doing business with the state, he said.

The commission already checks against the official companies register and deeds office records.

Apart from mulling over a proposal that senior managers be banned from doing business with the state, the commission has a few others ideas too.

It wants changes to the Public Service Act, including stricter rules governing permission for civil servants to do paid work outside government and minimum penalties for managers who don’t disclose their financial interests.

However, Levin said such changes could have implications for officials’ constitutional rights, and the commission was consulting to ensure the new rules would be constitutional.

- City Press

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