Unions or no unions, end state looting

2013-10-20 10:00

Sometimes the government must feel like it’s damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t.

Take the Public Administration Management Bill, which the department of public service and administration hopes will be passed early next year.

If it is passed without any changes, civil servants will be expected to declare their business interests – and will face immediate dismissal and up to one year in prison if they don’t do so.

It’s a tough piece of legislation and one that has left public service unions deeply unhappy. They say it’s unreasonable to extend the provisions of the bill to anyone beyond civil servants’ immediate families.

Why should a cousin running a catering contract for the Limpopo department of health lead to a director-general in the KwaZulu-Natal agriculture department being sacked and jailed, they ask.

But without tough legislation, how is the government ever going to properly clamp down on civil servants’ moonlighting and the wholesale looting of government coffers to benefit those working for the state?

The department of public service and administration has given up on trying to keep track of how many of South Africa’s 1.2 million civil servants and their relatives are raking in the rands by doing business with government.

For a hint of the scale of the problem, consider this: In Limpopo alone, a recent audit found that government officials scored R500?million from government tenders and contracts.

If you extrapolate that to include the country’s other eight provinces, for argument’s sake, we’re looking at a bill of R4.5?billion.

Government must act.

It must act swiftly and it must act decisively. Quite apart from the millions or billions at stake, there’s the issue of productivity. A civil servant moonlighting as a consultant or service provider to the state is surely not concentrating on his or her daily, core duties.

But here’s where the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t issue arises: If government passes this tough legislation and takes the fight to civil servants in this manner, it risks alienating powerful unions, which could wreak havoc.

Remember the 2007 public service strike that brought South Africa to its knees?

The problem is this legislation is long overdue. The horse – and taxpayers’ money – has already bolted. Will this be enough to shut the stable door?

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