Corruption and KZN

2009-09-07 00:00

AT least three heads of KwaZulu-Natal government departments are under scrutiny for allegations of corruption.

Last week, Education MEC Senzo Mchunu announced the appointment of a consortium of auditors to investigate senior officials in his department.

This follows allegations made by the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) of graft amounting to R86 million.

Weeks earlier, the Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Department announced forensic investigations into allegations made by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) against Yasmin Baccus (Safety and Community Liaison) and Chris Hlabisa (Transport).

These initiatives have been welcomed by some as proof that KZN is serious about tackling corruption. Others dismiss them as witch-hunts against senior officials who have fallen out of favour. Whichever way you choose to view them, the investigations are worth watching in the months ahead because there is a history in this province of forensic investigations being announced with fanfare only to dwindle to nothing.

Remember the investigation into Msunduzi Municipality? More than two years after the council adopted resolutions to discipline and recover money from senior officials fingered in the investigation, nothing has happened.

Likewise, the forensic report into uMngeni Municipality, which recommended charges against at least two senior officials, gathered dust for over a year.

The council chose to ignore the recommendations of the report and instituted an internal investigation based on the report. The firm Dobeyn was hired and municipal manager Dumisani Vilakazi suspended himself for the period of the probe, which was to be completed at the end of July. There is still no sign of the report.

Controversy still surrounds the probe into the erstwhile HOD of Agriculture, Dr Jabulani Mjwara. Ernst and Young were contracted by the KZN Provincial Treasury to investigate irregularities involving about R100 million.

The report was submitted to the provincial government in June 2007. A section of the report was made available to the Standing Committee of Public Accounts (Scopa).

However, the overall report was kept under wraps and members of the legislature were told this was because its contents were the subject of criminal investigation being conducted by the South African Police Service. To date there appears to be no development in the criminal case.

Mjwara’s departure seems to have cost the department and, indeed, taxpayers even more money. His successor, advocate Modidima Mannya, also ended up being investigated, this time by the Durban law firm Strauss Daly.

The same firm, also at the behest of the KZN government, carried out an investigation into former Health HOD Dr Busi Nyembezi, who was suspended for six months.

Nothing came from the Nyembezi investigation. She resigned and walked off with a golden handshake.

Mjwara resigned days before his disciplinary hearing. Mannya sat through his, which centred on allegations of his poor treatment of certain staff members. He has been on full pay for more than 16 months while on suspension. The disciplinary inquiry recommended his dismissal. He is currently challenging this in court

Further proof that decisive action remains wanting on investigations emerged from a report of financial misconduct during 2007/08.

The report was released this week by the Public Service Commission (PSC) and KZN was singled out for not submitting a financial misconduct report. However, the PSC did note that KZN reported the highest number of fraud and theft cases, due in part to the social grant fraud cases reported by the Health Department.

A worrying aspect of the overall report is that of the 868 cases finalised countrywide, employees were found guilty of misconduct in 82% of the cases, but were dismissed from the public service in just 22,7% of cases.

This is why the current spate of forensic investigations are worth watching. Will they fizzle out into nothing, and if there are findings of impropriety, will decisive action be taken?

If, as some believe, these investigations are just a ploy to get rid of inconvenient senior officials, then all the money spent on forensic investigations may count for nothing.

The Minister in the Presidency, Trevor Manuel, has indicated that the government might change the manner in which HODs are appointed. Presently they are chosen and accountable to the premier of the province.

The new system will see MECs choose their own HODs and hold them directly accountable for their performance. In other words MECs and their HODs will stand and fall together.

Details of this planned overhaul are contained in a green paper released last week by Manuel and his co-minister, Collins Chabane.

For details about this and how the government plans to carry out long-term planning, the greenpaper and discussion document can read on the website www.gov.za

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