Gravy train derailed

2013-10-20 14:00

New bill means all public servants who lie about doing business with the state will go to jail

All civil servants will soon be banned from doing business with the state – or face a year in jail.

The department of public service and administration, and the Public Service Commission have proposed a new bill to stop all government employees from benefiting from state tenders.

The Public Administration Management Bill also demands that they declare the business interests of their extended families – including spouses, siblings, cousins and other relatives – so that any conflicts of interest can be managed.

The bill will be submitted to Cabinet for approval and then be tabled before Parliament by the end of the month.

Currently, only senior managers are required to disclose their financial interests and those who fail to do so every year are simply charged with misconduct.

But the draft bill now criminalises the nondisclosure of civil servants’ interests, or those of their relatives.

Penalties include dismissal or up to a year in jail.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has conducted a number of investigations into officials doing business with the state, including:

» An education official from the national department who scored R30 million after his company bagged a tender with his employer;

» A former Eastern Cape chief financial officer and her family had interests in more than 100 companies that were doing business with the state. The companies received more than R7 million in payments between 2003 and 2009, with one company that belonged to her daughter earning R2.8 million;

» Of the 305 Limpopo provincial government officials who did not declare their business interests, 34 conducted business with other provincial departments in tenders worth nearly R1 billion. These were in departments under administration, including the departments of health, education, public works, provincial treasury and transport; and

» At least 70 SA Police Service officials were identified as having direct interests in 73 undeclared companies that are registered suppliers to the police and were paid a combined R31 million. The SIU is investigating 27 000 police officers for having undisclosed businesses.

But unions representing the country’s 1.2 million civil servants have warned that unless all politicians, including the 400 Members of Parliament (MPs), members of provincial legislatures, premiers, MECs and mayors – and their families – are banned from doing business with the state, the bill will “fall on its face”.

The 200 000-strong National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has questioned why the 59 MPs named this week for failing to declare their financial interests will not face jail time.

Nehawu general secretary Fikile Majola told City Press that unless all politicians were banned from state tenders, “government can expect this bill to collapse in their hands before it becomes law”.

He added: “Who have they imprisoned among the political office bearers who have not declared? Have they imprisoned them? That’s the part of the problem that is causing massive corruption. The political leadership has got to lead from the front.

“The political office bearers must start by banning themselves and saying, ‘We will not do business with the state. We will accept to live on the basis of the salaries we receive’.”

Although unions were not opposed to banning civil servants from doing business with the state in order to stop corruption, Majola said civil servants entered business because they saw other politicians living in “opulence”.

Unions, he said, would also oppose a move to oblige civil servants to declare the interests of extended family members because it was “too broad”.

Ben Turok, the chairperson of Parliament’s joint committee on ethics and members’ interests, said a proposal to ban politicians from doing business with the state could be part of the new “code of conduct” being considered for MPs and ministers.

Turok said the committee is reviewing the code and the proposal could be discussed when the review opened up for public comment. But he warned that banning politicians from state business might be resisted because MPs were “temporary appointees”, while civil servants could do their jobs “for life”.

Turok feared that banning politicians from state contracts could chase away potential MPs, because most would opt to remain in their professions rather than be completely barred from government work.

“If you say MPs can’t do anything in business, that is a big step that would require a national debate,” said Turok.

Public Service Commission chairperson Ben Mthembu said constitutional challenges could follow a ban on civil servants doing business with the state, but said employees had to adhere to any legislation regulating the public service.

According to him, making nondisclosure a dismissible offence and introducing a fine or imprisonment for errant civil servants showed “the seriousness with which the matter is being approached”.

Current regulations had failed to manage conflicts of interest and the corrupt practices of senior managers, with only 75% of them declaring their interests last year, Mthembu said.

Of the 1 713 senior manager declaration forms received, 18% listed more than one company and 30.6% showed serious “potential conflicts of interest”, he said.

It is estimated thousands of public servants, excluding those in municipalities, have multiple business interests.

Public Service Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who says public servants were making “millions” from doing business with the state, said they would oppose any challenge to the bill.

“A constitutional challenge ... will not succeed. All possible constitutional issues have been addressed to the satisfaction of those stakeholders consulted,” she said.

Public Service Commission director-general Richard Levin said the bill was needed to “stop the rot and to stop the multiple streams of income to people who don’t need it”.

He added: “You can’t have all these interests without them impacting on your work in the public service.”

» Talk to us: Do you think this legislation will stop civil servants from doing business with government?

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