Public service a R27bn pricy ‘sickbay’

2015-03-15 17:00

The public service was this week described as an expensive sickbay that was costing taxpayers billions.

Parliament’s portfolio committee on public service and administration was told during a briefing that, since 2012, there had been 21?766 applications for temporary disability leave by public servants, at an estimated cost to the state of R27?billion.

That’s more than enough to cover the R20?billion Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene wants to save over the next three years.

MPs across the political spectrum were clearly upset when the department’s deputy director-general, Khumbula Ndaba, revealed that, on top of the R27?billion, there were also 73 health-related pension applications, estimated to cost R221?million.

ANC MP Zephroma Dlamini-Dubazana asked Ndaba: “Why didn’t you tell us you are sitting on this ticking time bomb?”

The department uses a panel of health-risk managers to handle sick-leave applications.

These service providers were paid R8.98 per public servant per month, regardless of whether the employee applied for sick leave or not, Ndaba said.

There are approximately 1.3?million public servants countrywide.

These health-risk managers can also, under certain circumstances, claim up to R3?100 for every actual case of sick leave.

Dlamini-Dubazana asked: “How can you play with tax money like this?”

Andricus van der Westhuizen of the DA asked: “How sure are we that every case of sick leave is indeed properly registered? And what about the additional costs to get substitutes while these people are not at work?

“And even if substitutes are not employed, it means service delivery suffers because there is one less person to do the work.”

The DA’s Joe McGluwa then described the public service as a “very expensive sickbay”.

“We have a sick public service. It’s clear the system is abused, but what sanctions are there?”

Ndaba said the policy had, despite some problems, recorded successes – such as decreasing the annual number of sick days by 3.8% since 2009 in some government departments.

This figure comes from a Public Service Commission report in 2011. It goes on to say that it would be premature to see the decrease as an indicator that the department was getting the misuse of sick leave under control.

Ndaba conceded that public servants’ tendency to take leave on Mondays because of “illness” continued, despite the policy and use of health-risk panels.

Committee chairperson Bertha Mabe suggested that new research was needed to determine the extent of the problem.

In response, Ndaba infuriated MPs even more by revealing that the department had advertised for service providers to do such research. But he said suitable candidates weren’t found through an open-bid process.

The department is now looking at appointing a service provider through a closed bid to evaluate its policy on sick leave.

Mabe demanded to know why more consultants were needed to review a policy that must already have been applied by other consultants.

“Why can’t the departments of labour and health and others get together and themselves lead the process?” she asked.

The department undertook to respond to MPs’ questions and concerns tomorrow.

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