R50?million to sit at home

2014-07-27 15:00

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About 400 public servants sitting at home on paid suspension have collected nearly R50?million in salaries and benefits while waiting for their disciplinary cases to be finalised.

National departments have a combined 238 employees who are on paid suspension and they have received R27?million in salaries and benefits.

Provincial ­departments have placed 163 employees on paid suspension, and they have collected about R20?million in pay and benefits.

Some have been sitting at home for years waiting to appear at disciplinary hearings.

The suspended civil servants are facing charges relating to various forms of misconduct, with the most common transgressions being assault, dishonesty, corruption and fraud.

The department of public service and administration, which monitors government departments on issues of suspensions and disciplinary hearings, said reasons for delays in finalising disciplinary hearings included:

» Postponements due to unavailability of one or both parties;

» Postponements for medical reasons;

» Lawyers needing more time to prepare; and

» The reluctance of some officials to preside over certain cases.

Public Service and Administration Minister Collins Chabane is tackling departments on the issue and wants to find other ways to ensure disciplinary cases are resolved without placing employees on paid suspension, or to speed up their cases.

“If someone is suspended with full pay, the suspension must be reviewed within 30 days as outlined in the Public Service Commission’s guidelines on the management of suspensions within the public service,” said Chabane’s spokesperson Brent Simons.

Although his office could not elaborate on what alternatives they were considering, the Public Service Commission previously recommended that civil servants who are in trouble be transferred to other departments while their cases are finalised.

Simons said his department drafted suspension guidelines for other departments.

“One of the stipulations is that employees on suspension will have to report for duty pending the finalisation of the case at the expiry of the 60-day period as the delay constitutes no fault of the employee,” he said.

Simons declined to provide more details on which civil servants have been sitting at home the longest and how much they have been paid, saying this was confidential.

But the department of correctional services, ­often accused of mismanaging disciplinary processes, is one of the worst offenders, placing employees on long suspensions with full pay while their cases drag on.

Joseph Lethoba, an IT director at the department’s head office in Pretoria, spent three years on paid suspension.

He was suspended in September 2011 after testifying on behalf of a fellow employee who had been charged with misconduct.

He claims he was victimised and then suspended.

But he was charged with failing to follow orders about the appointment of consultants in his division.

His case dragged on for years thanks to lawyers pointing out a number of procedural irregularities, and making numerous objections about the official selected to chair his disciplinary panel.

He was finally axed this year, but is fighting his dismissal, arguing he was fired on spurious grounds and that the disciplinary process was bungled.

Thandi Gumede, another former correctional services ­employee, spent seven months on paid suspension before ­being fired.

She has also challenged the legality of her dismissal and won an order forcing the department to rehire her and pay her what they owe her after her salary was stopped.

The department has still not complied with the order.

Gumede, the director of employee relations, said her problems began when a new chief director was appointed in the human resources division. Their relationship deteriorated shortly ­after his appointment.

“It was either his way or the highway,” she said.

In November 2011, she was suspended after being accused of attending a course at the Public Service Commission without authorisation. She claims her new boss gave her permission to attend. Correctional services did not respond to ­requests for comment.

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