Presidency on SIU Reports & DPWI DG Disciplinary Case, with Minister & Deputy Ministers

Public Accounts (SCOPA)

01 February 2022
Chairperson: Mr M Hlengwa (IFP)
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Meeting Summary

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The Portfolio Committee on Public Accounts met on a virtual platform to receive a report from the Minister in the Presidency on reports sent to the Presidency by the Special Investigation Unit following completion of investigations performed under presidential proclamation.

The Minister admitted that there were severe shortcomings in the Presidency in managing reports from the Special Investigation Unit. 81 reports, some dating as far back as 2002, had been processed in the Presidency since the current President had taken office but the recommendations had not been implemented. The Minister intended to set up an internal structure to ensure that the outcomes of the investigations made by the Special Investigating Unit were processed and to monitor the implementation of those recommendations. The Presidency released the investigation reports to state institutions for implementation and those processes would be followed up, especially by the Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation office in the Presidency. In an additional effort to see results, copies would also be provided to the Auditor-General for inclusion in audit plans.

Members expressed their dissatisfaction at the lack of urgency apparent in the Presidency despite the President being a champion of ridding the country of corruption. Members asked how was the Presidency going to move with speed, who was responsible for dealing with the reports and the lack of co-operation between various state entities and departments not a consequence of the disbanding of the Scorpions.

The Committee requested the Presidency to submit an update in 14 days and a full progress report of the implementation of the SIU recommendations by the end of February.

The Presidency presented a progress report on the disciplinary case of the Director-General of the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure. The Director-General had been suspended in July 2020 but there had been little progress because he was following a series of legal and procedural dispute mechanisms. The Minister noted that there seemed to be an emerging pattern of abuse of the judicial processes in an attempt to circumvent consequence management and that matter itself needed urgent attention.
 

The Committee was concerned with the R3.3 million salary that the suspended Director-General had been paid. They expressed concern that the Presidency had considered lifting the suspension and pointed out that if the DG went back to work, he would interfere with the investigation.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the Minister in the Presidency, Minister Mondli Gungubele and Deputy Minister Thembi Siweya as well as Deputy Minister Pinky Kekana, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, the Office of the Auditor-General South Africa (AGSA) and National Treasury. The meeting was a follow-up to that of 8 December 2021 when Members had expressed concern at the slow response by the Presidency to Special Investigations Unit reports and the issues relating to the status of the suspended Public Works Director-General.

Briefing by the Presidency
Minister Gungubele informed the Committee that Ms Matsietsi Mokholo, Deputy Director-General (DDG) for Corporate Management in the Presidency, would make the presentation.

Ms Mokholo explained the process for the submission of reports by the Special Investigating Unit, upon the conclusion of its investigation, to the President. Upon receipt of the final report from the SIU, the Presidency considered all the recommendations made by the SIU and ensured that the final report was submitted to the relevant State Institution. Since the President had taken office in 2019, the Presidency had processed 81 final SIU reports concluded under Proclamations ranging as far back as 2002.

She admitted that the Presidency had not successfully handled those reports. The administration system was not robust enough and there was a backlog of reports. Secondly, the President and the SIU were constrained by the nature of responses received from state institutions, or lack of responses. The current systems were insufficient and the Presidency was still to develop a formalised consultation mechanism to deal with the SIU reports.

Proclamation 23 of 2020, the one under discussion, was wide-ranging and required the SIU to investigate matters related to Covid-19 contracts, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), contracts for work and services. Copies of the reports would be provided to AGSA so that the reports could be used in the audit plans.

Minister Gungubele committed to creating a system to ensure that the outcomes of the SIU investigations were processed to conclusion. Such a system should coordinate the four categories of an SIU investigation – civil litigation, disciplinary actions, prosecution referrals and referrals to other regulatory authorities -and put them in the public eye so that all investigations were processed to their conclusion. Only when there was certainty of proper punishment or measures proportionate to any misdemeanour, would the Presidency be able to send a message to those who were corrupt. He made a commitment to ensure that happened. He intended putting in place a formalised interaction between all institutions and the Presidency to address the findings and to ensure that relevant consequences followed.

 

(See Presentation)

Discussion
Ms N Tolashe (ANC) stated that, in her opinion, the report lacked urgency and a plan to take the matter forward. Members had made the same observations as the Presidency. She wanted to know what they were doing differently, more drastically. The Committee acknowledged that something was being done, but there were frustrations. What else was the Presidency going to do? She noted that the President had committed to being the champion of dealing with corruption. How could the Minister and his entourage creatively move with the necessary speed? SA needed things to move with speed, especially the busting of corruption. Time was of the essence.

Mr S Somyo (ANC) agreed with the previous speaker that the report confirmed what Members had observed, so the briefing was taking the Committee nowhere. There was no plan by the Ministry. There was no monitoring of decisions. Money had been put into the investigations but there was a failure to follow up and to realise the outcomes. Who was the originator of the process in the Presidency to ensure the actualisation of the value of those reports?

He noted that the President’s commitment to fighting corruption was not being met. He appealed to the Minister to find out who was responsible for the task in the Presidency. One had to look at the capability of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and other institutions to follow through on some of the findings as that could lead to frustration within the SIU when those institutions that should follow up, did not do so. Senior offices, such as the offices of premiers in certain provinces, or municipalities ignored the outcomes as did the departments and that could lead to the SIU losing its sting.

As Chairperson of the Standing Committee on the Auditor General, he noted that the AGSA was being included in the response to SIU investigations by being given the findings with the intention that the Auditor-General would include vital information from the reports in the audit plans, but he reminded the Minister that the AGSA had to be paid for its work when it was an add-on that impacted on the capacity of the AGSA. Its work was to audit, not to follow up.

Mr A Lees (DA) was amazed by the apparent complete lack of urgency in the Presidency about the SIU reports. The presentation had highlighted many challenges but gave no indications of plans for resolving the situation. The resignation, three years early, of Hermione Cronje, should have sounded massive alarm bells in the Presidency, given that her role and her institution were focussed on the whole issue of corruption and stamping it out. However, the presentation had once again focussed on the challenges.

He noted that a primary challenge appeared to be the lack of co-operation between various state entities and departments, and that had been the case for a very long time. Was that not a consequence of the disbanding of the Scorpions that had a holistic approach and had operated very, very successfully? Surely it was time to re-instate, via statute, an equivalent of the Scorpions so that the entity could not just be disbanded by Parliament when it did not suit certain people? Surely an equivalent of the Scorpions could get out there and get the work done?

Ms N Mente (EFF) asked if the Presidency was still considering establishing a structure to deal with the failure of following through on the reports or was there someone in the Presidency whose job it was to deal with the SIU reports or did it only pay attention when called to report to Parliament?

The Chairperson stated that, while there was a long list of challenges, the Minister had been called because the Committee had identified those very same shortcomings, so he was “preaching to the converted”. There was a fundamental question: why were those things not being done? The report could have been a SCOPA report. There were gaps in administration in the Presidency, which was why the Minister was there. It was not acceptable that proclamations flowed out from the President but when the investigations had been completed, the reports just gathered dust. That amounted to wasteful expenditure.

Minister Gungubele said that the SIU report had come out on 25 January 2022 and his team had met in the last week of January. The question put by the Members regarding plans to address the report had arisen at that time and he had agreed that such plans should be sorted out. He apologised for not applying his mind to the question of what they intended to do. The best he could have done was to have tabled a plan of action before the Committee. That was a gap, albeit not a deliberate gap.

He had spoken to the Director-General of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) that morning and had requested a plan of action in regard to the SIU reports because DPME had a duty and an obligation to monitor all of government’s commitments and to ensure that they would lead to value-added services.

The Minister said that he had heard the Committee on the matter and he was guilty as charged.

The Chairperson was somewhat taken aback at the admission of guilt, but he appreciated it as it pointed the Committee in the right direction.

Mr Lees requested a response to his question about the establishment of a multi-disciplinary unit.

Minister Gungubele did not know if anyone who had appeared before the Committee before him, or possibly in the Justice Committee, had referred to “fusion’ which was mobilising a set of services. It was that set of services that the Scorpions had used to be able to deliver but, when the Scorpions had been disbanded, those services had been dispersed all over the place and the system had been weakened. That fusion had since been put in place to once again coordinate all those services. He looked forward to a time when those services would be fully integrated in a more institutional way. Although the Scorpions no longer existed, the services were being brought together again to close that gap. The fusion brought together the SIU, the NPA, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI/Hawks) and so on to address issues of crime. Institutionalising that fusion would ensure a flow of information.  

Mr Somyo suggested that the Committee should accept the honesty of the Minister and the fact that he had already raised the matter with his team. He suggested that a time period be established to discuss the plans for the way forward. He suggested 14 days.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee was in agreement that the lapses in place should not have happened, especially not to the extent that interventions were required to deal with the backlog that had formed in the processing of reports. The Minister had already indicated the process to be followed. He suggested that the full report be provided by the end of the month and thereafter the Committee would require a month-on-month report on the processing of SIU reports. He accepted Mr Somyo’s suggestion that a progress report be supplied within 14 days.

The Chairperson stated that over the years the SIU would report to SCOPA that it had handed over its reports to the Presidency, but there was no further action. It was that situation that had given birth to the meeting with the Minister. He appreciated the fact that the Minister had attended the meeting together with the staff. For a long time, there had been no cooperation from the Presidency when it came to the SIU reports and he now understood why. He appreciated the fact the Minister had taken up the matter because the Committee had raised many issues in that regard.

He explained that whenever SCOPA had raised the issue, there had been heightened levels of uncooperativeness and non-responsiveness. Based on the history of the neglect of the matter in the Presidency, he alerted the Minister to the fact that there might be push-back or resistance.  The Committee was particularly interested in the mechanisms to be set up. He thanked the Minister for taking up the matter and was appreciative of the fact that the Committee and the Presidency were on the same page.

The Minister added that the Department of Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency was intended to be a partner to Parliament because there was a similarity in their jobs to follow up matters in state departments, and he was trying to drive that cooperation.

Briefing on the DG of Public Works and Infrastructure
Ms Mokholo stated that the DG of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI), Adv Sam Vukela, had been placed on precautionary suspension by the Minister of Public Works, Patricia de Lille, in July 2020, pending the finalisation of his disciplinary proceedings. The DG had gone to court to declare that the process would not be fair if the current Minister of PWI oversaw the disciplinary hearing.

She explained that, in response, the Minister in the Presidency was appointed to oversee the disciplinary process. In August 2021, Adv Vukela had asked that his suspension be lifted, but the Minister in the Presidency had considered the charges extremely serious. He had declined to lift it and the suspension remained in place. Subsequently, Adv Vukela filed a dispute with the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council where he challenged the suspension. Hearings had begun in 2021 and would continue in February 2022. In addition, a review application was pending in the Labour Court pertaining to the jurisdiction of the Bargaining Council to hear the disciplinary matter of Adv Vukela, but the matter had not yet been set down for a hearing.

The Minister summarised the matter. The General Public Service Bargaining Council was dealing with the matter although the Presidency did not agree that it was procedurally correct for the Council to do so. The President had already responded to the possibility of unfairness by moving the matter to the Presidency.

The Minister indicated that he could give an update on the process but he could not provide details on the matters under discussion.

Discussion
Mr Lees stated that it was 19 months since the DG had been suspended. Was he on full pay and, if so, what was the cost to company?

Ms Mente noted the timeframe. She understood the disputes from the suspended DG, but there seemed to be no urgency from the Presidency. She accepted that Members were not involved in the merits of the case, but the irregularities that SCOPA had noted in relation to the DG were very serious. She expressed concern that the Presidency had considered lifting the suspension. If the DG went back to work, he would interfere with the investigation. She thought that someone was waiting for the five-year contract to be up. The Committee needed to find a way to speed things up.

Mr Somyo said that legal matters had their own limitations and the aggrieved party, the DG, was delaying the process. The matter should have been resolved by the courts. He was concerned that the fact that the DG did not suffer any harmful effect in terms of salary meant he had no need to hasten the completion of the process. The DG was seeking to put himself in charge of the process. It was probably a tactic by the DG to extend the process until his contract had come to an end.

Mr Lees asked whether the state was funding the DG’s expenses. If so, what was the extent of that funding?

Ms Mokholo stated that each party was bearing its own legal costs at the time, although that might change if the courts made a ruling on costs.

Minister Gungubele said that he had engaged with the Director-General in the Presidency. It was clear that processes of that nature occurred not only with the DG of DPWI; it was a common process and the cost that the state was subjected to was significant. A different way of dispute resolution should be found as it seemed everyone used every possible procedural and legal avenue. At face value, to have a DG off work for 19 months was not a good use of the resources of the state. He agreed with the Committee in that respect, but there were established processes and the DG was availing himself of the opportunity to use those processes.

Minister Gungubele explained to Ms Mente that he had been asked to lift the suspension, but he had refused owing to the seriousness of the allegations, and that was why the current impasse had occurred. He acknowledged that it was a good thing that the Bargaining Council was an autonomous structure, but it appeared that everyone was exploiting the fact that the Bargaining Council was an independent body. The question of how best to shorten disputes of that nature had to be addressed.

The Minister stated that the DG was suspended on full pay, so the amount paid out to date was 19 times his monthly salary.

Ms Mokholo added that the amount paid to the DG since his suspension was R3.3 million to date.

The Chairperson noted that it was R3.3 million in the sea of poverty, but he accepted that they were bound by the processes of the law. However, SA had to accede that there was an abuse of judicial processes to circumvent consequence management. Rights came with responsibilities but the Constitution of SA was being abused to avoid consequences. South Africans were being subjected to judicial abuse. In addition, to the R3.3 million was the cost of legal processes. There was a lack of appreciation in some quarters of the restraints of the public purse. DPWI itself was being held back by the matter when it had urgent matters to attend to. The Committee could not take the matter further.

The Chairperson asked the Head of SIU, Adv Andy Mothibi, whether he had any additions to the discussion.

Adv Mothibi stated that he had nothing to add but he would fully support any initiative to ensure that the recommendations of the SIU investigations were implemented in the interest of ensuring that state institutions and other entities implemented consequence management, be it from disciplinary action, criminal actions or regulatory actions. He would be reporting to the Committee on the civil matters which was the area that the SIU handled end-to-end to recover monies that would have been lost by state institutions.

The Chairperson thanked the SIU for the good work it was doing in a sea of failure, shortcomings and incompetence. The Unit was a beacon of hope.

The Chairperson welcomed Ms A Beukes (ANC) as a full-time Member of the Committee and informed Members that Mr Hadebe had been appointed as an ANC whip. Those matters had recently been confirmed in the House of Assembly.

The Chairperson appreciated the frankness of the Ministry in the Presidency but he did want to see matters corrected and he wanted to know why there had been those lapses in the Presidency.

The meeting was closed.
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