Update by Presidency on all reports referred by the SIU; DG Public Works DC; with Minister

Public Accounts (SCOPA)

07 June 2022
Chairperson: Mr M Hlengwa (IFP)
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Meeting Summary


The Standing Committee on Public Accounts met on a virtual platform to receive a report from the Minister in the Presidency on reports referred to the Presidency by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and to be briefed on progress regarding the disciplinary action against the suspended Director-General of Public Works, Adv Sam Vukela.

The Presidency presented the progress in developing a mechanism to improve the coordination and monitoring of recommendations arising from SIU investigations.

The Committee was pleased with the progress made but had concerns over the integration of the other spheres of government -- local, municipal and provincial -- into the system. Members commented that such a system being centrally accessible would be important to ensure accountability in all departments. The Committee also engaged on some of the shortcomings of the Personnel Administration System (PERSAL).

The suspension of Adv Vukela had been lifted as the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council had issued a ruling in his favour in late March. The Presidency opposed this order, and urgent court papers had been filed in the Labour Court seeking to have the award reviewed, set aside and substituted. The proposed date for the hearing of the matter was 14 June.

Meeting report

Introductory remarks

The Chairperson welcomed Members and explained that the first agenda item for the day would be the update by the Presidency on all reports referred by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to allow for the Minister in the Presidency, Mr Mondli Gungubele, to be present as he had an engagement later on.

Minister Gungubele thanked the Committee for the opportunity to engage in the progress of the SIU findings. He asked that Ms Matsietsi Mokholo, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Corporate Management in the Presidency, and Adv Andy Mothibi, Head of the SIU, introduce their teams.

Ms Mokholo said this was a shared responsibility between the Presidency and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME). She commented that progress would not have been possible without the SIU. The team from the Presidency was introduced.

Adv Mothibi introduced his team as:

-Mr Pranesh Maharaj, Chief Programme Portfolio Officer, SIU, deals with matters of proclamations, referrals, and follow-ups. He had been relaying with the Presidency team.

-Dr Jerome Wells, Chief Legal Counsel, SIU, ensures that the referrals to the litigation process, recoveries and freezes are attended to.

-Mr Leonard Lekgetho, Chief National Investigations Officer, SIU, ensures that all investigations are done properly.

-Mr Kaizer Kganyago, Head of Communications, SIU, ensures that the public understands the work of the SIU.

The Minister thanked the team and said that this meeting was to further engage in processing reports submitted by the SIU and the progress on the disciplinary matter involving the Director-General (DG) of Public Works. The presentation would cover the progress of establishing a mechanism to coordinate and monitor the SIU reports. The presentation would also be on background to the establishment of this mechanism and approach to the mechanism. It would show the process mapping, progress on prototyping and monitoring capability, which would illustrate how a design was being created that would ensure that, going forward, there was an automatic way of dealing with this matter. The analysis of the three categories of referrals will also be shared.

In a nutshell, the Presidency had set out to develop a system, in coordination with the Committee and Parliament, which would outlive the current Committee and strengthen the institution of accounting to Parliament on a matter like this. The nature of the conversation would demonstrate a humble attempt to achieve this.

Presidency presentation on coordination and monitoring

Mr Jonathan Timm, Presidency, took the Committee through the presentation. The primary focus was on the coordination and monitoring mechanism. Following a meeting with the Committee on 1 February 2022, it was established that the Presidency’s administrative system was not robust enough to provide a clear filtering process for legacy reports, there was a lack of responses by implementing institutions, and that a formalised consultation mechanism that would assist the SIU in following up on recommendations was needed.

He explained the typology of SIU actions and referrals: civil litigation, criminal referrals, referrals for disciplinary action, administrative referrals and systemic recommendations. The objective of the project was primarily to create a networked database system that provides on-demand access to the implementation status of referrals made by the SIU. The project approach, overview and timeline were covered. The timeline indicated that a prototype would be developed and tested by the end of June 2022.

The project was structured to do both prototyping and process mapping simultaneously. Process mapping, or value chain mapping, asked why this was being done, what this would produce, how long it would take and how this would help. On the monitoring system prototype, the Presidency/DPME team was involved in an in-depth assessment of data and data systems in various departments. This was being done to understand the best utilisation of existing investments and opportunities to build a robust and credible monitoring system to track referrals across the various environments.

A breakdown of the disciplinary and criminal referrals analysed from 2021/2022 was given by province, entity and institution. There had been a total of 463 disciplinary referrals and 562 criminal referrals. In the SIU's referrals for administrative actions for 2020/21 and 2021/22, 353 referrals were related to placing suppliers on National Treasury's restricted supplier register.

Overall, the project to establish the SIU referrals coordination and monitoring mechanism was making good progress and was receiving strong support and buy-in from all stakeholders.

Disciplinary action against suspended DG

Before proceeding with the second part of the presentation, the Minister explained that there were two parts to the disciplinary action against the suspended DG of Public Works. Part A involved a situation where it had been decided to lift the suspension of the DG, and it was decided that the DG may return to work. This was where the investigation did not proceed. Part B dealt with the substance -- the reason why the DG was to stay suspended. A date had been agreed upon where the judge would adjudicate on this.

SIU Investigation reports presentation

Adv Mothibi presented the progress regarding the disciplinary action against the suspended DG of Public Works. The suspension of Adv Vukela had been lifted, as the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council had issued a ruling in his favour in late March, and he had returned to duty on 11 April. The Presidency opposed this order, and urgent court papers had been filed in the Labour Court seeking to have the award reviewed, set aside and substituted. The proposed date for the hearing of the matter was 14 June.

Project objectives

Minister Gungubele referred back to the project objectives and highlighted the objective ‘to create a networked database system that provides on-demand access to the implementation status of referrals, irrespective of which category it falls under, made by the SIU.’ This process sought to ensure that a system was established that ensured mutually informed expectations between the executives and Parliament. Looking at the value chain, a common understanding needed to be established of the relationship between all those institutions and what should be expected from each institution. This process sought to expose a systemic defect in the established state institution. It would expose opportunities to strengthen the capacity of the state, and it would also expose weaknesses that needed to be corrected.

On the categories of referrals, this was the key indicator of whether this ecosystem, once established, would allow for accountability without having to depend on willing individuals or unwilling individuals, but rather on a system. The indicators were going to test whether everything was done, giving efficacy to this relationship, was happening in a systemically organised manner, and would make sense to the public. These categories would indicate how many cases went to civil litigation, how many to criminal referrals, how many for disciplinary action, how many for administrative referrals and what the state was doing about systemic recommendations that the SIU discovered.

Adv Mothibi said he was pleased that this system would help monitor the consequences and the referrals of the SIU. This would help government, beyond the work of the SIU, as it was a part of an ecosystem that would aid in building a capable and ethical state. The SIU had observed, on the part of state institutions, that implementing recommendations would result in consequence management. There was a phenomenon that when a state official faced a disciplinary process, they chose to resign. He applauded that the team identified this issue and proposed a mechanism to monitor these individuals. As the last check, municipalities did not use the Personnel Administration System (PERSAL). These municipalities, and even state-owned enterprises (SOEs), also needed to be monitored.

Mr Maharaj was the nodal point between the SIU and the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA). It would be important to interface this process with the AGSA and the overall work of the AGSA, where this work being done by the Presidency could inform the audit plans and the improvement plans that need to be carried out. The inclusion of the systemic recommendations would be advised, as they should inform other governance structures. This work was meant to become a blueprint and a benchmark beyond the SIU.

The Chairperson acknowledged that it had been a long journey that the Committee and the SIU had walked. Arriving at this point was a major breakthrough, as it was a matter that had been persistently raised. The reports had to come full circle through recommendations implemented, successful consequence management done and ensuring successful prosecutions. The closing of loopholes in the system would be very important.


Mr S Somyo (ANC) said he appreciated the development of an accountability framework, the finalised scope of referrals to various entities, the substantive nature of such referrals and the follow-through on the referrals. Looking into the broader scope of the platforms involved in terms of the SIU's work, and therefore the Presidency’s actual follow-through on those finalised instances, the missing link, in the context of the five itemised areas, was the integration of the other spheres of government, such as local, municipal, and provincial. There had been integration at national level but very little beyond that. There had been instances where the SIU would make referrals and recommendations either to departments at a provincial level or the premiers' offices, which would fail to take the responsible and necessary measures. The absence of an intertwined system in terms of the ecosystem was worrisome. However, this presentation was indicative of progress in accountability as far as SIU referrals were concerned. Work, however, was needed to determine how local government and provinces could be held accountable for the referrals, as the signing authority of the directives to the SIU for investigations was the responsibility of the Presidency.

 Ms V Mente (EFF) said there were two areas of concern. Firstly, the objectives of this system were being established from scratch. In terms of centrality, would it be built so that there was a monitoring tool from the Presidency that would alert them any time a disciplinary hearing was finalised from any department? If this was not so, there was a risk, as PERSAL was dealt with only by the finance department. The human resources (HR) department was ordinarily the department that uploaded any information regarding disciplinary hearings of government employees. If this was the case, it would mean that only finance would be able to upload anything -- HR would not be able to deal with the matter of disciplinary hearings. The system was allegedly being updated to allow for wider access, but access to such a sensitive system needed to be restricted in some ways, as it could easily be manipulated. A medium, therefore, needed to be found between the centrality and technical know-how.

Secondly, she expressed discomfort with the explanation and the processes undertaken to ensure that the DG would be held accountable. There had been a lack of investigation from the state. It could not be that people who investigated and consolidated the facts represented the state to cleanse itself of any questionable characters.

Presidency's responses

Minister Gungubele, in response to Mr Somyo, said it was only at the local government level where the link had to be corrected. This was illustrated on slide 24.

On Ms Mente’s question, he said that once the ecosystem was completed, it would be a single window to look at everything, and the status of the implementation would always be exposed in the system. There was, therefore, no basis for the Presidency not to act if it was deemed necessary. The question of the abuse of the system was noted.

Regarding the DG of Public Works, the Presidency was appealing against the award because it was not the information and the findings of the investigation on which the arbitrator had based its award -- it had been based on procedural matters.

Mr Timm said that the concerns raised by Ms Mente were important. The quality of the systems and processes at any point would affect the system's overall integrity. The approach being followed was ‘many eyes make the street safe,’ and by connecting multiple systems, the integrity and resilience of the overall system was improved.

The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) would be working with labour relations officials to understand the constraints as to how the PERSAL system was configured. There were some organisational design problems for which interventions needed to be implemented. This problem-solving approach would build the resilience and robustness of the system.

National Treasury, as a result of the deliberations and brainstorming with the Committee, had decided to check their own restricted supplier list against the basic accounting system (BAS), and had discovered that some of the suppliers that appeared on the list had been paid by other departments. Further investigations were ongoing into whether the payments were based on contracts signed before the supplier was restricted, and if so, there was no legal basis to restrict them because of a valid contract. This gave rise to the need for possibly looking at reforming the general conditions of contracts, which needed the insertion of a clause that would deem a contract invalid if the supplier became part of the restricted supplier list.

Adv Mothibi agreed with the Minister on the issue of the DG of Public Works -- the issue was not around the merit of the suspension, but the timeline of the suspension. The matter would appear in front of the labour court on 14 July, and the legal issue would be vindicated there.

Further discussion

Ms N Tolashe (ANC) said that she was pleased that there were now systems in place to deal with the issue of corruption. However, it was important to remember that corruption was a moving target. There needed to be a lot of agility to be able to stay ahead of the issue. It was concerning that local government was not part of the system. The Auditor-General and Treasury were overwhelmed with the corruption that was taking place in the local government sphere. The Minister should find a way for local government to be brought on board swiftly. The work being done could be undermined as long as local government was not on board. There should be a way to make local government officials a part of the PERSAL system.

What lessons had been learnt from the DG of Public Works case? With the systems being put in place, there would be a lot of cases such as this, with important officials who needed to be charged so lessons could be learnt and used going forward.


Ms Mokholo said PERSAL was a system that was embedded in HR and not a finance system. The experience thus far had been that environments that had been able to automate HR and finance systems had a symbiotic relationship. This was the goal -- to bring in technology to create a system where HR and finance did not operate in silos. The issue of access to sensitive information would be included in the risk assessment because cyber security matters would need to be dealt with.

Minister Gungubele said he had been fully briefed on the DG of Public Works, and the work that had been done thus far had not been disappointing. He agreed with Ms Tolashe’s statement that the issue of involving local government was urgent.

On the issue of agility, it applied not only to legal issues but to the entire government process. Much work needed to be done for government systems to become more agile. Therefore, digitisation was long overdue -- without it, they would remain static.

The Chairperson noted the outcome of inaction was a backlog, and some of the consequence management that should have happened would be lost to the system. The point of agility and efficiency could not be overstated. A full-scale assessment was necessary beyond this of bottlenecks and overlaps, which frustrate the flow of consequence management to logical legal conclusions. When this matter was initially raised, there had been concern that the SIU was doing work at the expense of the taxpayers, but the impact was not being felt in the manner that was necessary as there was no implementation.

The sad reality about corruption is that it costs money to prevent corruption and it costs money to recover money. The process needed to be completed so the public could feel that wrongdoing was being punished. They needed to look at what they already had and strengthen it so there were no duplicates and overlaps. Systems need to be assessed to ensure that they are effective and impactful. Although everyone had rights, these came with responsibility and accountability, particularly if one had been given a position in the public service. There was thus a need to ensure that the systems moved with speed to enforce accountability and consequences.

The Chairperson suggested an interaction with Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) to assist the process for the municipal employees, as there would be a change in administration following the elections in November. It was important to have these interactions so that there was awareness around the consequence management realities which would need to be confronted. There was a need for agility in the technological capabilities of government, and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) had not been assisting the agenda of a government with technological capabilities to keep up with the realities of the times.

The meeting was adjourned.


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