DPSA briefing on discipline management: effective management and challenges with regards to senior management; with Deputy Minister

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Meeting Summary

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The Portfolio Committee met with the Department of Public Service and Administration to be briefed on discipline management in the public service and challenges in implementing it at senior management level.

Officials told the Committee that discipline management was neither effective nor efficient. The backlog in misconduct cases had increased, as had the backlog in precautionary suspensions.

The total cost of precautionary suspensions had stabilised around R82 million for provinces and R25 million for national departments.

Challenges included poor data capturing and poor record keeping. Unnecessary delays in commencing hearings complicated discipline management in the senior management service (SMS). It was difficult to secure presiding officers and employer representatives. There was a reluctance to use non-SMS members to initiate action against SMS members. Subordinates were reluctant to testify against seniors for fear of victimisation. There was unwarranted use of legal representation in cases that were not legally complex.

Committee Members expressed disappointment and frustration that the situation had not improved. Some cases had been outstanding for up to five years, with suspended officials sitting at home and being paid salaries. They said there should be serious consequences for officials whose administrative failures were responsible for the long delays in finalising disciplinary cases.

Meeting report

The Chairperson stated that the effective management of disciplinary procedures remained the main priority of the portfolio committee. Inefficient disciplinary management led to the state spending millions of rands on suspended employees who would be sitting at home while earning a salary.

The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) was therefore invited to account on the effective management of disciplinary cases and challenges encountered in disciplinary cases involving senior managers in the public service.

The Chairperson alerted the Committee that the item on the National School of Governance had been taken back for refinement and fine-tuning by Cabinet, so the School would not be presenting during the meeting. He apologised to the professor who was going to present.

The Chairperson invited the Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration, Dr Chana Pilane-Majake, to make opening remarks.

Deputy Minister’s Remarks
Dr Pilane-Majake said the Department’s main concern was the number of suspended senior officials sitting at home while government was spending money to cover their salaries. The figures were concerning.

They continued to build systems within the public service. These had not been perfected yet. They faced challenges in capturing data, even within the provinces. They were not happy about that, but they tried improving those systems.

Presentation: discipline management
A presentation was made by Dr Salomon Hoogenraad-Vermaak, Chief Director: Public Administration Ethics, Integrity and Disciplinary Technical Assistance Unit, DPSA.

He told the Committee that reports by the Forum of South African Directors-General (FOSAD) on the implementation of discipline management by departments over the past two years clearly indicated that discipline management was neither effective nor efficient. The backlog in misconduct cases had increased, as had the backlog in precautionary suspensions.

The total cost of precautionary suspensions had stabilised around R82 million for provinces and R25 million for national departments.

Challenges included poor data capturing and poor record keeping. Not all cases were reported to the labour relations unit and therefore were not captured on the personnel and salary system (PERSAL). There was poor internal monitoring and oversight of disciplinary cases and no consequences for not capturing data on PERSAL.

Unnecessary delays in commencing  with hearings complicated discipline management in the senior management service (SMS). It was difficult to secure role-players, presiding officers and employer representatives. There was a reluctance to use non-SMS members to initiate and chair against SMS members. Subordinates were reluctant to testify against seniors for fear of victimisation. Not involving the labour relations unit in cases involving the SMS resulted in non-compliance with the SMS handbook. There was unwarranted use of legal representation in cases that were not legally complex.

The presentation provided details of the number and status of disciplinary cases.

(See presentation document.)

Discussion

Ms M Kibi (ANC) said it was disappointing that such a high number of cases were not handled in good time. Also disappointing was the poor capturing of cases on the systems. The responsibility lay on heads of departments. Could the DPSA put measures in place that would pressure senior managers to act against those that were not doing their jobs, and in good time?

Regarding postponing cases, sometimes due to a lack of evidence or fear of victimisation, what measures could be put in place to avoid this as it impacted service delivery? What was revealed to the Minister, during one-on-one meetings with his colleagues, as the main stumbling block in dealing with cases in a timely manner? What kind of technical assistance was provided through workshops to address these shortcomings? Why was the intervention not sustained in 2021/22, after the Covid-19 lockdown?

Ms S Maneli (ANC) referred to the total cost of precautionary suspensions. What did the R82 million mean to people? What happened when suspended officials lost their disciplinary cases? What happened to the salary they had been earning up to the date they were found guilty? Was any precedence on monies recovered once the officials were found guilty? Was the money recovered from the date of their suspension or from the day they were found guilty? Referring to slide 14, she asked what the timeframe was for the review of the disciplinary code.

Mr J McGluwa (DA) referred to cases where the outcomes were of public interest. How did the Department deal with the reporting of this? It had been over a year since there was a report of corruption within the Department of Health. There were forensic investigations underway. Were they in a position to inform the Committee whether any disciplinary case had been made against senior officials? What was the status? There was no feedback, and almost R850 million was involved in this case. Some whistleblowers had been assassinated. What protection did they offer whistleblowers?

Ms M Ntuli (ANC) expressed her concern and disappointment to the Department. The Committee had been on this matter since the beginning of the parliamentary term, and nothing had happened. She did not understand why no serious disciplinary measures had been implemented. There was poor record keeping, but no consequences. The Department had not done its best to deal with this issue. Interventions had reduced the number of cases,but this was short-lived. It showed that people did as they pleased and did not fear anything. Without firm disciplinary measures in place, the cycle would continue.

She wondered why the labour unit was not involved in some cases. Misconduct cases were unacceptable. Prolonging suspensions that ended up milking government funds intended for service delivery meant they had failed as a government. There was a lot of money being wasted in this “yoyo system.”

Ms C Motsepe (EFF) said it was no use having slight improvements. There should be drastic action and finalised reports. The Committee did not want to keep on seeing the same problem. If managers were not keeping proper data, they probably had reasons for it. Those managers would need to be brought to task. An employee performance review would need to be done to finalise most of these issues.

Ms R Komane (EFF) said she was disappointed that they were nearing the end of the parliamentary term, yet the DPSA had not brought anything tangible to the Committee. It seemed that the Department was taking the Committee for granted. They mentioned progress, yet this progress was not visible. Why were the suspensions being prolonged? Did they not want to see these matters coming to an end? This was wrong and should not be tolerated. The Department was misleading the Committee.

There was still inappropriate recording of issues. Prolonging suspensions meant the people charged were perceived as innocent until proven guilty. Why were their cases not being concluded to prove their innocence or misconduct? A suspension lasting between 1 and 5 years meant that a person could not do their work as expected, and this was also demoralising to those working beneath that person.

What was the total cost of these precautionary suspensions? Why were these cases not being concluded? What interventions could the Committee provide to ensure that these cases would be concluded, as the Department was milking the government’s money? People were not receiving service delivery while sitting and discussing the same matters for three years.

What was the Department doing, and what capacity did it have? If there was capacity, why was it not yielding any fruit?

Responses

Dr Hoogenraad-Vermaak thanked the Members for voicing their frustrations and for sharing guidance and information the Department could work with.

He said non-compliance was one of the major problems. Specifically, this involved managers who were not capturing information or who were not addressing disciplinary cases. Circulars had been sent to the different departments indicating what information needed to be disclosed in reports. That information was tracked on a monthly basis, and then used to draft a monetary evaluation report every quarter. That was how they identified non-compliant departments who were not playing the role they should play.

The role of the DPSA itself did not extend to them involving themselves in the disciplinary cases of provincial departments. They could monitor the implementation of discipline management and report on that. They reported on the movement in cases so that departments could take note of them and address them.

Victimisation was addressed by the reporting guide given in 2018 to departments to implement. It stated they needed a policy for reporting unethical conduct, corruption and non-compliance with legislation. This also dealt with victimisation. The policy outlined to who these matters needed to be reported.

The main stumbling blocks identified during the review with the Minister were those outlined in the report. These were internal matters that the departments could address. These issues included monetary restrictions that prevented them from employing more people. They then could not report to the labour relations unit as they were understaffed.

Technical assistance was provided to the departments through a practical approach. They asked the departments to bring their case files to assess what was in the files and capture the case details onto the systems. They reviewed the files to ensure all elements were there and to see if the departments needed any training or assistance. They worked with the departments on the cases and this intervention took two days. There was also a transfer of skills so the departments could continue the work independently afterwards.

This intervention was discontinued because there were not enough staff to sustain it. The DPSA would need to expend all their resources to be able to provide this intervention to all the departments in the different provinces. They would end up doing the work for the departments. It was not sustainable from this perspective.

The total cost of the suspensions was almost R 82,3 million. This was not the final amount as some departments had not captured their figures. Compared to the previous five years, there had been an improvement in capturing information.

The suspensions policy clearly stated that a person could only be suspended if they were to interfere with the case or tamper with evidence. The employer still paid that person’s salary while the case was ongoing. A dismissed person would not be expected to pay back their salary during the suspension period. South African law did not allow a person to be suspended without pay.

Time frames for the disciplinary code review would be indicated in the frameworks currently being developed. Legislative amendments could take between three and ten years, but the review would indicate timeframes for the strategy to ensure that matters would be addressed in a timely manner.

The Department had a template they sent to the different departments, so they knew the information they needed to report back. The template had been extended to include information on employees conducting business with the state. This was additional to the information required on misconduct. The information collected monthly would then be analysed. There were engagements with departments on any outstanding information so that by the fourth quarter, the information could be integrated into the report sent to the Director-General and then to the Minister.

Regarding the corruption allegations in the Department of Health, the Technical Assistance Unit could not act as a law enforcement agency. They could not investigate corruption and crime, but they reached out to law enforcement agencies to look at corruption in government. Cases were assessed to see if those involved were public servants. If so, the Department drafted letters to the various departments involved to inform them about the officials charged. A concurrent disciplinary case would then need to be initiated to run along with the criminal proceedings.

He took note of the urgency of the DPSA needing to address the concerns raised by the Committee.

Ms Yoliswa Makhasi, Director-General (DG), DPSA, said she shared the Committee’s frustration and disappointment. The hard work done by the team produced very little improvement. 

The DPSA coordinated and monitored work. They were not implementers. They were only implementers in cases specific to the DPSA. As the DG, she was only responsible for accounting for cases within her Department relating to discipline management. Other DGs were responsible for accounting for the cases in their own departments.

The DPSA did not have the capacity to interfere with other departments’ cases. The law also prohibited them from doing so. They could not fulfil the role that the Committee was expecting them to play because it was not part of their jurisdiction. To do so, the laws would need to be changed.

Some of the reasons why some people stay suspended for long periods have already been highlighted. Some cases were complex and took a long time to investigate. Some officials intentionally delayed their suspensions by manipulating the loopholes of the system since they understood it very well. Others lodged disputes while their cases were ongoing, and this resulted in their cases being delayed. Some delays were caused by employers not having a case to prove.

The DPSA provided workshops for provincial as well as national departments. They also produced many guidelines for the departments to follow. The departments still failed to capture cases on the systems because they were not given oversight and managed properly.

The Committee and Department could work together to identify departments and ministries with extended cases, so that these departments could explain themselves directly to the Committee. This kind of intervention had been implemented with the Minister, which had positively impacted some departments.

The Chairperson thanked the Deputy Minister and Department for their responses.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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