Financial Misconduct & Indebtedness of Public Servants

Public Accounts (SCOPA)

14 May 2008
Chairperson: Mr T Godi (APC)
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Meeting Summary

The Public Service Commission interacted with the Committee on the Commission’s reports on its overview on the financial misconduct and the extent of indebtedness of public servants.
In the meeting it was explained that under the 1994 Public Service Act, any employee under investigation who resigned before the outcome of the investigation was deemed to have been discharged as a result of misconduct. The Commission had objected to amendments to the Act which had taken away that provision. Current legislation needed to be strengthened. Also there needed to be reinstated the provision that the identity number of an employee discharged on account of financial misconduct should be noted to that effect in the PERSAL system. 

The Committee expressed concern that perhaps a lack of proper management at senior levels created opportunity for financial misconduct at lower levels. It was the responsibility of senior management to institute proper procedures to prevent opportunities for fraud, theft and corruption, and other instances of misconduct. 

The Committee requested the Commission to present its information arranged by department since Palriament’s oversight responsibility was assigned according to department. The Public Service Commission acknowledged the Committee’s request but replied that capacity constraints and under funding made this difficult at the present time, but it would try to assist with requests for information on specific departments if given sufficient lead time. 

In response to questions on fraud and theft cases, the Public Service Commission said that there was some ambiguity in the relevant legislation and regulations. There appeared to be consensus among Committee Members on the other hand that fraud or theft was, irrespective of the amount involved, a crime for which a final written warning was too lenient a punishment: imprisonment was appropriate.

The Public Service Commission was concerned that inability of public servants to manage their own personal finances raised questions as to their ability to safeguard the State’s resources with which they were entrusted. The Commission’s director-general noted the inadequacy of salary levels in branches of the public service and the progressive decline in the status of teachers. Many such public servants, and notably cleaners, were struggling.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the Public Service Commission (PSC) delegation (Ms Koko Mashigo: Commissioner, Ms Odette Ramsingh: Director-General, Ms Caroline Mampuru: Chief Director: Public Administration Investigations, Ms F Viviers: Chief Director for Special Operations). Ms Mashigo tendered apologies for the PSC Chairperson who was giving a presentation that morning to the Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration.

Public Service Commission overview on the financial misconduct of public servants
Ms Mashigo, after her introduction, handed over to Ms Ramsingh, who explained briefly the format of the presentation and invited Ms Caroline Mampuru to continue.

Ms Mampuru said that the presentation would not include recommendations, only an overview. The Public Service Commission issued recommendations only every two years.

Ms Mampuru said that, as Members were aware, the Public Service Commission had reported annually since 2001 on cases of financial misconduct in the public service reported to the Commission in terms of the Public Finance Management Act and the Treasury Regulations. The presentation would emphasise the 2006/2007 financial year.

Through its observations on mismanagement of public finances, the Commission became interested in the possibility of a correlation between the ability or inability of individual public servants to manage their own personal finances and their ability to manage public funds. As a result the Public Service Commission commissioned a study into the issue of personal financial management and an investigation of the indebtedness of public servants. So while the two reports before the Committee were independent, they did complement each other, and the presentation would reflect on the correlation between the two subjects.

Financial misconduct in the public service entailed material losses, criminal conduct, and unauthorised, wasteful and fruitless expenditure. The accounting officer of any department or entity was required, after the completion of any investigation into financial misconduct to report to the Commission the name, rank and position of the individual or individuals investigated, the nature of the misconduct, and the disciplinary action taken, or civil or criminal proceedings instituted.

The purpose of the Public Service Commission’s reporting was to give stakeholders a detailed statistical overview and analysis of the information reported to it by the national and provincial governmental departments on financial misconduct in any particular year.

On an annual basis the Public Service Commission addressed a circular to the heads of all national and provincial governmental departments asking them to report concluded cases of financial misconduct.

It was notable that, since the introduction of the requirements for reporting financial misconduct in 2001/02, this year was the first year that all national and provincial governmental departments had responded to the Public Service Commission.

In 2006/07 out of 35 national departments, 14 had indicated that they had no finalised misconduct cases. Out of the 107 provincial departments, 47 indicated that they had no finalised misconduct cases. The Commission asked itself the question as to whether these figures meant that the departments concerned really had no finalised cases or whether the systems of internal control were so lax that cases of financial misconduct went undetected. There was also the possibility that indeed no financial misconduct had occurred.

The overview would review firstly misconduct reported in the financial year 2006/2007, and afterwards review the trends in the previous years to 2001/2002, when reporting began.

In 2006/07 there were 1 042 cases of financial misconduct reported to the Commission. 370 were at national level; 672 were at provincial level.

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development had reported the highest number of cases - 197. The Department of Defence had the second highest. It had to be asked whether these departments had in place more rigorous processes for scrutinising their employees than had other departments, and thus detected more cases of financial misconduct, or whether they had more employees who had offended.

At the provincial level the Western Cape reported 299 cases; KwaZulu-Natal reported 125.

Ms Mampuru had already given a description of what financial misconduct entailed. She now gave detailed figures of the types of cases that had been reported. The most common type of financial misconduct was theft and fraud. Those obviously had criminal connotations, unlike negligence or financial mismanagement. She indicated that criminal proceedings followed after internal proceedings had been completed, but that the recovery process might not begin until the April of the following financial year and thus not be reflected in the figures of the year in which the case was reported as completed.

It was reassuring to be able to report that at level 16, the highest grade, in which accounting officers were appointed, no cases of financial misconduct had been reported. It was at levels 1 to 8 that most cases of financial misconduct manifested themselves. This had been a clear trend over the years.

83% of those investigated had been found guilty. Seven per cent of cases were withdrawn. In five per cent of cases the individual charged had resigned. Four per cent had been found not guilty. In one per cent of cases, the individual charged had retired or his or her contract had expired while the case was pending against them.

Ms Mampuru reviewed the sanctions imposed and gave figures. The most common sanction was a final written warning.

Ms Mampuru reviewed the rising trend in the number of employees concerned. The Eastern Cape had shown a decrease however.

Although it was at levels 1 to 8 that most cases of misconduct had been reported, in relation to the number of staff members in each grade, there was a disturbing rise in the numbers of cases involving staff at senior management staff (SMS) levels throughout the financial years from 2001/2002. In the current cycle there were about 15 such cases.

Moreover, there had been a decline in the number of discharges from the public service on account of cases of financial misconduct, and this raised the question of whether society was becoming more tolerant of such misconduct.

There was an increase in the cost to the nation of financial misconduct to the extent of R130 million in the 2006/2007 financial year as indicated in the table (pl. give reference). This was a substantial increase from 2001/2002 when reporting of financial misconduct started. However, to put it in perspective, it was to a considerable extent attributable to two particular cases involving large losses.

Ms Mampuru reviewed the low rate of recovery and gave figures. To put this in perspective however, civil proceedings to recover losses might still be in process after the end of the reporting period. However, it was important that departments accelerated the investigation processes.

Mr B Pule (ACDP) asked for clarification about the documentation that Members’ had received.

The Chairperson responded that the discussion in this meeting should be based on the documentation presented in this day’s meeting.

Mr Pule said that, according to the presentation, of 35 national departments only 14 indicated that they had no cases of financial misconduct. Another document, received previously, said that in such departments no cases of financial misconduct were finalised. Mr Pule asked if he should ignore the conflicting information. 

Ms Mashigo responded that essentially the meaning was the same, and there was no conflict between the two documents.

Mr Pule was not easily convinced that the two documents conveyed the same meaning. He asked again if he should ignore the document in which it was written that only 14 departments reported that they had no cases of financial misconduct. He asked for confirmation.

Ms Ramsingh confirmed that 35 departments were surveyed in that year. All of them responded to the Public Service Commission. Of those 35 departments 14 replied that they had no finalised misconduct cases. In clarifying, she explained that PSC meant that there were no finalised cases of financial misconduct reported by those 14 departments. If cases were still pending, they would be reported only in the following year. Only cases that had been finalised were to be reported to the Commission. The Commission always spoke about finalised cases.

Mr E Trent (DA) said that his first question had been anticipated by Mr Pule and answered by Ms Ramsingh. He was now assured that the Commission reported only on finalised cases of financial misconduct. However, his understanding of the Public Finance Management Act was that it did not stipulate to that effect, but rather that the accounting officer must take effective and appropriate steps.

Ms Ramsingh referred to the Regulations.

Mr Trent said that it concerned him that one could view some of the statistics presented in totally opposite ways. One could say that there was now better control, or that in the past they were not reporting. He was sure that there was a pattern developing, and he asked the Commission to advise the Committee. He was concerned that over the past year there had been a decline in the number of people discharged.

Mr Trent’s second concern was that perhaps a lack of proper management at senior levels was the cause of creating the opportunity for financial misconduct at levels 1 to 8. It was important not just to blame the people at lower levels. It was the responsibility of senior management to institute proper procedures to prevent opportunities for fraud, theft and corruption, and other instances of misconduct. It was far more complicated than met the eye.

Ms Ramsingh said that the Commission would in future study whether mismanagement at higher levels was creating conditions conducive to misconduct at levels 1 to 8.

Mr Trent said that he attached great importance to the work of the Public Service Commission and asked if it interacted with the governmental departments concerned to locate the root of the problem and find solutions, and whether the Commission was receiving positive responses from such interaction.

Mr Trent also said that he was aware that there were four so-called closed accounts: including national intelligence, the national defence account, and the crime intelligence account. He asked if any misconduct in those accounts had been reported to the Public Service Commission.

Mr P Gerber (ANC) asked the reason for this increase in the numbers of cases in the education departments of the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal and what were the specific issues that contributed to the number being so high.

Mr Gerber also asked why nothing was recovered in the case of the Department of Communications, in which R4 million had been lost, and about similar cases. He asked if there was an explanation for such non-recovery at national level.

The Chairperson reminded Mr Gerber that one such case was the Public Service Commission itself which had lost R90 thousand, of which nothing had been recovered.

Ms Ramsingh said that the Commissioner had commented on the poor quality of the information supplied to the Commission by various departments. She felt that accounting officers should take a much deeper interest in the reliability of the information that they forwarded to the Commission. The Commission had begun to follow-up telephoning departments concerned to try to verify the information. In some cases the Commission had detected, by its tracking system of documents, laziness on the part of accounting officers.  The Commission had to work constantly to improve the integrity of its data. Ms Ramsingh said that primarily the objective of such tracking by the Public Service Commission was to develop some form of factual statistical overview. Whilst Ms Ramsingh could be confident on the accuracy of the Commission’s analysis of the information it received, she could not be as confident about the accuracy of the information as submitted by departments. However, she was confident about the validity of the Commission’s observations as to trends. 

The Chairperson asked on what basis departments reported incorrect figures, for such inaccuracies raised questions in the minds of the Committee Members about the competency of the officials responsible for such incorrect figures.

Ms Ramsingh said that some inaccuracies reflected complete laziness on the part of officials. However, a more disturbing trend was the levels to which completion of the required information was delegated, so that some information was compiled by relatively junior officials, while the accounting officer had not bothered to check its accuracy.

Ms Ramsingh said that, as previously indicated in the presentation, the Public Service Commission reported analytically on a biannual basis, while in alternative years reported statistical trends. In the biannual reports the Commission also provided recommendations upon which t it hoped the departments would act.

Ms Ramsingh said, with regard to losses reported as unrecovered, that it was necessary to remember that the information provided by the departments covered a particular year. In some cases a matter investigated in a particular year might be finalised only in March; therefore the process of recovery would not start until April of the following financial year. Increasingly the Commission was focusing on the recovery process.  

Mr Gerber asked again for specific information on the high figures in the departments of education.

Ms Mashigo replied that the figures referred to cases of social grant fraud involving members of the education department.

Mr Gerber asked for further clarity.

Ms Mashigo responded that there were cases of social grants applied for by such persons within the department of education as were not entitled to them.

Ms Ramsingh explained that such cases might involve teachers applying for a disability grant, social grant or a pension while not entitled to such assistance. These cases were detected because of the focus on social grants. Possibly one would see a similar spike if one focused on other particular areas.

Mr Gerber said that this was unfortunate, since it was the welfare department that was being defrauded, yet the way in which the figures were presented made it appear as if it were the education department that was being defrauded. This gave a bad impression of financial management in that department.

Ms Ramsingh said that the responsibility for ensuring the moral probity of a public servant was the responsibility of the particular department that employed him or her. So the department of education was responsible for promoting high ethical standards among its officials.

Mr Gerber responded that, from the manner in which the figures were presented, it did appear that the cases of fraud represented losses to the education department rather than to the welfare department. 

Mr V Smith (ANC) said, with reference to Mr Gerber’s comments, that the Committee welcomed the Commission’s report as a means to an end. It would greatly assist the Committee; however, it would be more helpful if the Commission could give the information by department concerned, since the Committee that had the responsibility of oversight of departments. If the Commission gave the number of cases for each department, the action taken and outcome in each case, the information would be more useful.

Mr Smith’s specific question was whether one should assume from the presentation that recovery of losses signalled the closure of a case, regardless of the outcome for the individual investigated.

Mr Smith said that, in his understanding, a case of fraud or theft, regardless of whether the loss was recovered or not, meant that the guilty party must go to prison. 

Mr Smith further observed that the figure of 1042 cases would be more useful if it could be related to so many individuals, because cases did not necessarily mean the same number of individuals. It would then be possible to make more sense of the 83% about which the Commission was talking.

Mr Smith’s final question was whether the 36% who were given final written warnings excluded those found guilty of fraud or theft; in Mr Smith’s view, in cases of fraud or theft, a written warning was inappropriately lenient.

Also Mr Smith requested the Commission to provide for the records of the Committee an analysis of the figures by department concerned.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Smith and observed that fraud cases constituted well over 55%. However, if one examined the number of cases in which criminal charges had been laid, it constituted 25%. This indicated dis-equilibrium. The Chairperson understood that fraud was a criminal offence and wondered whether the Commission had received any feedback from departments in that regard.

Ms Mashigo said that there were different categories of financial misconduct. Misappropriation or negligence did not warrant criminal proceedings. Also in terms of the Act governing the combating of corruption there was a condition stipulating that theft or fraud of amounts above R100 000 criminal cases must be instigated.

Ms Mashigo said that the Commission had noted Mr Smith’s request for an analysis by department.

Ms Ramsingh said that the Public Service Commission would dearly love to be in a position to give a report of figures by department. Ideally, the Commission would follow the format of the Auditor-General’s reports; however, in terms of its available resources, the Commission regretted that it was currently unable to do so. In its allocation from the Treasury for 2008/2009, the Commission had received no increase. The Commission, which was required to monitor the whole public service, had a staff complement smaller than that of the Auditor-General’s office for the Western Cape.

With regard to the number of cases in which there had been recourse to criminal proceedings, Ms Ramsingh admitted that there was ambiguity in the legislation. The Treasury Regulations required that any case involving fraud or theft must be reported to the South African Police Service. However, according to the relevant legislation, it was only cases involving amounts over R100 000 that must be reported to the police. Because of that ambiguity, accounting officers were inclined to believe that they had a fair amount of flexibility to determine how they would handle such cases and whether they should report them. The Commission regarded it as important to ensure that there was no abdication of responsibility because of ambiguities in the legislation.

Mr Smith agreed with Ms Ramsingh’s replies, but said that he believed that the supreme act in regard to taxpayers’ money was the Public Finance Management Act. According to this Act the accounting officer was duty-bound to take effective action and avoid ambiguity. That was why Mr Smith was asking for reports according to department. Mr Smith said that if the accounting officer would be charged criminally, as in terms of the Act Mr Smith believed the accounting officer could be so charged, it would force the public service to make a concerted effort to eradicate fraud and theft.

Mr Smith asked how much lead time the Commission would require if, say, the Committee called upon it to give it raw data, on cases in a particular department, to which the Committee could refer in an interrogation of that department.

Ms Ramsingh responded that, in the case of a published report, the Commission would already have that data. A two week lead period would be sufficient. However, for a more current year, that would not be the case. In such a case the Commission would have to ask the department concerned to provide more current information.

Mr Trent said that the Public Finance Management Act was very powerful. There was no doubt that it gave powers to take steps against an accounting officer who did not provide accurate information. He again complained against failure to dismiss offending officials in the light of an increasing trend for such persons not to be dismissed.

Ms Ramsingh noted Mr Trent’s comments, but said that there was ambiguity none the less. She gave the example of an official who lost a flash memory device. She would report the official, require him to make good the loss, issue a warning, and enter it as a finalised case, but it was most unlikely that she would report the offender to the police. The police service itself faced many challenges and was overloaded.

Ms Ramasingh said that in 83% of the cases, the individuals concerned were found guilty. Of that 83%, 36% received a final written warning. Whether that was appropriate was clearly a question that merited further examination. This was especially so in the case of fraud and theft, which were at the heart of a relationship of trust between the employee and the employer. A final written warning sent a message that the employer considered that the relationship of trust was not irretrievably damaged and a second chance was being offered to the employee. Whether that was the correct message was something that had to be engaged with. Such a message also suggested that the public service was becoming soft in its attitude to fraud and theft. 

Mr Pule asked if it was correct to relate lack of delivery in the public service to fraud and corruption rather than to lack of capacity.

Ms Ramsingh said that the capacity challenges facing the public service were multifaceted. She called upon the Committee to engage with the Commission on its 2006 State of the Public Service Report. There was a great need to increase resources for investigative capacity.

The Chairperson asked if non-compliance was a reflection of poor monitoring by management in government departments. This related to the question that the Committee asked on many occasions: whether managers were managing effectively or not. The Chairperson said that he saw a clear correlation between the incidence of financial misconduct at the lower levels with mismanagement and inadequate monitoring by senior management and an insufficient level of response to cases reported through the anti-corruption hotline. 

Ms Ramsingh agreed. Good leadership should lead to compliance. It was also noted that senior managers were not complying sufficiently with the requirement since 2002 to disclose their personal financial interests. It was also noted that senior managers were not sufficiently conforming to the requirement to file performance agreements.

Mr T Bonnehomme (ANC) commended the Commission’s presentation. He was concerned with the high number of cases within the departments of Justice and Constitutional Development, and Defence, which were law enforcement departments. He asked if there was any checking as to the accuracy of reporting by departments, since the figures with regard to the 14 national departments that reported that they had no finalised cases of financial misconduct to report seemed, in the present day and age, to be hard to believe. He asked if there was any follow-up to ensure that the figures reported were a true reflection of reality.

Ms Caroline Mumpuru said that, as Ms Mashigo had noted, the Commission worked upon the information as provided by the departments. The Commission did have its own database against which it compared figures reported in the current cycle to see if there were any obvious discrepancies. Also the Commission did follow up with departments to check on the accuracy of the figures that they had submitted to the Commission. It was impossible to be one hundred per cent sure,  but the Commission was now conducting in loco inspections of some of the departments to check on the accuracy of their figures where the Commission had reason to suspect that there might be some inaccuracies in the reported figures. Internally the Commission was improving its methodology in order to verify, but to a considerable extent the Commission had to rely on trust that departments provided reliable data.

Mr Smith said that the Committee was struggling with the ‘revolving door’ syndrome, whereby a public servant who was found unsatisfactory by one department was given a final written warning, only to apply and be appointed to a comparable position in another department. Mr Smith asked if a system of black-listing could be instituted across the public service. This would be especially valuable with the forthcoming single public service.

Ms Ramsingh said that Mr Smith had expressed a very pertinent point. Under the 1994 Public Service Act, any employee under investigation who resigned before the outcome of the investigation was deemed to have been discharged as a result of misconduct. The Commission had objected to amendments to the Act which had taken away that provision. Current legislation needed to be strengthened. Also there needed to be reinstated the provision that the identity number of an employee discharged on account of financial misconduct should be noted to that effect in the PERSAL system. 

At this point the microphones and loudspeakers failed totally. Mr Trent, The Chairperson, Ms Mashigo, and Ms Viviers spoke but were inaudible. 

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting until he could locate an alternative venue.

Public Service Commission presentation: the indebtedness of public servants
When the meeting resumed, Ms Caroline Mampuru delivered the presentation on the indebtedness of public servants. The investigation had been prompted by the Commission’s trend analysis of financial misconduct cases, and paid especial attention to the extent to which public servants had become enmeshed with garnishee orders as a result of debts incurred to micro lenders. The investigation further focused on the ethical considerations of public servants who had become indebted. The investigation covered all national and provincial departments within the public service. Information was requested from PERSAL. This information was provided to the Public Service Commission on the basis of anonymity.

The highest amounts paid to micro lenders during 2006/2007 were paid by holders of posts in salary level 7. The second highest amounts paid were by holders of posts on salary level 8.

Over-indebtedness of public servants as a result of micro-lending and garnishee orders resulted in ill-health because of financial distress, low productivity, and irregular work undertaken outside the public service, and had ethical implications.

Recommendations  included the establishment of an employee assistance programme with a key focus on a proper legislative framework on micro-lending, a procedure for the issuing of garnishee orders, and on educating employees on their credit rights, budgeting, borrowing, and saving, and on how to manage these effectively.

In conclusion the Public Service Commission found that public servants were struggling to cope with their personal financial planning. This raised questions as to their capability to manage the State’s resources with which they were entrusted, and could be the reason for the rise in the number of financial misconduct cases.

Mr Gerber said that micro-lending was a relatively new financial activity in South Africa. It was similar to the dop system; once one entered the system, it was almost impossible to leave it. He asked who had decided to allow civil servants to borrow from micro-lenders and have the repayments deducted from their salaries. Mr Gerber said that it was quite an ‘unholy practice’.

Ms Mampuru replied that legislation allowed individuals to borrow money from any person or financial institution that was willing to lend to them. However, micro-lenders frequently resorted to illegal acts, such as confiscation of identity documents to enforce repayment. Garnishee orders, in themselves not illegal, were commonly used to enforce servicing of the debt.

However, in terms of the official regulations, in the case of a garnishee order, the accounting officer was obligated to ensure that the employee concerned would still have enough money left after deductions from his salary to sustain his family. This requirement added to the administrative burden of the employer.

Ms Ramsingh said that at one time there had been in force a regulation that no deductions from any employee’s salary might be made under the PERSAL system unless it related to his or her employer. However, this rule had been relaxed. How and why it had been relaxed needed to be investigated.

Secondly, Mr Gerber remarked on the high number of nurses, ambulance staff, and police reported to be in debt to micro-lenders, and asked if this did not reflect on the salaries paid to such public servants.

Ms Mampuru said that there was indeed a perception that the salaries of such personnel were inadequate.

Ms Ramsingh said that in all fairness it was not possible within this report to conduct an evaluation of salaries, but the report did reflect a concern about the implications of salary levels.

However, Ms Ramsingh had expected that Members would ask about the status of teachers, because it was her perception that the status of teachers had declined markedly in recent decades. Also cleaners were really very hard-pressed.

Mr Trent said that Mr Gerber had, in his second question, anticipated his question. He asked if civil servants performing comparable jobs in the different departments earned similar salaries.

Ms Ramsingh said that grading was often dependent on the number of staff an employee supervised. This had implications for highly qualified individuals whose jobs did not necessarily entail supervision of subordinates.

Mr Trent asked whether banks knew whether or not persons to whom they extended credit were also indebted to micro-lenders.

Ms Mampuru replied that typically persons who were refused credit by the banks resorted to micro-lenders.

Ms Ramsingh observed generally that few employees, irrespective of grade, were totally free of debt. The issue was not whether employees were indebted or not but whether they could manage their debt. Moreover, if an employee could not manage his or her own debt, then one had to ask if that employee would be capable of managing the State’s resources that were entrusted to him or her by virtue of his job. This was the main issue addressed by the report.

Mr Trent said that it was most unwise to encourage micro-lending – an industry which exploited people – by allowing deductions from salaries to be payable through PERSAL to micro-lenders. Moreover, the interest rates charged by micro lenders were ‘appalling’.

Mr Gerber added that the micro-lenders’ interest rates were ‘criminal’.

Mr Trent said that he was constantly lobbied to stop the micro-lending system. He viewed the matter very seriously.

The Chairperson observed that the micro-lenders were openly ruthless and had not yet acquired the sophistication of the banks.

Mr Pule said that the problem had more to do with culture than anything else. Often one was inclined to be too academic in one’s approach to problems rather than looking for the obvious root cause. South Africa was affected by a consumer-driven culture which impacted on the behaviour of people at all levels of society. Spending levels had less to do with incomes than with the imperatives of the consumer society. For example, a son would tell his father that he would be unable to secure a bride unless his father bought him a car.

Mr Trent expressed interest in the Commission’s recommendations, which he considered sound, especially the proposed regulation regarding garnishee orders.

Mr Trent asked the Commission on how to proceed further after making its recommendations. He asked if it was a matter for the Public Service committee in order for further action to be taken.

Ms Ramsingh said that the initiative rested with Parliament. The Commission, by itself, did not have the authority to enforce its recommendations.

Mr Trent said that under the National Credit Act it was prohibited to lend money to anyone unless the lender was sure that the prospective borrower could afford to repay the loan.

Mr Smith said that his understanding was that garnishee orders were court orders and that therefore an accounting officer had no right to block salary deductions in respect of garnishee orders.

Mr Smith said further that not even the ANC caucus was aware of the Commission’s report. He suggested that the report should be publicised. Without such publicity, the chances were that this report would go unread.

Ms Ramsingh said that the Commission ensured that all its stakeholders, including heads of department, received copies of the report. However, advocacy was vital, and the Commission’s ability to publicise the report was directly linked to the resources available to the Commission. Ideally one would make a presentation in every department and in every province.

Mr Gerber said that the report spoke of garnishee orders in total. He asked, if the information was available, what percentage of garnishee orders was the result of failure of micro-lending repayments.

Ms Ramsingh replied that there was a progression of debt. People had recourse to micro-lending when they had exhausted all other sources of finance. By the time an individual was the subject of a garnishee order, he or she was in debt even to the micro-lender.  The Commission did not have exact information except in the context of a progression of indebtedness.

Mr Trent asked how one would deal with a situation in which, in spite of the Treasury regulation to the effect that any salary deductions must leave sufficient salary to sustain the employee’s family, a court order obligated the employer to comply with a garnishee order. The one seemed to be a contradiction of the other.

Ms Caroline Mampuru replied that, under the Treasury regulations, the employer had a duty to verify how the court order had been obtained.

If the employer found that, after complying with the garnishee order, the employee would not have sufficient money to sustain his family, the employer must take steps to inform the employee how he might seek cancellation of the garnishee order or adjustment of the order to make it affordable for him.

The Chairperson asked if the Commission was asserting that there was a clear correlation between financial mismanagement and indebtedness.

Ms Ramsingh replied that the Commission believed that there was such a clear correlation. However, it was not so sure that there was a clear correlation between financial misconduct and indebtedness.

The Commission attached importance to the establishment of employee financial wellness programmes. The Treasury had contracted financial advisors to conduct such workshops. 

The Chairperson thanked the Commission for a most useful and informative interaction.

The meeting was adjourned.


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