Pretoria - A report released by the Public Service Commission on Thursday has found that government departments are taking too long to conclude investigations into officials placed on precautionary suspension, leading to millions of Rands being paid to absent officials.
Government paid more than R45 million in salaries to public service employees who have been placed on precautionary suspension pending an outcome of an investigation.
Of the eight provincial departments that were included in the study, more than R15 million was paid to employees who were on precautionary suspension for the 2008/2009 and 2009/201 financial years.
The sampled departments had placed 293 employees under precautionary suspensions, during the two periods under review, most of them were in the levels 1-8 (228).
Charges against employees who were placed on precautionary suspension relate to serious misconduct such as financial misconduct, failure to bank state money, drunken driving, theft, corruption, keeping a dangerous weapon and violation of tender processes among others.
"It is disconcerting that there was such a huge amount paid to employees who were placed on precautionary suspension before their disciplinary cases could be concluded during the two periods under review," said the report.
The commission further established that generally there was non-compliance with the prescribed 60 days period to institute disciplinary hearings against the employees who are on precautionary suspensions.
According to the report, the majority of departments took up to three months on average to conclude an investigation.
None of the sampled departments provided the commission with evidence of control measures which were used to monitor the adherence to the timelines.
Some of the reasons for a precautionary suspension lasting longer than the prescribed 60 days included the unavailability of representatives of the employees charges, witnesses not being available, request for additional information unavailable at the date of the disciplinary hearing, non-availability of interpreters, employees being booked off sick, criminal cases running concurrently with disciplinary procedures and the recusal of presiding officers.
While the Disciplinary Code and Procedures provides for the transfer of employees who are under investigation, only three of the sampled departments made use of this avenue.
"It is apparent that the department's failure to consider using transfer instead of precautionary suspension exacerbates the situation where huge compensation is paid to the public service employees suspended during these periods," read the report.
The commission also found that departments lacked policy in dealing with these disciplinary procedures. Only one of the 10 departments sampled produced a departmental policy on the management of precautionary suspensions,
While the other departments said they relied on Resolution 1 of 2003 of the code as providing them with clear guidelines, the commission said this Resolution did not elaborate much of the procedures to be followed.
"The PSC believes that departmental policy on the management of precautionary suspensions/transfers would strengthen and make clear the procedure that should be followed. This is necessary to make sure that such suspensions/transfers are managed in accordance with the principles of administrative justice, natural justice and fairness," read the report.
The report also identified capacity and competence problems with senior managers, employer representatives/investigators and presiding officers
"It is hoped that the report will help departments to undertake prompt investigations and finalisation of cases. The longer the postponements of cases, the greater the financial losses and service delivery deficiencies incurred. Departments need to aim at ensuring strict adherence to timeframes and work towards minimizing costs relating to employees who are on precautionary suspensions."
Among the recommendations made in the report to improve the management of precautionary suspensions are the developing of internal departmental policies related to these suspensions and transfers; all employees - managers and juniors - attend training on disciplinary issues; the development of a database of capable presiding officers within departments and the commencing with immediate effect processes to finalise all cases that have been outstanding for far longer that the prescribed 60 days.
The Public Service Commission is an independent and impartial body, reporting to the Minister for Public Service and Administration, which derives its mandate from sections 195 and 196 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996). It investigates, and monitors and evaluates the organisation and administration of the public service to ensure effective and efficient performance.
In a statement, the Minister for the Public Service and Administration, Roy Padayachie said he welcomed the report. He said the department had led a task team of Labour Relations Officers to provide guidelines in this regard which are being consulted for approval by Cabinet.