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Corruption has become ‘endemic’ across all three spheres of government, says PSC

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The Public Service Commission (PSC) released its Pulse of the Public Service quarterly report on Tuesday (20 December) and it confirms what most South Africans already know: that corruption and waste are shot through the public sector.

“Corruption has become endemic across three spheres of the South African government and has permeated across all spheres of government. It undermines democracy and public trust in government and negatively impact state services and thus community and social development,” says the report.

It echoes the Zondo Commission’s findings, detailed in eight volumes, of state capture and institutionalised corruption in the public sector.

Read: Construction is among public sector ‘hotspots’ for corruption

“One of the key issues is the issuing of unlawful instructions by Executive Authorities (EAs) and some senior managers with influential positions in government,” adds the PSC report. “When President Cyril Ramaphosa testified at the Zondo Commission in August 2021, one of the admissions he made was that many competent and highly skilled state officials either left the Public Service or were side-lined if they refused to perform certain illegal instructions.”

Read:

Key issues

Releasing the report to the media on Tuesday, PSC Commissioner Anele Gxoyiya outlined some of the key issues hindering smooth performance in the public sector.

These include managers making unlawful decisions and then claiming they did not know the law, or were acting on the advice of officials (as happened in the Life Esidimeni tragedy, where 141 patients with mental health problems died in undignified conditions); toxic organisational cultures; appointing incompetent people to key positions; continuous restructuring; low staff morale; lack of support from some seniors; budget cuts; and lack of passion for work.

Read: SA’s handle on public sector corruption no better than it was 10 years ago

Another problem highlighted in the report is the lack of consequences for those performing poorly at work.

How to fix?

Among the solutions recommended by the PSC are:

  • Implementing merit-based recruitment, promotions, transfers and secondments;
  • Prohibiting political considerations or involvement in the recruitment, transfer or appointment of senior managers, or limiting political interference when dealing with heads of department appointments;
  • Prioritising development for senior managers in terms of time and other types of support, such as constructive feedback, training and capacity;
  • Developing a ‘holistic’ performance reward framework so that employees can feel appreciated, recognised and supported; and
  • Institutionalising the constitutional values and principles as a basis to build a professional and conducive public service work environment.

Asked whether the PSC would get involved in the appointment of a new Eskom CEO to replace outgoing CEO André de Ruyter, Gxoyiya said it would be happy to advise if asked to do so.

Further mechanisms should be put in place to deal with the underlying causes of the factors inhibiting optimal performance – including support for incompetent and non-supportive supervisors, validating good employees to boost morale and productivity, delegating decision-making and programme implementation, setting realistic targets within the constraints of budget and capacity limitations, and preventing tensions at the political-administrative interface.

Impact

When it comes to non-payment of suppliers, the Department of Health is by far the biggest offender with nearly R74 million owed to 2 929 suppliers at the end of September 2022.

In total, nearly R92 million is owed across all government departments to 3 454 suppliers.

“The late payments and non-payment of suppliers by departments has been an on-going problem in the public service which is indicative of the lack of compliance to the regulations,” said Gxoyiya.

Non-payment of invoices was life threatening to SMMEs, many of which are forced to close down or suffer financial blacklisting as a result.

Particularly disconcerting was the rise in unpaid invoices between June and September 2022 from 959 to 3 454 – the departments of health and tourism being the main culprits.

Also receiving a rap on the knuckles for late submissions of reports to the PSC were the departments of health and agriculture, land reform and rural development. “The late-submission of the exception reports by departments shows disregard for their legal obligations and the late or non-payment by departments demonstrates little care for the plight of small businesses and their struggles,” says the PSC.

At the provincial level, the Eastern Cape is the most delinquent in paying suppliers, with more than R2 billion outstanding to 9 909 suppliers at the end of September.

Next was Gauteng, with R1.3 billion owed to 7 791 suppliers.

In total, more than R4.3 billion is owed to some 27 000 suppliers.

Reasons cited for the late or non-payment of suppliers were lack of IT infrastructure to track invoices, a lack of financial delegations, and unrecorded invoices.

The total number of complaints received by the National Anti-Corruption Hotline in the September 2022 quarter was 260 for national departments, 148 for provinces and 331 for public entities.

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