Tuesday, January 18

‘The intention to steal from the public purse is unforgivable’


The revelation in Parliament that thousands of public servants have been receiving social grants illegally every month shows that we still have a long way to go to instill a culture of ethics in public service.

Earlier this year, it was also discovered that around 16,000 employees on the government payroll received irregular payments from the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant. It is common knowledge that applicants with other sources of income do not qualify for this grant. It is also clear that those who receive income from the state are not eligible to apply.

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And yet they did. Some 17,000 people employed in the national and provincial government submitted applications in an attempt to supplement their salaries with money intended for the poor. Given the magnitude of the need in the country, one that our public servants know all too well, this intentional intention to steal from the public purse is unforgivable.

The government is now stepping up its efforts to prevent this type of abuse and to act against any member of the public service involved in wrongdoing.

This month, the government launched a new Public Administration Ethics, Integrity and Discipline Technical Assistance Unit. The unit will develop capacity within public agencies to institute disciplinary procedures in cases of misconduct and will cooperate with other state bodies to hold those responsible to account.

The unit will refer corruption cases to the government’s Anti-Corruption Task Force and follow up with departments to ensure that criminal cases involving public officials are translated into disciplinary cases. Working with the multi-agency Fusion Center, the unit will help identify employees in priority cases investigated by law enforcement authorities.

The unit will oversee the conduct of lifestyle audits of public service employees. When departments identify corruption and inexplicable wealth, the cases will be referred to the South African Police Service.

The new unit has already begun its work in earnest, helping to identify public servants involved in cases related to the Covid-19 acquisition, the Covid-19 special grant, and the Unemployment Insurance Fund fraud.

Cases of government officials referred by the Special Investigation Unit for disciplinary actions will be monitored by the unit to assess their progress.

Another important aspect of the Unit’s work will be the institutionalization of ethics and integrity in the ranks of the public service. Over the years, some public servants have considered that doing business with the State or profiting improperly from it is permissible for themselves, their friends and their families, provided there has been no illegality. We must do everything possible to change this attitude.

As we work to end corruption, there must be an equal focus on instilling ethical behavior, because what may not necessarily be illegal may be unethical and inappropriate for a public servant.

The new unit will establish norms and standards of ethics, integrity and conduct. It will also strengthen the ability of departments to discipline officials found guilty of misconduct. Last year, more than 200 employees were trained as presidents and initiators.

Building an ethical and capable state remains a focus of this administration.

As various scandals involving public officials illegally profiting from the state have shown, the process will be difficult and will take some time. However, we are committed to staying the course.

A capable state is the foundation for the achievement of all our national priorities. Without improving accountability and promoting ethical conduct, nothing can be accomplished.

The vast majority of our public servants are committed, respectful of the law and ethical.

The task before us is to work together to eradicate those who are not and correct the misconception that all employees in government are selfish or corrupt.

As Public Service Month draws to a close, I call upon all men and women who serve our country every day to re-commit to the values ​​of altruism and service, and to remember that their conduct must be both legal and ethical at all times.

Establishing this unit is another way we are working to end corruption in government and indeed in all spheres of South African life.


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