Cape Town - There was a growing chance that the government would change the law to stop the practice of suspending officials on full pay for long periods, Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi
said on Wednesday.
"This is a major challenge. There is a greater possibility of amending certain sections of the Public Service Act," Baloyi said after briefing MPs on the launch of a new departmental anti-corruption unit next week which will run for a trial five-month period.
He said changes might include making it compulsory to conduct a preliminary investigation before a public official is suspended to establish whether the charges were serious.
If so, tighter timeframes for concluding the ensuing disciplinary case would be imposed.
"You need to look at the provision for the suspension with pay as it is now. You might want to agree that before you suspend a person, a preliminary kind of investigation is carried out. We need to asses the prima facie case. So you look at the merit of that ... when does it merit suspension, what is the seriousness of this case.
"There has to be these things infused in our system of dealing with these things."
Baloyi said public service managers must be made to understand that suspension was not be an arbitrary mechanism and that where it was used, the case needed to be handled expeditiously.
"This protracted handling of discipline is because of not fast-tracking hearings. So the person suspended says: 'Why do I worry, I'm getting my money at the end of the day'.
"So we need to make sure that our managers don't do that. We need to centrally look at the whole issue of prosecution. So we look from on high from a public service point of view and we say this thing shall run and this case shall be concluded."
He said reviewing the disciplinary process would be one of the key tasks of the new anti-corruption unit to be launched next week. It formed part of efforts to centralise the fight against corruption in the public service, Baloyi said.
He said decentralisation would not see him interfering in the departments of other ministries, but rather reporting to cabinet and parliament if they failed to act against corruption.
President Jacob Zuma
has criticised the "roundabout" manner in which disciplinary action against state officials are handled and said it was unacceptable that suspects could spend more than a year on suspension with full pay.
Baloyi was briefing parliament on anti-graft measures for the second time in as many months. He took strong exception to criticism from opposition MPs who said the government did not need further measures, but proper implementation of existing ones.
The key to success was centralising the process, he said.
Baloyi said the unit would be launched with a "small" number of members, and after five months its structure would be reviewed to see what form it ultimately needed to take.