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KZN government departments ducking and diving over requ...

South Africa

ACCOUNTABILITY

KZN government departments ducking and diving over requests for reports on fraud, corruption and malfeasance

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala during the roadblock monitoring adherence to the level 4 lockdown regulations at Marianhill Toll Plaza on May 04, 2020 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)
By Des Erasmus
20 Jan 2021 12

Most KwaZulu-Natal government departments and entities have ignored requests made by an ad hoc committee on investigations, constituted by the province’s legislature, which is looking into the reasons behind outstanding forensic reports on fraud, corruption and malfeasance, and a lack of implementation of recommendations found in investigative reports.

Of the responses received by the ad hoc committee before Wednesday’s sitting, the answers were described by chair Maggie Govender (ANC) as “inadequate” and “lacking in specifics”. 

The departments that submitted the poor responses were the Office of the Premier, the Department of Health, and the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs. 

Govender said that, given the failure to respond (by at least eight other departments — and entities such as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife), or poor responses, she had no other option but to submit a formal complaint to the leader of government business in the province, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, and the speaker of legislature, Nontembeko Boyce. 

Dube-Ncube was, until November 2020, the MEC for the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs. She has since moved to the provincial treasury as its MEC. 

Daily Maverick reported in October 2020 that the ad hoc committee into investigations, the first of its kind in the history of the KZN legislature, was mandated to look into the reasons behind dozens of incomplete investigations (either done internally or externally) into the squandering or looting of public money within government.

Time to clean up the rot in KZN – and for the new ad hoc committee to bare its teeth

Some progress reports on investigations submitted previously have lacked detail such as the amount in possible fraud that is under investigation, the names of those implicated, recommendations (consequence management) and the steps taken to implement recommendations. 

“Just a few minutes before this committee meeting, we received a response from the Department of Social Development,” an exasperated Govender told committee members during Wednesday’s meeting. 

“My level of frustration is such: We are not being taken seriously as this committee, and I thus had no option but to write to the leader of government business as well as the speaker.” 

The responses were expected to be filed with the committee by 18 January. 

“The quality of responses received is not up to standard. As an example, the Office of the Premier sent us an incomplete response and responded to only one resolution. They did not respond to the other three. 

“The Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs sent us a response [in which they] made continuous reference to annexures A and E, which covered entities. Those annexures were not even submitted. 

“The Department of Sport and Recreation did not respond to specific resolutions that we had sent them, and gave us one global, broad report, which does not address specific matters,” said Govender. 

She said the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs’ response had already been sent back to the department, and the same would be done with the others “because they are in the same vein”. 

Quipped Govender: “If my hair could get any greyer, it would,” adding that she was expecting a “flurry of responses now that we have lodged a complaint”. 

It was decided that departments would be “formally summoned” to present their responses. 

Committee member Francois Rodgers (DA) suggested that those responsible for the shoddiness should be “publicly reprimanded”. 

“We need to deal with corruption through the structures of legislature, and this is one of them,” he said. 

Rodgers said it was clear that there was no sense of urgency or importance for the departments, adding that some reports into allegations of malfeasance and corruption had been in progress for up to six years. 

A “line in the sand” had to be drawn, said Rogers, and the committee should employ the same techniques used in the National Assembly, where questioning could take days. “Maybe we should look at doing this when lockdown Level 3 is over,” he suggested. 

He said that when the departments and entities were called to appear before the committee, they should “not come with their entourages”. 

“We want senior and executive management, face-to-face.” 

Committee member Otto Kunene (IFP) asked if it was known with certainty that heads of departments were aware of what was needed by the committee. Replied Govender: “The HODs sign the responses.” 

Speaking about possible sanctions that the committee could impose on those seemingly indifferent to the requests, legal adviser Erik Rood said there was “very little” that could be done. 

“The chair of the inquiry [Govender] makes recommendations to [an] MEC and that MEC then takes the matters forward – or not.”

A departmental official is not in contempt if he or she does not comply with appearances. They can be reported, said Rood, and pressure can be placed on the MEC to take disciplinary action. 

“The MEC is ultimately responsible to legislature. Only the MEC can be held in contempt in terms of our standing rules. The accounting officer has certain reporting duties in terms of the PFMA [Public Finance Management Act], but in terms of both the Constitution and our rules, it is the executive which is accountable.”

He said that one of the rules on contempt was that a member (in this case the MEC) “[failing] to report or produce documents or to provide information to the House or any of its committees, when required to do so… It is quite a serious thing.”

It was resolved to write to MECs and HODs, and seek their cooperation instead of getting to the point of contempt, but explaining the possibility of contempt. 

As previously reported by Daily Maverick, officials and politicians have gone on record as saying that often, forensic investigations are deliberately thwarted within departments, entities and municipalities to protect the implicated. 

Govender alluded to this, saying there was a possibility that the non-response from some of the departments was an attempt to duck and dive. 

This is highly possible, given that the committee only has 12 months to complete its work, with six of those having already passed. 

According to its terms of reference, the committee has to report to the House and to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts every three months, and the first report has to be tabled within three months from the date of the establishment of the committee. DM

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All Comments 12

  • Should rub their noses in it publicly and name, blame and shame. We have to stop pussyfooting around the corrupt and/or stop wasting time/money.

    • Here I am battling to keep my company and its employees going, paying taxes and dealing with all the other red tape it takes to run a business in the sterl sector and all I see around me is non compliance and nobody in government seems to give a hoot. Its absolutely disgusting what government and cronies are getting away with and all that gets done is another commity gets setup to talk about it. This is the only country that I have lived in where they tell you how corrupt they are every day and nothing gets done about it. Makes me think I’m the stupid one for sticking to the law

  • Name and shame the offending departments, their MECs and senior officials. The power of the press can be awe inspiring if applied correctly and strategically !

    • I tried to tell News24 that. They said that they were doing a good job. Gave me a short list of articles to prove it. Jar-well-no-fine. Democracy needs to be ACTIVELY ENCOURAGED BY THE PRESS! With a proper democratic government in SA we would do much better.

  • Half the Committee’s life is over, and I only hear of them now. They have no teeth, no respect and little time. Set up to fail. Tch!

  • Many a times departments and entities present incomplete reports, provide responses that dont answer the question asked, etc. Parliament has very little capability to enforce accountability to it. No shows and non-compliance are grudgingly accepted. Changing budget, voting down a budget and/or withholding voting on a budget at all is nearly the only means to Parliament to enforce their requests, but even this is not perfect as many departments dont adhere to their approved budgets anyway. Maybe a member’s bill could be introduced in parliament to cover all national and provincial government departments and entities that report to parliament(s), which will give more “teeth” to parliament in respect of accountability: from formally censuring an MEC and/or Minister to actual impeaching that MEC and/or Minister, with the possibility that that impeached person are immediately removed from public office can then no longer hold any public office for a set period of time (say 5 years). It would thus be incumbent on these political office bearers to ensure the administrative staff in departments and entities (whose employment are governed by other acts) respond properly to the relevant parliaments.

    • Dream on Sarel …. This what the anc lives on – never acknowledge that something is wrong or amiss. And the voters see no alternative? I heard somewhere – Even if the bee could explain to the fly why pollen is better than sh1t, the fly would not understand.

  • There might be a lot of reasons why the ad hoc committee doesn’t get a proper answer. The thing with this government and the attitude of these people is that they know there is no or very little consequence for them not doing their jobs! How many have ever been fired because of non performance? The only thing that may have happened is that they are sent to other countries as diplomats or moved to other departments. Never have any of them been fired and put out onto the street to find a job somewhere else. Why, because they wouldn’t be able to get a job anywhere in the private sector to do their damage! So we go round and round with the same people, purely for reason that there are not enough competent and I must add here HONEST competent people around.

  • Formal summonsing and public reprimands are all very well, pathetic but at least something, but when are we going to see people get fired (not just suspended on full pay), banned from public office ever again and thrown in jail without endless appeals, all at taxpayers expense?

  • When you have a leader that talks about corruption all the time, long before he even became president, but does nothing about it… what do one expect? Talk is cheap mr. President! Action is what matters….Bottomline, stop give these wannabee emotional speeches, because you have become a laughing stock. We need a President who can act, not hide behind his party crying “Unity”. A strong leader will result in strong leadership. But the ANC is simply a poop-poop show

  • Is the ANC leadership not embarrassed? Ashamed? Have they no pride at all? Are there no rules and consequences regarding employment? My late husband must be spinning in his grave. No wonder he was on an ANC hit-list!

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