With the establishment of the Public Administration Ethics, Integrity and Disciplinary Technical Assistance Unit (the Unit) as at 1 April 2020, in terms of the Public Administration Management Act, 2014 (PAMA), the most urgent priority identified for the Unit, is the reduction/elimination of prolonged precautionary suspensions in the Public Service. The decentralised nature of the disciplinary process in national and provincial departments has led to a high number of disciplinary cases which are quite costly and as a result, the finalisation of these cases needs to be accelerated.
In their reporting, departments have presented the following as challenges which hamper on the efficient finalisation of cases:
Complexity of cases
Unavailability of investigators and Chairpersons for disciplinary hearings
Delegation of discipline to Labour Relations Practitioners
The engagement of management with Organised Labour
Interference by outside stakeholders
In terms of the Public Service Act, the Minister for the Public Service and Administration is responsible for establishing norms and standards relating to, amongst others, labour relations, integrity, ethics, conduct and anti-corruption in the public service. Furthermore, the PAMA reiterates the constitutional basic values and principles which govern public administration and further cement legislative obligations of the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) in respect of the public administration.
The Minister has to date, convened meetings with the Minister for Higher Education, Science and Innovation as well as the Premiers of the Northern Cape and the North West, addressing their shortcomings in complying with the timeframes for compliance concerning the finalisation of disciplinary cases. Meetings will still be held with the Minister of Correctional Services and with the Premiers of the Free State and Kwa-Zulu Natal. Further to this and in compliance with section 15 of the PAMA, the DPSA has, through the Unit, commenced with workshops which are aimed at assisting and equipping departments to efficiently and effectively finalise disciplinary cases. So far, workshops have been conducted in the North West and Kwa-Zulu Natal; with the Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and the Free State said to follow.
In addition to this, the Unit has, with the assistance of the Canadian Government as a donor, launched a project called Strengthening Ethics and Integrity Project (SEIP) to address amongst others, discipline management in the public service. An electronic data-capturing tool was developed for departments to use to capture relevant information pertaining to precautionary suspensions and to identify challenges that result in overdue precautionary suspensions. Departments are required to submit this data to the DPSA at the end of each month. The aim of this is to identify common challenges and to develop a general strategy based on practical examples to address backlogs by the end of this financial year, 31 March 2021. In resolving one of the challenges mentioned above, a pool of retired judges has been created to serve as Chairpersons in high profile disciplinary hearings and their continued commitment in assisting to ensure that justice is served is highly commendable and appreciated.
The Unit is in the process of finalising a Guide on Managing Discipline in the Public Service. The Guide will address the following issues: suspensions (when to suspend and how), interventions - the role to be played by executive authorities for purposes of accountability, etc. Once finalised, the Guide will be officially launched.