Govt employees' R21m theft

Government employees stole more than R21-million from the state in the last financial year, with senior managers with financial responsibilities the biggest culprits.

This emerges from the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) annual report on financial misconduct in government, which was released this week.

The report shows that the government managed to recover less than half the plundered assets—about R8,8-million—from employees found guilty of financial misconduct. The fact that the justice and correctional services departments were the hardest hit of government departments will also not inspire public confidence.

The cases investigated include bribery, wasteful expenditure, abuse of government vehicles and petrol cards, telephone abuse and gross negligence, including expenditure that was not approved by the relevant principals.

There were 868 reported cases, fewer than the 1042 cases reported in the previous financial year, but almost double the number reported in the 2001-2002 financial year.

The most frequent financial misconduct was fraud, including fraudulent social grants and subsistence and travel claims. Altogether, 428 cases of fraud were investigated by departments.

The second-most-common form of misconduct was the theft of petrol, laptops, state funds, food and petty cash.

In most cases (34,4%) government employees received final written warnings, while dismissal was the second-most-prevalent sanction.

But the PSC raised the alarm because of the reluctance of departments to institute criminal action against those found guilty in internal disciplinary hearings.

“The fact that departments were not willing to divulge the reasons for not taking criminal action could point to undue leniency being given to officials because of compassionate reasons,” the report states.

The department of justice and constitutional development reported the highest number of cases of financial misconduct (113), while the Department of Correctional Services came in second with 54 reported cases.

Thirteen departments, including the Treasury, the National Prosecuting Authority and the presidency, did not report any financial misconduct to the PSC.

At the provincial level, KwaZulu-Natal reported the highest number of cases of financial misconduct, with the Western Cape in second place, although, in terms of value, the Western Cape leads the pack.
The province initially lost about R3,5-million through financial misconduct in the 2007-2008 financial year. It managed to recover about R2,1-million.

“The reporting of a high number of cases is not necessarily a bad thing, as this may be indicative of tighter controls and a better-developed risk-management approach,” states the report.

The province with the lowest number of reported cases is the Northern Cape, with eight.

The PSC says the increase in the percentage of senior managers guilty of misconduct indicates a greater propensity for wrongdoing.

“This is a worrying trend given that the senior management service plays a critical role in the promotion and maintenance of sound financial management and the members are the primary stewards of public resources,” it says.

Equal numbers of women and men were found guilty of financial misconduct.

The report refers to an Australian study that suggests women who commit white-collar crime are more likely to do so because of family needs than to fund high living, which is the case with their male counterparts.

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