The suspension of bureaucrats suspected of misconduct or corruption is not a penalty but a stage in an investigation.
So it is disappointing and dangerous when the success in fighting corruption is measured by the number of suspensions.
The new administration has seen more suspensions of bureaucrats for corruption in 100 days than the old had in 10 years, the Mail & Guardian reported last month.
But suspension is not a sanction: it precedes the finalisation of an investigation or the holding of a disciplinary hearing. It is malicious to pronounce that, based on the number of suspended bureaucrats for corruption, the new administration is being successful in rooting out corruption.
The argument presumes that those workers who are under investigation for corruption are already found guilty. If so, the investigation is just window-dressing.
The reality is that it will take the new administration 10 years to resolve the backlog of cases it already has. While these cases are not resolved, taxpayers will pay workers who are sitting at home doing nothing.
The government will not replace those workers because they are still on their payroll; and it will not use temporary workers because it cannot have Cosatu breathing down its neck — and probably does not have the budget for temporary workers anyway. (At least, that is the argument the government will advance when it is unable to deal with the matter.)
The remaining workers will be overworked and unable to perform optimally. And without any doubt the casualty will be the poor citizens.
In fact, in 100 days, the new administration has paralysed the functioning of the public service and has not been cost effective because it has more workers on its payroll than are in the workplace.
Perhaps the old administration realised that suspending bureaucrats for long periods was hurting service delivery: the awards and judgments favoured workers on procedural unfairness because government employees appear before disciplinary hearings after lengthy periods and cases are not resolved within a reasonable time period, as required by law.
The new administration should not suspend bureaucrats for statistical purposes. And it should not pre-empt the outcome of investigations because these can go either way.
For instance, the defence minister — before the completion of an investigation — said members of the South African National Defence Union involved in protests would be dismissed. I agree that the march might have been illegal, but why could the minister not let due process take place before making an announcement?
If that reflects the new administration’s attitude to workers’ issues, this is worrying. And if the government is winning the fight against corruption in the public service, more bureaucrats must be convicted rather than being given huge golden handshakes to quit.