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New Unit to fast-track disciplinary cases in the public service

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The newly established Public Administration Ethics, Integrity, and Disciplinary Technical Assistance Unit, will prioritize to finalize disciplinary cases in the public service space within an acceptable period.

Public Service and Administration Minister, Mr Senzo Mchunu, made the announcement recently that the most urgent priority identified for the Unit is the reduction/elimination of prolonged precautionary suspensions in the Public Service.

“The decentralized 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 finalization of these cases needs to be accelerated,” he said.

The Unit was established in April this year in terms of the Public Administration Management Act, 2014 (PAMA).

According to the norm in the public service, disciplinary cases are expected to be finalized within three months (90 days) of initiation of the disciplinary process.

While a substantial number of disciplinary cases are being resolved within three months after the initiation of the disciplinary process, of concern, is that a large number of disciplinary cases are finalized between four and 12 months.

In terms of the Public Service Act, Minister Mchunu is responsible for establishing norms and standards relating to, amongst others, labour relations, integrity, ethics, conduct, and anti-corruption in the public service.

The Minister has to date, convened meetings with Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, both the Premiers of the Northern Cape and North West provinces, addressing their shortcomings in complying with the timeframes for compliance concerning the finalization of disciplinary cases.

Other meetings with Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, the Premiers of both Kwazulu-Natal and the Free State provinces will be held soon.

The DPSA has since commenced with workshops, which are aimed at assisting and equipping departments to effectively finalize disciplinary cases.

While the workshops have been conducted in the North-West and Kwazulu-Natal, several more others have been scheduled to take place in the Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and the Free State.

Challenges faced by Departments

Some of the challenges identified by departments in finalizing cases include the complexity of cases; unavailability of investigators and chairpersons for disciplinary hearings; delegation of discipline to labour relations practitioners; the engagement of management with organized labour and; interference by outside stakeholders.

Partnership with the Canadian Government

In an effort to address discipline management in the public service, the Unit has, through the assistance of the Canadian Government as a donor unveiled a project known as Strengthening Ethics and Integrity Project (SEIP).

An electronic data-capturing tool was developed for departments to utilize in capturing relevant information relating to precautionary suspensions and to identify challenges that result in overdue precautionary suspensions.

Therefore, departments are required to submit the data to the DPSA at the end of each month.

The main aim 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.

As a result, a team comprising of retired judges has been assembled to serve as Chairpersons in high profile disciplinary hearings.

The Public Administration Ethics, Integrity and Disciplinary Technical Assistance Unit is in the process of finalizing a guide on managing discipline in the public service space.

The guide will address issues such as suspensions (when to suspend and how), interventions – the role to be played by executive authorities for purposes of accountability to mention but a few.