Are you witnessing corruption but don’t know what to do about it? Ask the team of Corruption Watch experts what to do by writing to: letters@businesstimes.co.za and mark your letter 'Dear Corruption Watch'.
 
Dear Corruption Watch,
 
I am unemployed and have been trying to find work at my local municipality. But I know the municipal manager only appoints his family members to positions within the municipality. These family members seem unqualified to do their jobs. Is this nepotism? Is nepotism a crime or is it punishable under labour law or some other law? Also, I have heard something about the Code of Conduct for Public Servants but would like to know if it is enforced. – Jobless
 
Dear Jobless, 
 
Nepotism or favouritism of family and friends in conferring offices or privileges without regard to merit – will often amount to corruption which is a criminal offence and punishable by imprisonment under the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, 2004.  This Act defines corruption broadly to cover abuses of public office for private gain, whether financial or in terms of status or honour.  Where a public official appoints his own family members, this may well result in financial gain for the public official as the household or family income increases. The official may also get kickbacks in the form of honour or status in his circle of friends, family and community – although, clearly, this form of kickbacks is harder to prove. 
 
But the appointment of family or friends will not always mean corruption. The person appointed may be the best or only person for the job. 
 
Even in these circumstances, however, the appointment may give rise to damaging conflicts of interest.  A public sector employee or official should not be influenced by personal considerations when doing his or her job – this results in decisions being made for the wrong reasons and not in the public interest. And, as your question demonstrates, the very perception of conflicts of interest erodes public trust.
 
The Code of Conduct for Public Servants that you mention applies at the national and provincial level.  Local government has its own Code of Conduct, which can be found as a Schedule to the Municipal Systems Act, 2000. The Local Government Code of Conduct sets out the standard of ethical conduct required of all municipal staff, which includes the municipal manager.  It states expressly that every staff member of the municipality: 
 
May not use their position or privileges as a staff member for private gain or to improperly benefit another person (section 4(1)(a));
 
May not exert or attempt to exert undue influence with a view to obtaining any appointment, promotion, privilege, advantage or benefit or for a family member, friend or associate (section 7(1)(a));   
 
Must act in the best interests of the municipality and in such a way that the credibility and integrity of  the municipality are not compromised (section 2(d));
 
Must report any suspected breaches of the Code to a superior without delay (section 13).
 
 
Any municipal staff member that breaches this Code must be dealt with in terms of the disciplinary procedures of the municipality set out in the Municipal Systems Act.  A breach of the Code is a ground for dismissal.  Other possible disciplinary steps are: suspension without pay for up to three months; demotion; transfer to another post; reduction in salary and benefits; or an appropriate fine.
 
These are all internal processes that should be followed in the municipality where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting nepotism or corruption.  This may require some further investigation.  To this end, we advise you first to approach the Municipal Council or the office of the Municipal Mayor.  We remind you that you can also approach any of the following bodies for assistance:
 
1. The Public Protector, who has the power to investigate and take action against any misconduct of a public body or official. The toll-free line is 0800 11 20 40 (toll-free), or send an email to registration2@pprotect.org.
 
2. The Public Service Anti-Corruption Hotline at 0800 701 701.  This toll-free, 24-hour hotline is specifically set up to address public sector corruption.  
 
3. Corruption Watch – you can register a complaint online 
 
Take a stand and report an incident of corruption. This article originally appeared in the Sunday Times Business Times on 4 November 2012.
 

 

Excerpt
Nepotism – or favouritism of family and friends in conferring offices or privileges without regard to merit – will often amount to corruption which is a criminal offence.