Dear Corruption Watch,
More than 50 people in the government department for which I work have clouds of corruption following them around. Many of them, as evidence mounts, are resigning before they can be charged or disciplinary procedures initiated against them. If they continue their behaviour in their next positions a corrupt public services becomes more entrenched. What can be done?
What you describe is a matter of serious concern to Corruption Watch and others working to clean up the public sector. It is vital to prevent the re-employment of public officials suspected of corruption who can continue to abuse their positions.
The Public Service Act tries to address this problem, but has not gone far enough. If an employee in the public service is alleged to have committed serious misconduct and then applies for a position in a new department, the Act provides that the new department may institute or continue disciplinary steps against the employee for misconduct in his or her previous post. And if the head of the old department requests it, the new must institute or continue the disciplinary steps against the employee.
There are two main shortcomings with the current law. There are no mechanisms for ensuring that the new department knows of the alleged misconduct before hiring the employee. Second, even if the new department was aware of the allegations, it is not compulsory for the new department to continue the investigation or disciplinary proceedings when it hires unless requested by the former department. The former department often won’t care to pursue complaints after the employee has resigned, and would not know of that employee’s re-employment in the public sector.
The draft Public Administration Management Bill currently before Parliament and open for public comment (until 27 June 2013) tries to address these problems. It requires employees to disclose any pending or incomplete investigations or disciplinary procedures against them when applying for jobs in the public sector. But like the Public Service Act, it does not oblige the new department to persist in the investigation or disciplinary procedure in every case – again, compulsory only if the old department makes a request. And there remains the obvious risk that the employee will not disclose the allegations of misconduct, so that the new department will be none the wiser.
The Bill also creates a new “Anticorruption Bureau”, with its own powers to investigate corruption and institute disciplinary proceedings against public sector employees. It also provides for HODs to refer allegations of corruption to it for investigation. But the scope of the bureau’s power, when this must be exercised, and how it relates to the responsibilities of HODs, remain poorly defined in the Bill.
There seem to be at least two ways to strengthen the Bill and lock the revolving-door against suspected corrupt officials.
The first step would be to make it compulsory in all cases for the hiring department, or the Anticorruption Bureau, to institute or continue the disciplinary steps where the employee has pending allegations of misconduct against him or her in the public sector.
The second step would be to create a database of all pending complaints and charges of misconduct against employees in the public sector, which departments must check when hiring. This database could be maintained by the Anticorruption Bureau. Access to it would have to be restricted to protect employees from defamation – especially in cases where no formal charges have been laid. But the disclosure of complaints against an employee from a former employer to a prospective employer is permissible under our law (as “a qualified privilege”), and may well permit such a database.
Dear Corruption Watch,