In part one of our series we introduced the Public Administration Management Act, and part two highlighted positive and negative reactions to its enactment.

Part three gives more detail on the Public Administration Ethics, Integrity and Disciplinary Technical Assistance Unit, which is established in chapter six of the PAM Act – it will aim to “provide technical assistance and support to institutions in all spheres of government regarding the management of ethics, integrity and disciplinary matters relating to misconduct in the public administration”.

It will also develop the required norms and standards on integrity, ethics, conduct and discipline in the public administration. In cases where systemic weaknesses are identified, it may intervene.

Ultimately, the unit aims to “promote and enhance good ethics and integrity within the public administration”. It has authority in all three tiers of government – in national departments or national government components; premiers’ offices, provincial departments or provincial government components; and municipalities.

As encouraging as this sounds, there are still voices of doubt. “Although the Act provides for the creation of an integrity unit which will be responsible for the enforcement of this Act,” states the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU), “there seems to be no willingness by the state to put in place monitoring mechanisms of other legislation in the country.”

The union refers to the ministerial handbook, and specifically the flagrant purchase of expensive cars, in this regard.

Corruption Watch agrees with SAMWU’s view – currently there are a number of related pieces of legislation which have been carefully and conscientiously drafted. Clearly the intention to combat corruption is there – but a strong commitment to implement the laws is not. As CW reads the PAM Act, no extraordinary mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that the integrity unit is properly capacitated or free from political control, including freedom to sanction high-ranking officials.

The PAM Act also states that the head of the integrity unit will be appointed in terms of the Public Service Act, which confers this power of appointment on the executive authority. However, given the instability in leadership and the current state of Institutions whose leadership is determined by the executive authority – such institutions include the NPA, SIU and the Hawks – we can’t help but question whether this power will not only undermine the legislation, but also undermine the effectiveness of the unit. .

Clamping down on corruption

The PAM Act makes a strong statement about the disclosure of financial interests, and doing business with the state. In terms of the latter, the Act is unequivocal – an employee may not a) conduct business with the state, or b) be a director of a public or private company conducting business with the state.

Employees who contravene these two requirements may be fined and/or imprisoned, or fired.

The integrity unit will help to build the capacity to deal effectively and efficiently with such incidents of misconduct, and, where appropriate, will assist government departments with disciplinary proceedings. It will also identify systemic weaknesses in the government’s oversight of ethics, integrity, conduct and discipline.

The Act also directs any institution dealing with misconduct to ensure that it deals with such matters without undue delay. The head of these institutions is further directed to report on the outcome of investigations and disciplinary procedures to the integrity unit. The Act creates an obligation on the police to investigate any acts of corruption – it states that on discovery, an act of corruption must be immediately reported to the police so that an appropriate investigation may be launched in terms of any applicable law.

In our March 2014 submissions on the PAM Bill to Parliament’s portfolio committee on public service and administration, we expressed our disappointment at the scrapping of an anti-corruption bureau as it was envisioned and proposed in the initial PAM Bill. We expressed our concern that the bureau was to be replaced with a unit that is in essence responsible for technical support. We contested that power should be conferred on the bureau to conduct investigations and disciplinary hearings of corruption-related misconduct on its own initiative. The power, or lack thereof, to implement recommendations or pursue sanctions is a concern that must be raised.

The head of the integrity unit will report to the public service and administration minister – currently Collins Chabane – who will in turn report twice-yearly to Parliament.

Unit’s establishment already in progress

Speaking to the press, public service and administration director-general Mashwahle Diphofa said the department would finish the groundwork for the unit within the 2015/16 financial year.

"The department has, in fact, already started laying a foundation for this unit by creating a centralised pool of internal experts to help departments with the handling of cases of employees placed on precautionary suspension," he told Business Day.

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Excerpt
Part three of our series on the Public Administration Management Act takes a closer look at the proposed ethics and integrity unit which is provided for in the legislation. The unit has authority in all tiers of government, but how extensive are its powers to implement recommendations or pursue sanctions?