Advocate Nkahloleng Phasha, chief director of legal services in the national Department of Labour, was suspended in October 2011, for reasons not publicly known. He returned to work in March 2015. In the 40 months in between, Phasha earned his full monthly salary of around R82 000, while sitting at home – a cost of over R3-million to the taxpaper.

Although Phasha was ultimately acquitted of charges against him – a labour spokesperson said there was not enough evidence – the Department of Labour has admitted that it could have handled the disciplinary process better. As the custodian of labour issues, the department is our zero for the week for failing to set the example in how to deal swiftly and efficiently with employee matters, for not sticking to its own policies, and for abusing taxpayers’ money.

Even more disturbing is the revelation that Phasha was one of 16 officials suspended for lengthy terms on full pay by the department, a development that has cost taxpayers over R5.2-million, according to City Press.

In terms of the government’s senior management service handbook, which sets terms and conditions for senior officials in the public service, the employer must hold a disciplinary hearing for employees on suspension or precautionary suspension, within 60 days. The chairperson of the hearing must decide on any further postponements.

But Phasha himself didn’t help the process, according to Ian Hollis, the DA’s shadow minister for labour. In a statement Hollis claimed that Phasha had fired his lawyers twice, was absent without leave from a CCMA arbitration meeting, and used various stalling tactics to delay the completion of the disciplinary process.

“It is unacceptable that ordinary taxpaying South Africans are footing the bill for a suspended employee's salary,” Hollis concluded.

The Department of Labour is our zero this week for keeping a top official on full pay suspension for over three years, at a cost of more than R3-million to taxpayers. He was one of 16 top labour officials suspended on full pay, and taxpayers have had to cough up over R5.2-million to cover their salaries.