South African taxpayers are forking out for a public servant on suspension for 420 days

Finance minister Tito Mboweni is scheduled to present a special ’emergency’ budget on Wednesday (24 June), where he will table a new financial framework to respond to the coronavirus pandemic which has wreaked havoc on the local economy.

The public sector’s wage bill is expected to be on the agenda again, as it was in February.

The government’s wage bill accounts for the largest portion of the national budget at 34%. This means for every R1,000 government spends, R340 goes to employee compensation.

Data compiled by Africa Check provides an indication of how many civil servants the South African government employs.

The data shows that between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2019, the number of civil servants in South Africa grew from 1,780,553 to 2,108,125 – an increase of 327,572.

In his annual budget speech on 26 February 2020, Mboweni announced that the public wage bill would be reduced by R160 billion over the next three years.

This drew the ire of unions, who threatened “a national shutdown”. Public sector unions now want the minister to reverse course completely – recommending that he use this week’s budget to walk back the cuts announced for 2020, and reinstate the previous agreement between government and workers from 2018.

Mboweni, on Friday, presented a National Treasury consultative document to the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac). In the document, seen by City Press, Mboweni  noted that “government spending has overtaken investment as a share of nominal GDP” and “much of this increase has been driven by the wage bill”.

He said that this is “squeezing out goods and services spend” at a time when “investment has begun to decline as an overall share following a resurgence in the 2000s”.

A Nedlac member told City Press that consultative engagements pointed to government “yet again biting the bullet on the public wage bill and announcing major cuts to salaries and benefits in the next three years”.

Employment stats

Public servants have generally continued to draw a salary during the Covid-19 pandemic that has brought the private sector to its knees as a result of a protracted lockdown period.

Stats SA published its latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the three months to March 2020 on Tuesday (23 June), revealing that the country’s unemployment rate rose in the first quarter of the year.

According to Stats SA, the official unemployment rate increased by 1.0 percentage point to 30.1% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the fourth quarter of 2019.

National Treasury forecasts that the impact of the virus, and resulting lockdown period, could lead to job losses of between 690,000 and 1.79 million. Nedbank meanwhile, forecasts that 1.6 million jobs will be shed in the country in 2020, with the bulk of the jobs lost in the first half of the year.

While South Africans continue to suffer job losses, DA member of parliament, Michele Clarke, noted on Monday (22 June) that hundreds of public servants continue to be a drain on the fiscus, with both provincial and national government departments having wasted more than R17 million paying salaries of suspended officials.

In reply to a DA Parliamentary question – which asked for details of public servants who have been on suspension for more than 60 days with full pay – minister of public service and administration, Senzo Mchunu, disclosed that South African taxpayers have been paying salaries for over 280 employees on lengthy suspensions.

Around 230 in provincial departments, and 50 in national departments.

The reasons for suspension range from allegations of corruption, bribery, endangering the lives of colleagues, kidnapping and gender-based violence, the DA said.

Notable examples include:

  • An educator in the Northern Cape education department, suspended on an allegation of sexually harassing a learner, has cost the department R303,374 as his suspension drags on for more than 420 days;
  • In the Eastern Cape education department, a principal has been on suspension for a year and eight months already. His suspension follows allegations of sexual harassment towards a learner, and his continued suspension has cost the department R880,887
  • The Director in of the office of the Premier in KwaZulu-Natal has now been suspended with pay for 11 months and 23 days while being investigated for theft – the suspension has cost taxpayers R1,002,857.

“This continued payment of the salaries of suspended individuals due to drawn out disciplinary processes is unacceptable and unsustainable, especially given the country’s lackluster economic performance and the already bloated public sector wage bill.

“The DA will not stand for this blatant abuse of taxpayers’ money and calls on the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) to put in place measures to ensure that suspensions do not exceed the prescribed time frames of 60 days for completion,” Clarke said.

“We cannot afford to waste large sums of money paying civil servants for sitting at home. It is in the interest of all that innocent employees are provided with a speedy hearing so that they can clear their names and return to work – while those who are guilty should be removed from their positions, and the vacancies filled with all due haste.”

Read: Government wages in the cross hairs ahead of Mboweni’s emergency budget

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South African taxpayers are forking out for a public servant on suspension for 420 days