Minister of Public Service and Administration Ayanda Dlodlo has called on Parliament to summon ministers whose departments are refusing to comply with her request for access to information about employees doing business with government.
Dlodlo told Parliament’s portfolio committee on public service and administration this week that only 22 of 136 government departments, both provincial and national, had complied with her department’s request for information.
The information Dlodlo seeks will allow her department to establish how many public servants are doing business with the state.
The minister had revealed to the committee in September that as of March this year, 679 public servants were doing business with the state in comparison with 580 in February of 2017.
The department was not able to provide the committee with the value of the business being conducted with the public servants, but undertook to work on getting the figure.
Director-general of the department, professor Richard Levin, told City Press that it was just a matter of a time before circulars would be issued to government departments, informing them that the public service and administration department planned to “exercise its rights”.
“Section 6 of the Public Service Act actually criminalises non-responsiveness to information requests by the department. So when we request information there is an obligation with a possible criminal sanction if the information is not forthcoming. There is a culture of ignoring instructions from central departments,” Levin told the committee.
The section Levin referred to reads: “Any employee who wilfully or in a grossly negligent manner fails to furnish documents or information as contemplated in subsection (1) or section 3(6)(b), shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment not exceeding 12 months.”
Dlodlo also took issue with National Treasury who, she said, took a decision in September to stop providing her department with the ID numbers of public service employees, citing its interpretation of the Protection of Personal Information Act.
The ID numbers assist the department in monitoring registration on the Central Supplier Database. Treasury told the department that in future, data would be provided directly to the database after new business rules were drafted to apply in the extraction of data. This will only take effect at the end of December.
In March this year Treasury found that 15 070 public servants were registered on the Central Supplier Database, but only 679 were actually conducting business with an organ of state.
“I think I can respectfully say that the National Treasury has got it wrong. We are the employer or the employer representative,” Dlodlo said.
“If you read the Constitution and you read the Public Service Act you will see that they have a duty and a responsibility to provide us with the information requested. I have raised it with the minister this morning in cabinet and he was taken aback, but that should be followed up with a formal letter.”
Dlodlo also implored the committee to use its oversight powers to summon ministers who were not doing their part.
“We could play hardball as well and take matters up in a different way to get the information before December, but I think at some point this portfolio committee also needs to take the bull by the horns.
“At some point you need to call ministers in to come and account to this portfolio committee on some of the issues that we try to assist in finalising from a disciplinary perspective, along with what we are talking about here today. The one thing we must also remember is that I am not a superminister.
“Sometimes it is difficult to get cooperation and I would really ask this committee to not fear to call people in to come and account. We can give you the number of letters which were given to departments, we can give you regulations that speak to this and we can give you information that comes from the Public Service Commission with regard to this whole thing.
“Everybody is accountable to the portfolio committee. It would be much more helpful for us as a department if you called people in to come and account.”