Public servants urged to declare assets as lifestyle auditors start looking around

You better disclose, because we are checking.”

This is the warning by chief director of the public administration ethics, integrity and disciplinary technical assistance unit (TAU), Dr Salomon Hoogenraad-Vermaak, to more than a million public servants as lifestyle audits get under way.

In his 2018 state of the nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the time had come to conduct lifestyle audits on all “people who occupy positions of responsibility, starting with members of the executive”.

The following year, Ramaphosa issued a proclamation to establish the department which Hoogenraad-Vermaak now heads.

Hoogenraad-Vermaak, who was part of a task team that decided how lifestyle audits will be conducted on 1.3-million public servants, said the process officially kicked off on April 1 2021, after the minister made the process compulsory.

“In October we sent departments a circular and said at the end of January we want to see how far you are with implementation of the lifestyle audits. We found that 16 national departments did audits,” he told TimesLIVE.

The process got under way with lifestyle reviews which were followed by the verification of information, looking at databases. Where wrongdoing was picked up, it was referred for further investigation.

“Some of them are still busy with the reviews but at a national level we received feedback from only one department [small business and development] which investigated seven colleagues who were accused of fraud. Five have been dismissed,” he said.

Hoogenraad-Vermaak said 17 provincial departments responded.

“We found that of the 17 provincial departments in the Western Cape the department of health and the provincial treasury found individuals who needed to be investigated.

“There are 743 non-senior managers in the department of health who were referred to investigations for conflict of interest — not to say that they are criminals.

“In the provincial treasury, three senior managers were referred for investigation,” he said.

Conducting lifestyle audits is not easy, he admitted.

“Before starting with lifestyle audits, you need to prepare the environment and it’s not a quick thing.”

Hoogenraad-Vermaak said the department began its work by amending the public service regulations to allow it to take action against wrongdoing.

“We needed ethics officers and ethics committees which we call ethics infrastructure …”

In addition, he said they needed to bring into the public service regulations an obligation to report wrongdoing and provide protection for whistle-blowers.

He explained: “The department also had to look where it’s allowed to conduct lifestyle audits — covered in the Public Service Act which says the head of a department shall analyse ethics and corruption risks as part of the departments’ risk management.”

Thereafter, they need to develop and implement an ethics management strategy that deters unethical conduct and acts on corruption.

“Lifestyle audit is just a risk management tool which you perform to establish whether a person is living beyond his or her means, has unexplained wealth or if there are other conflicts. The DPSA’s mandate only extends to the public service, which is the national and provincial departments. Not included are SOEs, the cabinet, premiers and mayors.”

The department is busy with the Public Administration Management Act which will allow it to move into municipalities, said Hoogenraad-Vermaak.

»Public servants urged to declare assets as lifestyle auditors start looking around«

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