Scopa tightens screws on 'moonlighting'

THE current situation in which the government gives business to private companies whose directors also work for the state is to come to an end.

The decision to stop this practice is to be taken next week by members of Parliament's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) - the watchdog committee that holds government accountable on how it spends taxpayers' money.

"We are suggesting that the law be amended. The Public Service Commission will be asked to set up restrictions on doing business with government where an official is a company director," a member of the committee said yesterday.

Scopa will also endorse a resolution holding directors-general of government departments accountable for any "moonlighting" officials.

A source said Scopa wanted Parliament to tighten up the Public Service Act. The act currently says unless permission is granted, every government official has to place the whole of his time at the disposal of the state.

A scandal erupted in August this year when auditor-general Terrence Nombembe revealed that 2319 government officials had connections to companies that did business with the government - sometimes doing business with their own departments.

Scopa's move is aimed at putting a stop to confusion around directors-general like Duncan Hindle of the basic education department. Last month, Hindle defended former school nutrition programme director Cynthia Mpati, who benefitted from a R30million textbook tender awarded to her company by the Department of Education.

Mpati, who now works for the KwaZulu-Natal education department, was a shareholder of Afribooks, which won the contract, and also a director of the company that owned Afribooks.

She failed to mention her connection to Afribooks on the compulsory financial disclosure form.

Hindle told Parliament at the time that government officials did not need permission to hold shares in a company or to be company directors. They only needed permission to do freelance work.