new minister has hard task

THOUGH Cosatu's running battles with the administration of former president Thabo Mbeki were legendary, the labour federation's major frustration was former public service and administrations minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi.

THOUGH Cosatu's running battles with the administration of former president Thabo Mbeki were legendary, the labour federation's major frustration was former public service and administrations minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi.

Fraser-Moleketi refused to be intimidated by Cosatu affiliates and refused to approve demands for double digit salary increases even when the country's economy was at its longest positive growth trajectory.

During the worst global financial crisis in 50 years, her replacement, Richard Baloyi, has blown her argument out of the window that the state could not afford these salary increases and approved double digit salary increases for public service workers across the board.

But first the minister has to clean up a R3billion bungle in the implementation of the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) and ensure that no more mistakes happen as the government implements the remainder of the R17billion agreement.

The Financial Mail recently reported that the government had to budget for an additional R1billion a year for the next three years because of the botched implementation of the OSD.

The weekly finance magazine quoted national Treasury budget office head Kuben Naidoo admitting that the botched implementation of the pay enhancement system in the nursing sector would cost the government an extra R3billion.

Initially, increases were approved for specialist nurses, like midwives or those in intensive care units, but provincial authorities implemented the increases across the board, costing an additional R1billion a year for three years.

When OSD was introduced for specialist nurses, it increased entry-level salaries of certain categories from R48000 to R84000 a year, the report said.

The Health Department has taken the matter to court in a bid to recover incorrectly paid amounts and the unions are appealing in the labour court.

At the height of the dispute over OSD, Cosatu president S'dumo Dlamini told Sowetan that the union was pleased with the manner it related to the new minister.

Baloyi has been an MP since 1999 and was serving in the portfolio committee for the public service and administration during the Mbeki era.

He is part of the Limpopo dynasty that emerged after the December 2007 ANC elective conference with an activism background from the Northern Transvaal structures of the United Democratic Front.

In other departmental aspects, Baloyi inherits a National Anti-corruption Hotline that has recovered more than R100million over the past five years.

The Public Service Commission, which manages the hotline, said it had referred more than 6000 cases of corruption to various departments by September 2009. It will be Baloyi's job to encourage fellow cabinet ministers to follow through by investigating accused officials.

Chairperson of the Public Service Commission Stan Sangweni recently told the media: "The PSC is concerned about the ability of departments to investigate cases referred to them given the poor track record regarding feedback and the conclusion of cases.

"The fact that calls to the hotline are increasing might lead to further frustration by callers if their cases are not investigated, which will have a negative impact on the credibility of the National Anti-corruption Hotline."

To this Baloyi told the media he was confident that the departments would investigate the cases.

"Only 14 government officials had been arrested, while another six cases were pending for this year.

"As a result of the successful investigations 201 officials were found guilty of misconduct. Of these cases 29 officials were suspended, 112 officials were given final written warnings and 60 officials were dismissed."

Last week Baloyi entered another realm when he claimed the recent purchase of cars in excess of R1million by ministers was necessary.

"Because the work of ministers includes travelling, the tools at their disposal include motor vehicles. As government we want to stress that motor vehicles are not the personal property of the ministers.

"There is a view that some of the purchases were exorbitant, given the current economic conditions, but this does not make the purchases illegal or unethical."

The minister is also charged with changing the current financial disclosure framework for members of senior management in the government to require their spouses to declare their business interests.

This follows a revelation by the auditor-general that R44,2million had been spent on provincial government contracts awarded to companies of spouses of officials between April 1 2005 and January 31 2007.

An additional R2million had been paid out to their companies during the 2005-06 financial year.

Auditor-general Terence Nombembe said more than 2000 public servants awarded contracts worth more than R600million to their family members.

Baloyi's headaches have also been increased by a monitor on unnecessary expenditure run by the opposition Democratic Alliance which now stands at about R400million.

With so many responsibilities on his shoulders, it is too early to judge whether Baloyi will muster enough resolve to stand against the unions and deliver a Soccer World Cup free of strikes by public service workers.