MILLIONS of rands in State funds are being used to pay suspended Department of Health officials, some of whom have been away from work for close to seven years.

Last year, officials at the department’s head office said up to R1.5 million was used to pay the salaries and other benefits of officials who remained in their posts although they were suspended.

This amount was only for four suspended officials.

Now, in what the department’s Superintendent-General Dr Siva Pillay described as a backlog accumulated long before he took over, officials continue to draw salaries while they stay at home pending disciplinary hearings.

According to departmental officials, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, there was no system in place to keep track of cases.

“If supervisors choose not to bring them up, they are forgotten about.”

Suspended officials range from general assistants, senior officials, clerks, medical staff and even porters, a human resources officer said.

“They come from the head office, district offices, hospitals, clinics, and even satellite offices,” she said, adding that most cases never went beyond an initial hearing and postponement.

“There are too many loopholes in the system (and) no accountability by the managers,” the officer added.

In one case, close to R15 000 a month has been paid to an East London Hospital Complex pharmacist suspended for allegedly assaulting a supervisor in 2004.

According to a December 2010 payslip, the pharmacist took home R15 074 plus a R2 587 scarce skills allowance.

“His January salary, of which the gross amount is R19 835, has also been processed and he will be paid with the rest of the civil service next Friday,” the Dispatch was told.

In another case, a Cecilia Makiwane Hospital (CMH) stores clerk has been paid more than R700 000 over the past six years, since his suspension.

His payslip shows that in April 2009, he received a R417 131 backdated payment and another, of R61 387, the following month.

With a gross salary of R14 948 for December last year, the clerk – suspended on suspicion of theft – is also on the department’s system to be paid a salary next week.

Pillay said he was working to clear the backlog, and since taking office has processed 59 cases.

Of these, 38 employees have appealed to the MEC and remain suspended and at home. He said he was not able to quantify how many were on suspension and receiving salaries until an analysis had been completed.

“When I got to the department, I started a process of investigating cases of officials suspended for longer than 60 days without a hearing.”

He said more had come out of the woodwork, while other officials applied to the MEC to intervene.

Grahamstown-based watchdog the Public Service Accountability Monitor said delayed hearings and allowing people to sit at home while earning a salary, amounted to an injustice.

It also pointed to within the system.

Daygan Eagar, health researcher in the Monitoring and Research Programme, said:

“This has financial implications, and we’re talking millions here.

“Posts lie dormant in a clear waste of public funds and resources.”

The standing committee on health said policy was clearly being flouted at a huge cost to the province.

Chairperson Viola Mthongana said they were aware officials often went for long periods on suspension without any hearings.

“We cannot accept this. Who is doing their job while they earn a salary, and why?”

She said that for a cashstrapped department to neglect putting processes in place to prevent such things from happening was wrong.

The Democratic Alliance’s John Cupido called for accountability from departmental heads.

“The MEC and the head of department need to start doing what they were paid for, for the rest of the department to toe the line,” he said.

“The department has a budget deficit of over R3m. How can they afford to waste so much money, paying people who are not at work,” he asked.

Cupido said the need for development, hospitals and clinics should far outweigh the negligence that led to wastage. —

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