Public Service Commission probe into nepotism scandal has collapsed before it started

Last week we welcomed the Chairperson of the Public Service Commission (PSC), advocate Richard Sizani’s announcement that the state attorney has appointed advocate Smanga Sethene from the Johannesburg Bar to investigate allegations that the Director-General (DG) Dovhani Mamphiswana chaired a panel that appointed the mother of his child to the position of Chief Director for Ethics.

However, we have now obtained correspondence dated 29 January from George Mashamba, who is the PSC Commissioner for Limpopo and also chairperson of the ANC’s so-called “integrity commission,” in which he criticizes Sizani for choosing a path “that will create serious problems for the Public Service Commission.” In his letter to Sizani, Mashamba also states that a “majority of [the PSC’s 14] commissioners have already called for a special plenary meeting…[which is] the highest decision making body of the Commission”.

A day later, on 30 January, Sizani informed all commissioners that a special plenary will indeed take place on 6 February to discuss “the handling of allegations of nepotism in the filling of the post Chief Director: Professional Ethics”.

It thus appears that the supposed investigation into Mamphiswana has collapsed even before it started.

The DG’s alleged nepotism has now plunged the PSC into a deep crisis, with commissioners apparently unable to even agree on how to react to the scandal. It is unclear at this stage what exactly motivated Mashamba’s call for Sizani to halt the investigation. However, the DA will continue to monitor the disarray at our most esteemed public service institution until we get to the bottom of the crisis.

We also reiterate our stance that the PSC’s integrity must be protected at all costs. The allegations against Mamphiswana must be immediately investigated in an absolutely impartial manner. If he is found guilty, President Cyril Ramaphosa must make an example out of him by firing him at once.

What this entire saga also proves is that it is high time to fundamentally reform the PSC. It is outrageous that the President has the power to appoint the PSC DG, which led to Jacob Zuma appointing Mamphiswana in the first place. Instead, that power must be vested in the PSC itself. Additionally, the saga also shows that, under the current appointment process for commissioners, it is far too easy for the ANC to “deploy” its cadres to the PSC, which is supposed to be a wholly independent institution.

The DA’s pending Professional Public Service Bill will fix the PSC by making it entirely independent and giving it greater powers over public servants. The current crisis at the PSC is a warning that we dare not ignore. As Mashamba notes in his letter to Sizani: the meltdown at the Commission could cause it to “lose credibility not only in the eyes of the public service, but of the people of South Africa as a whole.” The DA calls on all other parties in Parliament to heed this warning of disarray at the PSC by supporting the DA’s upcoming legislation.