By ZINE GEORGE
Police have forced some Eastern Cape government officials to hand over documents as a groundbreaking project to digitise records takes off.
So far Eastern Cape education officials from four different districts refused to surrender personnel documents and police had to bring in locksmiths to unlock storerooms.
The department officially launched its digital migration project yesterday, which aims to end the slow pace of pension payouts and ghost teachers and pupils.
Addressing the media at the launch of the project at its West Bank warehouse yesterday, acting SG Sizakele Netshilaphala said records showed that of more than 4500 unclaimed pension payouts from the province, more than 75% were former education employees.
This was largely due to incomplete files across districts, while other files had gone missing because unauthorised people had been able to access them.
“Right now as the province, we have 4700 files at the state pension administration which have no claims submitted and 3600 of those are from education.
“This is a serious thing for us and it is something we want to address very quickly,” she said.
“The greatest pain we have as a department right now is people who leave the system but are not paid their leave gratuities. They are not paid their pensions.
“Those we would like to deal with as soon as possible because we have people who are cursing me. I don’t want to be cursed.
“It is not nice to work for a department for many years and then you exit the system but you can hardly buy bread because the department does not pay your leave gratuity because it did not submit your documents for pensions,” added Netshilaphala.
The project, which will run for two years, saw 44 trucks hit the road from Monday last week.
They intend to collect all personnel records from district offices and bring them to the warehouse in West Bank, where new e-personnel files are being created.
An electronic inventory of all the records is being compiled by 300 information technology graduates based at the warehouse.
The department, which employs more than 80000 people, has been receiving negative audit outcomes for the past 16 years, largely due to poor record-keeping.
The department was allocated a whopping R31-billion this year.
Netshilaphala said the conversion to digital would also help the department get rid of “ghost” employees and pupils, while officials with fake qualifications would also be identified with ease.
The new system will also ensure that leave forms are correctly recorded in the personnel and salary system (Persal), she added.
Speaking of the resistance from some officials, Netshilaphala said the worse confrontation was in Sterkspruit last week.
The collection of files had to be delayed for three days while the department was having discussions with union members.
Other districts where police and locksmiths had to be called in were Cofimvaba, Lady Frere and Queenstown.
The unions are adamant that thousands of jobs will be lost when the e-filing system becomes fully operational.
Similar protests spread to the Zwelitsha headquarters yesterday, as workers refused to hand over the required personnel files.
“My stance is, this is where the population of the Eastern Cape has to stand and be counted,” said Netshilaphala.
“What do they want?
“Should processes be dictated by a few people with loud voices who are more about doing other things than improving the quality of life of our young people?
“We can be thrown out and be fired for taking a stance, but at this point in time I am prepared to be fired for this project.
“The population of the Eastern Cape has to decide what it wants.”
But at the same time Netshilaphala reassured workers, saying the digitisation did not threaten their jobs.
She said all they wanted to do was establish whether taxpayers were paying the right person for a job they were qualified to do.
“It is important to know whether we have a file for each and every person we are paying.
“Often, if you do not have a file, that’s a quick indication that that person might be a ghost.
“When it comes to that, we will have to terminate.
“But we will be very interested to find out who created that person in the system and ask them nicely why they created someone who does not exist.
“That’s where consequence management will come in,” she explained.
“We want to stop leakages and work fast and better.
“If a teacher does not get paid for six or eight months, it’s very difficult to see how that teacher is providing quality education to our pupils because that teacher is aggrieved.
“One of the things that we will be doing is qualification verification. Wait until we get there,” said Netshilaphala.
Neither the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) nor the National Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) leaders could be reached for comment yesterday. — firstname.lastname@example.org