If you cheat or steal, you’re outa here!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Last week, one of my employees was found guilty in a disciplinary hearing and dismissed by the hearing chairman. The employee appealed the decision which means it falls upon my shoulders to decide whether he stays or goes.

One of the most difficult decisions one has to make when running an enterprise is firing an employee.

I've needed to do this now for close on 30 years and I still find it traumatic. I've also learned the hard way that when I get emotional about such decisions, it always comes back to bite me. There have to be rules that decide whether or not an employee stays or goes, and one should stick to them.

So I found myself using the time on a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg this week spelling out those rules.

"The purpose of an appeal procedure is not to reopen a disciplinary hearing.

"In the first place, an appeal seeks to ensure that there are no procedural or substantive irregularities in the hearing which had negatively impacted upon the employee.

"In the second instance, it is to look at whether there are any mitigating circumstances.

"Thirdly, it looks at calls for clemency. These are particularly important in cases where the employee is dismissed.

"Finally, it is the company philosophy shared by all managers that disciplinary procedures aim to be corrective of the employee's behaviour and are not punitive. At the heart of this philosophy is whether the employee can be successfully rehabilitated and be trusted to conduct duties as required going forward."

There is, however, a more fundamental rule of my workplace which is unwritten but which I convey to my staff every year at our annual bosberaad. It's known as Kanthan's Prime Directive: "If you lie, cheat, or steal, you get the f*** out."

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Coincidentally, it was announced that our disgraced former Police Commissioner, Jackie Selebi, is to be released on medical parole. A hue and cry ensued about special treatment for politically connected individuals. No doubt, this will continue for a while. But let's step back from the emotion and look at the issues.

Selebi is corrupt. The criminal justice system in our country has been quite clear about this. Selebi used the highest law enforcement office in the land as an opportunity to acquire gifts for himself and his wife to the value of an embarrassingly small amount of R1,2 million.

He acquired these gifts from a convicted drug-dealer, Glen Agliotti, but claimed to have no knowledge that his benefactor was crooked.

During Selebi's trial, Judge Meyer Joffe found that Selebi had shown "complete contempt for the truth", including falsely accusing a witness of lying during the trial.

Selebi was sentenced to 15 years in jail. He appealed the conviction. And here's what the Supreme Court of Appeals had to say.

"There are two issues to be decided in this appeal. The first is whether the State succeeded in proving that the appellant received payments and/or other benefits for himself and other people from Agliotti. The second is whether it proved that the appellant provided Agliotti with any quid pro quo for such payment or gratification received as required by s 4 of the PCCA Act.

"The question whether the appellant received payment and/or other benefits requires a consideration of whether he received such gratification with a corrupt intention."

In other words, it does not matter that Selebi was a struggle hero. It does not matter that he received an international human rights award. The appeal was dismissed on the facts, not the emotion.

So this now brings us to the present day where Selebi has been granted medical parole.

The ANC said it would have been insensitive and inhuman for Correctional Services Minister S’bu Ndebele to ignore the decision of the medical parole advisory board. The IFP said the government was interfering with the rulings of courts, making a mockery of Correctional Services, the justice system and the government. The Freedom Front said the awarding of medical parole to Selebi undermined the criminal justice system.

My question at this point is, what problem are we trying to solve?

You see, my take on criminal justice is simple: we need to eliminate criminality, but we are not in the revenge business.

Jackie Selebi's criminality was as a direct result of his position as police commissioner. He is no longer police commissioner. He will never again have the opportunity to commit the crimes for which he was rightfully convicted.

How does our paying for him to stay in jail make us a better society?

It costs a lot of money to keep a person in prison. In the US which has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world, it costs about $20 000 per prisoner per year. By contrast, the US spends less than half of that per person per year in the public schooling system.

I have no issue paying to keep a person in jail when the person is clearly capable of being a threat to society – murderers and rapists and drug lords are the most obvious examples of these.

But the threat of Jackie Selebi has been eliminated. His disgrace is irrevocable. The legal costs have no doubt exceeded the money he obtained as bribes.

Let the responsibility for supporting him going forward fall upon those who actually care whether he lives or dies. I don't.