Employee Background checks: No one should be precluded

September 18, 2013

The widely reported Gauteng Police Commissioner appointment blunder has left the South African Police Service red in the face. Or has it? Amidst calls from the DA for National police commissioner Riah Phiyega’s resignation, the National Commissioner is sticking to her guns, saying the appointment was only provisional. This incident once again highlights the critical importance of pre-employment screening and background checks.
 
This is according to Jenny Reid of iFacts, a pre-employment screening and human resources service provider.
 
The man who was intended as Gauteng’s new provincial police commissioner has made a number of brief appearances in court since his widely reported and very brief appointment.
 
National Police Commissioner, Riah Phiyega announced Major General Bethuel Mondli Zuma as Gauteng Police Commissioner on 31 August, but withdrew it just two hours later, when it emerged that he had a case pending against him. Zuma, faces four counts for allegedly trying to evade a roving anti-alcohol patrol in 2008. These include failing to stop when ordered, drunk driving, attempting to escape from custody, and defeating the ends of justice. At the time Zuma, who joined the police service in 1994, was driving an unmarked state vehicle. Phiyega has said she was not aware of the criminal investigation against Zuma.
 
“It is clear no background checks were carried out on the incumbent provincial commissioner,” says Reid. “Perhaps his seniority precluded him from any assessments or necessary screenings. The oversight made for sensational headlines and the fact remains—damage has been done.”
 
Phiyega has since been quoted in the media saying that: “In line with the current SAPS prescripts, it was not deemed necessary to conduct a detailed search, particularly noting that the people being promoted or transferred are senior executives, who are loyal and hardworking career police officers, well respected and had established relationships of trust with the SAPS.”
 
She went on to say “In the case of Major-General Zuma, at the very least, requisite background checks aside, he should have been frank with me. That is why I was so disappointed.”
 
According to Reid it seems completely unthinkable that appointments at this level are not deemed necessary for a complete, thorough and comprehensive series of vetting and background checks. “What the latest SAPS debacle demonstrates is the importance of pre-employment screening—be it the commissioner of police or a security guard at an office park, a personal assistant or CEO of an enterprise. No one wants dirty laundry spilling out when they take up position in the corner office.”
Reid says that criminal record checks are often a prerequisite for certain industries. “All a clear criminal record may tell you is that someone has never been caught in criminal activity—not that they are not a criminal. In this respect, people ethics is often a more important security priority,” she adds. “Ethical behaviour and integrity can be assessed with simple and effective online testing—giving employers a litmus test into the behaviour of its employees in terms of their personality profiles, aptitudes and competency.”
 
The latest falsified documents debacle involves the truck driver in Pinetown. Sanele Goodness May faces 22 counts of murder and a charge of reckless or negligent driving. However, the public has turned its attention on the owner of the truck company, Gregory Govender who has again shifted the blame for the fatal crash onto its 23-year-old truck driver, claiming that his papers were fraudulent. According to Govender it has been established by his company that May’s South African traffic register certificate and public driving permit were both fraudulent. “Surely these facts should have been established prior to employing the young driver,” says Reid. “It is the responsibility of the organisation to ensure that its employees are fit for the work they are employed for, particularly in a case like this, where the disastrous and tragic consequences are plain to see.”
 
What is right or wrong?
Reid goes on to say that a culture of honesty creates a company of honour, one that the community, shareholders and the public will look up to. However, working with integrity is not easy. “Often there is no clear set rule of right and wrong. Perceptions of what is right or wrong can change according to culture or individual upbringing,” she says. “For example, someone would never dream of stealing a chocolate bar from a shop, but does not think twice about downloading a pirated movie.”
 
Reid adds that what we do know for sure is that integrity is like calcium for the bones of an organisation. It keeps it healthy. Without integrity, it will become brittle and decay from the inside out.
“In the security sector, and most certainly in the SAPS people are called to a higher standard. We can never imagine average will do. When we manage, lead and work with integrity, we inspire others to the same,” says Reid. “When you give employees a framework and a value system, you will have a happy, honest, loyal and productive workforce,” she concluded.
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