Restructuring the public service could ease pressure on fiscus

Restructuring the public service could ease pressure on fiscus

Prof Bheki Mngomezulu

There is a debate on whether South Africa’s fiscus is bankrupt or incapable and incompetent people are holding critical positions with no requisite skills and knowledge to take the country on an upward trajectory.

The debate, which has been raging for some time, is triggered by the state of the country’s economy, unemployment rate, standard of living, crime statistics and many other challenges that the country must contend with daily.

In a way, a case can be made for both positions. First, there is no doubt that South Africa has a huge debt due to constant borrowing. Moreover, the rand is weak.

Therefore, any claim about South Africa’s bankrupt fiscus cannot be dismissed. At the same time, some people who hold critical positions in the three spheres of the government do not have the required skills to perform in the positions. This makes the second claim plausible.

This is the situation that prompted the drafting of the Public Service Commission Framework that would give guidelines on how to remedy the situation. The commission and the Presidency have been looking at various ways in which the country’s fiscus could be improved and the right people are appointed to critical positions. This has been occasioned by the negative impact of a weak economy and a bankrupt fiscus on the country’s development.

During the State of the Nation address in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa talked about the need for the framework for the professionalisation of the public service. The idea is to have a public service that is professional, ethical and driven by merit when executing its duties. There are many employees who lack skills. This results in over-dependence on private service providers through the tender system. Where in-house services are used, the end-product is not satisfactory.

At the core of the framework is to ensure that only people with the requisite skills and knowledge and who qualify for certain jobs are appointed, as opposed to appointing people through other channels such as cronyism, nepotism and partisanship.

These are the mistakes that have resulted in the country failing to recover politically, economically and socially. As incompetent people are employed in various sectors, South Africa has continued to perform badly on many fronts.

The framework lists several things that must guide the appointment of employees.

First, there must be clear requirements for recruitment and selection processes. This would ensure that before submitting a job application, people would first have to check if they do qualify. If there is a dispute on how the appointment was done, it would be easier to check the submission documents of the complainant against the advert and see if something untoward happened.

Second, the framework calls for mandatory induction for all new public servants and the need for the introduction of performance management. The latter would ensure that every employee performs up to an expected standard. Failure to do so would subject an employee to serious scrutiny which would necessitate further capacitation of such an individual or eventual dismissal if all other interventions fail.

Third, the framework proposes compulsory pre-entry courses for middle and senior management officials, which would include Cabinet ministers. This is fair and proper.

Working on the assumption that people will miraculously know their new jobs would be foolhardy. The intervention would ensure that newly appointed employees perform their allocated duties with confidence.

Fourth, the framework proposes competency and integrity assessments within 90 days of assuming duties. This would assist in ensuring that those who have been appointed are competent enough and have the required integrity to do their job. If any deficiencies are detected, they can be capacitated sooner than later.

Fifth, the framework calls for the appointment of board members based on their merit. It is this notion of meritocracy that would put in place boards which know what they are doing as opposed to simply rubberstamping anything presented to them by management.

Lastly, the framework proposes special training for those who run state-owned enterprises. Importantly, it calls for further professional development and registration of the employees through relevant statutory councils. This would ensure that the current state of state-owned enterprises is reversed and improved. Moreover, such a move would ensure that even if new employees come with certain skills and knowledge, they would be given special training so that they would be more efficient when executing their duties.

The government retreat in July, to discuss the framework elucidated above, was meant to address the various challenges that negatively affect South Africa’s development. This was done within the context of the National Development plan. If applied properly, the framework will succeed in eventually pulling South Africa from the fiscal cliff.

Professor Bheki Mngomezulu is director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy at the Nelson Mandela University

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL