Hard-hitting remarks levelled by several senior members of government at South Africa’s public servants, last week, sent a clear message for them to get their house in order. Behind these remarks, is an imminent shake-up and transformation of the public service whose key delivery role could make or break the National Development Plan (NDP).
For ordinary South Africans, worn down by two decades of delivery failure, corruption and crippling labour actions in much of the public sector, the warnings to public servants would have been music to their ears.
For the government, the country’s bloated and underperforming public service is a huge concern. The success of the much-hailed NDP action blueprint for the next two decades to eliminate poverty, create jobs and stimulate growth and development, is threatened by it.
A key action listed in the NDP for immediate implementation is “steps by the state to professionalise the public service, strengthen accountability, improve coordination and prosecute corruption”. It ties in with the African National Congress’s (ANC) desire to create a single, streamlined, and more effective public service across all three tiers of government. While this goal remains, the modalities have changed.
Last week, three senior members of government, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Public Service and Administration (PSA) Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, and the Minister in the Presidency who heads up national planning, Trevor Manuel, gave public servants a tongue lashing at the government annual leadership summit.
The summit of senior public servants and government officials is aimed at improving leadership in the public sector.
Among the hard-hitting statements, the three government leaders included:
· The public service as the engine room of the state needs repair or the NDP will fail (Manuel);
· To be effective, the public service must gain a better understanding of constitutional imperatives and the character of the developmental state it serves (Motlanthe);
· The relationship between public servants and politicians needs to be repaired (Manuel); Clashes between ministers and director-generals have led to many of the latter leaving government service (Motlanthe);
· Public servants need to change their attitude to want to serve instead of just wanting to be rewarded (Manuel);
· After four consecutive terms in power government must take responsibility for its own actions and stop blaming apartheid (Manuel);
· The line between being a public servant and a politician should not be allowed to become blurred (Manuel);
· The nature of the relationship between political authority and the state’s administrative arm should be clearly defined to avoid confusion of roles (Motlanthe);
· A capable public service is required to drive social transformation (Motlanthe);
· There was a need for renewed motivation of public servants in order to reform the public service and build a capable state (Sisulu);
· All new public servants will be required to undergo induction training in future (Sisulu);
· The Presidential Remuneration Commission, announced by President Zuma in his State of the Nation Address, will review the remuneration and conditions of service policy in the public service and make recommendations (Sisulu);
· Wasteful spending must end, resources must be allocated to policy priorities, and efficient spending must be ensured (Motlanthe); and
· The Diagnostic Overview of the NDP points out that many public sector problems have to do with “deeply rooted systemic issues” (Motlanthe).
Of major concern is that the total annual leakage from corruption, fraud and theft is said to now amount to R100 billion. According to official audit reports just under R40 billion is annually lost due to unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful spending by provincial and local government. And, contracts worth R579 million were awarded in 2011 - 12 to suppliers in which public servants or their close family had an interest.
The message at the leadership summit has added significance against the background of the need to reinvigorate, retrain, and reform the public service ahead of a planned substantial transformation.
For several years, the ANC has wanted to reorganise the many disparate and often duplicated components of the public service, which operates separately at national, provincial and local levels, into a single public service. This led to fears of the public service being centralised, a charge government denies.
According to government’s website, “for the past few years, the Department of Public Service and Administration has been tasked with developing a blueprint for a Single Public Service” to streamline administrative processes and improve service delivery.
In 2008, a bill to that effect was introduced in Parliament and then withdrawn to allow for more deliberations and public inputs. The reason was, probably, that both the constitutional and legal pitfalls opposition parties and others pointed out, as well as the enormous complexity of such a process.
Early last year, the then PSA Minister, Roy Padayachie, gave the first indication that government’s focus was shifting away from a “single public service” to an “integrated public service”. The latter would not require constitutional amendments but would facilitate easier movement of personnel between different tiers and components of the public service, to integrate and harmonise processes, and eliminate duplication.
Public service director-general, Mashwahle Diphofa, said instead of a single public service “the other option is to look at the existing pieces of legislation and effect amendments in those pieces of legislation such as the Public Service Act and the Municipal Systems Act".
However, when referring to an integrated public service, the term 'single public service' is still widely used.
In December last year, the ANC adopted a resolution to speed up and complete the process within six to nine months. However, due to the many vested interests that will be affected by the process, it is unlikely any major restructuring will take place before next year’s general election.
In the meantime, transformation and deliberations among various stakeholders in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) continue.
This month Sisulu said the public service would be transformed to an efficient and corrupt-free service led by dedicated officials in order to facilitate the implementation of the NDP. The mooted Presidential Remuneration Commission will also investigate the appropriateness of the remuneration and conditions of service of public servants.
A Public Service Charter will help enhance service delivery and ensure good administration. An Office of Standards and Compliance headed by a director-general will be established to ensure uniform norms, standard and levels of service across departments. Proposed amendments to the Public Service Act will raise the bar for entrants to the service in order to professionalise it.
Law amendments will also extend the Public Service Commission's jurisdiction to local government. An Anti-Corruption Bureau, a National Discipline Co-ordination Unit and a School of Government to train public servants are to be set up.