Ramapromises 2023: Professional public service still a long way off
While there has been some progress, most of it is only on paper, while the problem of underqualified officials remains widespread.
One of the key promises in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2022 State of the Nation Address (Sona) involved professionalising the public service to ensure improved service delivery across government’s spheres, and that the government would soon finalise a national framework on the issue.
According to Pranish Desai from Good Governance Africa (GGA), the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) has published a Cabinet-approved framework in October 2022 to that end, but despite this the promised professionalisation is still a far-off dream.
“However, publishing such a document is only a start, and the full implementation of the framework across national, provincial and local government will take years.
“So, while the president did keep to the main promise he set out in the 2022 Sona, it is important to remember that it was a limited promise which needs to see thorough implementation to actually resolve the existing problems.”
One of the main concerns in the implementation of Ramaphosa’s promise has to do with the fact that the DPSA has not had a permanent minister since the resignation of Ayanda Dlodlo in 2022, just months after a Cabinet reshuffle by Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa in August of 2021 scrapped the State Security Ministry, which was headed by Dlodlo in its entirety, and reshuffled Dlodlo to her previous position as PSA minister.
Going without a minister solely devoted to the department, according to Desai is not a positive sign when considering that sustained political will is required to actually root out corruption within the civil service and to professionalise it at all levels.
Lots of promises, little real effort
“The professionalisation of the public service has long been a stated governmental goal in a democratic South Africa, especially in the wake of state capture, there has been a renewed urgency and desire – especially from external stakeholders like citizens, civil society and business, that the public sector actually begin to professionalise,” explained Desai.
“To that end, progress has been uneven and while there have been some positive developments such as the publication of the national framework, and thorough checks for senior positions in national government departments is generally commonplace, this isn’t the case across all levels of government.
“In particular, there should be no illusions about how widespread the problem of underqualified or inappropriately qualified officials is, especially at the local government level.”
He said this is especially evident when one looks at the annual auditor general reports on municipal finance, which indicate that financial mismanagement is commonplace, with only 16% of municipalities receiving a fully clean audit in the most recent report.
Energy crisis will overshadow all else
Desai says he expects Ramaphosa to highlight the publication of the National Framework in October last year to prove that he is keeping his promises. He is also likely to give a brief overview of any progress made in its implementation.
“However, there is a universal expectation that the core focus in the president’s address will be the energy crisis, as the continued load shedding is having a sustained negative effect on the overall economy, as well as in the carrying out of other governance functions like basic service delivery.
“For example, lack of electricity impedes the ability of municipalities to collect revenue and provide basic water and sanitation services,” said Desai.
Desai stressed that so many of the problems related to service delivery will be hard to fix without dealing with the energy crisis.
How to eliminate corruption in public service
Desai is of the opinion that properly conducted lifestyle audits are an essential part of efforts to eliminate corruption and help professionalise the public service.
“Since they’ve become compulsory in April 2021, the government has indicated that dozens of national and provincial government departments have either completed or are on the verge of completing audits of senior officials.
“One relevant concern when it comes to lifestyle audits is that the body conducting them should be independent and have no conflicts of interest with these officials,” Desai added