Honourable Premier of Gauteng, Mr David Makhura
Honourable Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration, Mr Joe Maswanganyi
Ambassador of the European Union, Dr Marcus Cornaro,
Vice Chancellor of UNISA, Prof Makhanya,
Chairperson of the Public Service Commission, Adv. RK Sizani,
Chairperson of the Moral Regeneration Movement, Father Smangaliso Mkhatswa,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me to preface this important talk by quoting the National Development Plan Vision 2030 which is the overarching compass in our quest to build a capable and developmental state to eradicate the root causes of poverty, unemployment and inequality in our society. The NDP says:
“A developmental state needs to be capable, but a capable state does not materialise by decree, nor can it be legislated or waved into existence by declarations. It has to be built, brick by brick, institution by institution, and sustained and rejuvenated over time”.
And most importantly, the NDP emphasizes that a capable state:
“requires leadership, sound policies, skilled managers and workers, clear lines of accountability, appropriate systems, and consistent and fair application of rules.”
At this point I would like to pause and ask the poignant question about the type of public servant that is required to achieve these noble ideals of our National Development plan.
What kind of a public servant is this who must bring about the capable state envisaged by our National Development Plan? Do we have such a public servant in our midst and are we capable ourselves, to build and nurture this kind of public servant so that we achieve our goal of a capable and developmental state as described by the NDP Vision 2030?
Are our higher learning institutions and various public and private sector academies involved in public sector management and training sufficiently positioned to produce a public servant who has integrity, who is professional and has the commitment to serve society? There is a disturbing perception that public servants are lazy, unconcerned and corrupt and that most of them have a price on their heads which feeds the monster of corruption.
Let’s face it, there is a modicum of truth in this perception even though we have thousands of committed, honest and hardworking public servants. We have an enduring duty to kill this perception through words and deeds and rid the public service of such rogue elements that taint the image of the public service.
Ladies and Gentlemen
I believe that the strategic objective of this gathering is to ponder this important question about the type of public service we need to achieve our developmental goals. As we ponder this important issue, we must also ask ourselves another difficult question, how far have we gone as a democratic state to transform the public service so that it meets the needs of our people and what else needs to be done in this regard.
Informed by these questions, I would like to insist that Public Service is essentially about a service ethos – of serving my country and fellow citizens. The public service is not for rich people nor is it a preserve of the elite but a vehicle to ensure the development of our people and to be responsive to their needs. As elected representatives of our people, we owe it to them to live by these ethos and strive relentlessly to better their lives.
Public service, governance and administration therefore should be underpinned by the fundamental values of our Constitution. These values include human dignity, social justice, equity and respect for everyone. When we conceptualized the transformation of the public service from a discriminatory instrument based on race and class, we envisaged a public service that embodied human rights, equality and dignity for every citizen.
It is not by mistake that our constitution, which is a guiding light for our democratic future, includes a chapter on the values and principles of public administration. This is so, because the constitution is not only about law but about values. In the same vein, the public service cannot only be regulated by the Public Service Act and Regulations and by the PFMA and Treasury Regulations but by the kind of values it upholds.
Accordingly, public servants’ behaviour cannot only be governed by rules but by adherence to the values and a service ethos that is instilled from above. In building and nurturing the public servants we desire for the achievement of our developmental goals, we have a responsibility to lead by example. In addition to upholding the legal prescripts in the public service, we must exude the values we want to inculcate in the system to ensure that they permeate the public service as a whole.
In reality though, our management practices tend to be defined by what is prescribed in the law and policy and somehow lack the culture and practice of inculcating values in our work. For instance –
accountability tends to be defined by quarterly reporting against the Annual Performance Plan,
ethics tend to be defined by disclosure of financial interest, the prohibition to do business with the state or satisfying auditors,
efficiency and economy tends to be defined by internal control and cost containment measures, a procurement plan, supplier data bases, asset registers and an asset disposal committee,
Institutional due diligence has become more important than responsiveness to the needs of our communities. Our public administration processes are in danger of producing mediocrity and an auto-pilot type administration that is rigid, unresponsive and not innovative at all. Even the disjuncture even between institutional compliance and citizen satisfaction is worrying.
The public service has become overly bureaucratised, about policies, plans, organisational structures and procedures. Rather than to exercise discretion, public servants refer to rules and discretion is limited to legalistic interpretation of the rules. Our challenge today is to emphasize on values and principles to change this deep seated management culture of rules and procedures.
At this point I would like to return to our constitution which envisages a values-driven public administration and public service:
I propose to deal with a few principles prescribed in our constitution in order to achieve this objective: Chapter 10 of our constitution on public administration prescribes:
A high standard of professional ethics
In this regard, I would insist that a much greater emphasis will have to be placed on values in the recruitment of public servants. Once recruited, careers should be built on the basis of professionalization and socialisation into a strong system of values of serving the people and the Republic.
A high standard of professional ethics cannot be promoted only through a generic code of conduct. Each department and entity has its unique ethical issues.
In Correctional Services it is how correctional officers treat prisoners. The question then becomes whether the department (and similarly every department) has an effective system – apart from discipline that focuses on misconduct – to observe, give feedback on, discuss ethical issues and promote ethical behaviour.
This is closely linked to culture – in the case of Correctional Services the change from a military culture with emphasis on guarding prisoners and ensuring their discipline and safety to a civilian culture with emphasis on rehabilitation as an example.
Interventions will have to become much more solutions driven to solve ethical problems in the specific context of departments, whether it is how nurses treat patients or teachers learners and parents.
Solutions will also have to address the practical steps that managers can take to establish a serving and caring culture, or other culture appropriate to the context of the particular department.
The sad reality is that accountability has largely become a question of quarterly reporting against the Annual Performance Plan. Departments are increasingly achieving their annual performance targets. Many departments score 80 to a 100% against these targets. But do these targets really relate to what is important to citizens? Why do we then still have service delivery protests?
The National Development Plan Diagnostic Report observed that accountability has been eroded. The question then becomes: Why has accountability eroded despite the formal system of annual performance plans, performance agreements, performance reviews and reporting? And how should accountability arrangements be re-arranged to address this erosion of accountability?
Accountability for effectiveness, responsiveness, fairness and achievement of real development outcomes has been diluted. A large part of accountability is the human value of taking personal responsibility for the quality of your work, your conduct and your decisions and advice. Personal accountability thrives more in an environment of reflection than a mechanistic process of checking against narrowly defined targets.
To really take personal accountability, managers should believe that they have agency – the ability to influence significant change, that they can really make a difference in people’s lives. They should be enabled to be change agents. Our current management systems are designed to achieve exactly the opposite and we must do something to change that unfortunate reality.
Responsiveness to needs
From service delivery protests it is clear that communities do not regard government as responsive. Why is this so if we have many programmes to address specific needs?
The reality is that many programmes of government have been designed in a top-down manner with a standardised product with little choice, instead of responding to the specific circumstances of communities or individuals in a manner that takes the practical situation on the ground and the solutions that people themselves devise out of need or desperation, into account.
Is it for example possible for local public servants to work with communities and use the capacities that exist in the community to develop their own housing solutions? The opportunity for this is extremely limited if housing is delivered through contactors through projects. The public servant then becomes not a change agent but a project manager within a tightly defined framework.
In theory managers can apply tests like value for money and efficient, economic and effective use of resources when they do procurement to do the best buy for the state. A values rather than a rules driven administration will require that these tests are more widely applied or even applied in the first instance.
Managers in departments are afraid to exercise discretion and would rather follow the rules or approach Treasury for guidance.
We must accept the fact that simply following the rules is not enough. Managers should spend money as if it is their own to make sure that the best value is obtained and that procurement is responsive to service delivery requirements.
Good human resource management and career development practices, to maximise human potential, must be cultivated
The outcome that this principle intends to achieve is a public service department that possesses and maintains key capabilities – a department that has the people, who are skilled, adhere to the values, and are productive.
The focus is on the right people – one can argue the value of people. The principle emphasises “maximising human potential”. All the HR practices, such as recruitment and selection, career management and performance management, aims to achieve this outcome.
The question we have to ask in this regard is whether indeed we do value our people in the manner envisaged in the constitution.
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to conclude by inviting all of us to interrogate these principles and values and to assess where we are, and what we can do to inculcate them in order to build a values driven public service.
We have also promoted the Batho Pele principles for many years but have little to show in terms of output in service delivery. These principles like setting service standards, consultation with citizens, courtesy and value for money are perfectly aligned with the constitutional principles governing public administration and highlight important aspects of the constitutional principles.
In a sense the Batho Pele principles further define the constitutional principles and give them a practical aspect. In essence, to fail to implement the Batho Pele principles is to fail to live by our constitutional values. We have to change the way we do things and ensure that our management practices are not just mechanistic paper prescripts but value driven outputs that benefit our people.
It is the duty of all of us gathered here, to take forward the work of stalwarts like Zola Skweyiya and Stan Sangweni, who pioneered the professionalization and transformation of the public service. The NDP Vision 2030 demands that we harness our collective effort and build a public service that is responsive to the needs of our citizens in a meaningful way.