South Africa won’t get far with incompetence in charge: CEO

 ·17 Jul 2023

South Africa suffers from “abysmal” levels of service delivery, primarily due to cadre deployment and having people in charge who are unskilled or unqualified for their positions, says Business Leadership South Africa CEO, Busi Mavuso.

She said this needs to change, adding that having skilled, professional leaders in government isn’t a “nice to have” – it’s something mandated in the Consitution.

“It’s a constitutional prerequisite that public administration must maintain a high level of professionalism,” she said.

“The way to develop an efficient and professional civil service is to appoint people with integrity who are suitably qualified for their roles.”

Mavuso reflected on a promise made by president Cyril Ramaphosa in the past week, where he vowed to hold ministers and deputy ministers to account if they had not addressed, met and executed the priority areas that had been set for them.

He said he’d be meeting them over the next six months and would not “accept any excuses or explanations”.

“Such a clean-up at the top levels of government goes hand in hand with the work to professionalise the entire public service – an ambitious but very worthwhile project given the abysmal state of service delivery in large parts of the country,” Mavuso said.

However, transforming South Africa’s governance structures is a much bigger task than simply moving people around – particularly when considering the collapse of local government and the immense damage already done.

But starting at the top will make a significant difference, the CEO said.

“If there is no accountability at the top levels of leadership, particularly for not fulfilling mandates, it will be impossible to raise the standards in the tiers of leadership that fall under them.”

Mavuso said that the professionalization of government should be a key priority, noting that without competent leaders and workers, all of the government’s projects are doomed to fail.

Using the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme as an example, the CEO said that even if the scheme were fit for purpose – which it is not – it would still end in failure if standards throughout public healthcare were not met.

“The key is accountability. If leaders at the top are held accountable for not performing the functions and duties they’re supposed to, the galvanising effect at lower levels will be remarkable,” she said.

“Over the years, the government has made numerous attempts to address the problem. None have been seen through.”

She said that BLSA is pushing for several solutions to the problem, including:

  • Performance-based assessments;
  • Minimum competencies for municipal officials;
  • Ongoing skills training;
  • Alignment of accounting, procurement and governance systems to international best practices and private sector regulations;
  • Strong performance management procedures.

“All these measures align with the professionalisation framework’s goals of curbing systemic corruption in the public sector across all spheres of government and where the recruitment of public servants is based on competence and ethical disposition, as opposed to unethical personal and political interests,” she said.

Read: Grow the economy – so we can spend more on ‘social protection’, says Ramaphosa

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