Time to axe ministers in South Africa

 ·12 Jun 2024

Independent think tank, the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), says that the imminent changes to South Africa’s administration through the Government of National Unity (GNU) presents the perfect opportunity to cut cabinet down to size.

The group has published a new report on the restructuring of the presidency and cabinet, positing that the focus should be on quality, not quantity, when it comes to forming an administration to turn South Africa around.

South Africa has one of the biggest cabinets in the world relative to its population size and GDP. The cabinet of the sixth administration included 30 ministers and 36 deputy ministers.

This is significantly more than the cabinets of countries like Germany (17), Japan (20), the UK (24) and the US (26) – all of which either have much larger populations or much bigger economies.

According to the CDE, South Africa’s cabinet should be slashed to just 20 ministers, and all the processes streamlined to make the state more efficient. The proposed cabinet includes deputy ministers, with around 24 accounted for.

It also said that the president should select the best people available to him – those with the necessary experience and skills to lead large government departments and those with the integrity to govern honestly.

“He should resist the urge to preside over a bloated cabinet since smaller cabinets tend to be more agile, more collegial and more accountable,” the think tank said.

Ann Bernstein, executive director of CDE, said the state’s capacity to develop policies and deliver public services and programmes has been undermined by systemic corruption, too many compromised party loyalists, inadequate skills at critical levels, and a lack of accountability for poor performance and wrongdoing.

“At the same time, government has taken on more responsibilities, creating new government departments and public entities. Adding extra layers of bureaucracy and parallel management structures has made it harder to take decisions and co-ordinate key actors to deliver on outcomes,” she said.

With a new government likely to be comprised of representatives from various parties, Bernstein said even with this constraint, the president should downsize his cabinet and ensure the right people are chosen for the job.

Cutting cabinet

In CDE’s analysis, a better-organized, smaller, and more effective cabinet of about 20 ministers could be formed out of the current 30.

6th Administration CabinetCDE proposed CabinetChanges
Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural DevelopmentAgriculture, Land Reform and Rural DevelopmentAs is. Two Deputy Ministers.
Basic EducationEducation and TrainingTwo into one. Main focus on basic and higher education, with a strong small division focusing on science and innovation. Two Deputy Ministers
Communications and Digital TechnologiesTransport, Infrastructure, Communications and Digital TechnologiesThree into one. Infrastructure splits off from public works. Two Deputy Ministers
Cooperative Governance and Traditional AffairsLocal Government and Traditional AffairsAs is – but now the main focus is on non-Metro local government, along with Traditional Affairs. Two Deputy Ministers.
Defence and Military VeteransDefenceAs is.
Employment and LabourEmployment and LabourLeft as is, but with a primary focus on reducing unemployment
Forestry, Fisheries and the EnvironmentxCombined with another portfolio.
FinanceFinanceLeft as is, but appoint a strong minister, with full presidential support
HealthHealthAs is.
Higher Education, Science and InnovationxCombined with another portfolio.
Home AffairsHome AffairsAs is.
Human SettlementsCities, Housing, and Urban DevelopmentNew ministry focused just on Metros. Absorbs Human Settlements where a national focus will continue. Two Deputy Ministers
International Relations and CooperationInternational RelationsAs is.
Justice and Correctional ServicesJustice and Correctional ServicesAs is.
Mineral Resources and EnergyWater and Sanitation, Energy, EnvironmentTwo into one – Energy splits from Mining. Two Deputy Ministers
PolicePoliceAs is.
Minister in the PresidencyMinister in the PresidencyAs is, but providing support in driving the reform programme
Presidency responsible for ElectricityxRemoved.
Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring and EvaluationxRemoved. Downgrade and to be absorbed into Operation Vulindlela.
Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with DisabilitiesxRemoved. Make this a function in every department where appropriate.
Public EnterprisesxRemoved. Viable SOCs to report to line departments.
Public Service and AdministrationPublic Service and AdministrationAs is.
Public Works and InfrastructurexCombined with another portfolio.
Small Business DevelopmentxRemoved.
Social DevelopmentSocial DevelopmentAs is.
Sports, Arts and CultureSports, Arts and CultureAs is.
TourismEconomyThree into one – DTIC, Mining, and Tourism. Two Deputy Ministers
Trade, Industry and CompetitionxCombined with another portfolio.
TransportxCombined with another portfolio.
Water and SanitationxCombined with another portfolio.
State Security and IntelligenceAs is, but outside the presidency.

The following ministries would either be terminated or downgraded to non-ministerial level:

The CDE said that not all ministers have equally important portfolios.

“The most important figure in the Cabinet (after the President himself) is the Minister of Finance, who must be someone with personal and political authority and full confidence of the President,” it said.

“This support must include backing the Finance Minister’s assessment of affordability or otherwise of policy proposals from other ministries and critically of what is and is not, a sustainable fiscal position.”

“The President must make full use of his constitutional prerogative to appoint two Cabinet Ministers from outside the National Assembly. This is a crucial mechanism to bring in new leadership and specialist expertise into key positions at a time of national crisis,” said Bernstein.

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