New policy to shake-up South Africa’s public service

President Cyril Ramaphosa says that his government is working on an important policy document that aims to root out corruption among public service officials.

Writing in his weekly open letter to the public on Monday (01 March), Ramaphosa said that the draft National Implementation Framework towards the Professionalisation of the Public Service aims to build a state that better serves citizens, that is insulated from undue political interference and where appointments are made on merit.

The framework was approved by Cabinet in November in 2020 and structured consultation with various sectors of society are now underway, he said.

“Twenty-seven years into democracy, it can be said of the public service that while several pockets of excellence exist, we have serious challenges in many government departments with regards to skills, competence and professionalism.

“All too often, people have been hired into and promoted to key positions for which they are neither suitable nor qualified,” he said.

“This affects government performance, but also contributes to nepotism, political interference in the work of departments, lack of accountability, mismanagement and corruption.”

Ramaphosa said that there is also the related problem of political and executive interference in the administration of the public service

“One need only to look at the instability in government departments when senior managers are swapped or replaced each time a new minister is appointed.”

The president said that director-generals and provincial heads of departments are particularly affected.

In some departments, DGs, HoDs and executive managers have had stability of tenure, enabling the departments to function with little disruption.

“In most of these departments where there is leadership stability, audit outcomes tend to be positive and public funds can be accounted for. Where there is a high turnover of heads of department, there is often administrative turmoil.”

Some of the proposals contained in the policy include:

  • Extending the tenure of Heads of Department based on merit and performance;
  • Doing occupation-based competency assessments;
  • Involving the Public Service Commission in the interviews of Directors-General and Deputy Directors-General;
  • Introducing integrity tests for all shortlisted individuals will help so that we can recruit civil servants who can serve honestly;
  • Compulsory entrance exams;
  • Continuous learning and a clear professional development path for every public servant;
  • Training for accounting officers across all spheres of government on the applicable legislative provisions.

“The public service is diverse, with a huge range of skills, qualifications and capabilities. Many public servants have specialised skills that are necessary for the effective provision of services,” Ramaphosa said.

“It is therefore not necessarily the case that we need a smaller public service: what we actually need is a fit-for-purpose public service with suitable skills, a professional ethic and a commitment to serving the people.

“The men and women of the public service need to be capacitated to play their role in driving development and consolidating democracy. This is our best guarantee of a capable state that serves the interests of citizens.”

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New policy to shake-up South Africa’s public service