Busisiwe Mavuso | We have a somewhat refreshed cabinet – but there are more important things to focus on

POSTED ON: March 10, 2023 IN by Admin
cabinet cabinet

By Busisiwe Mavuso

A lack of delivery on key reforms, maladministration and corruption have conspired to bring the country to what is a crisis position.

BLSA sincerely hopes that the new cabinet will provide fresh impetus to the important structural reforms underway, and we will no doubt not be the only ones watching for signs of a change in pace of delivery. We also hope that President Ramaphosa follows through on his promise to rationalise government departments, entities and programmes at the next appropriate opportunity.

We are concerned that some underperforming ministries remained unchanged, and that the addition of two new ministries within the Presidency further bloats the cabinet.

Ministers have an important role to play, and one hopes that competent individuals end up in key positions, but ultimately delivery relies on more than the present occupant of a ministry.  The real work happens in government departments and municipalities throughout the country.

The recovery and growth of this country depends on intelligent policy, a conducive environment, and a capacitated public service that is willing and able to work with business and citizens.

One of BLSA’s strategic objectives is to support, where possible, the professionalisation of the public service. The capacity of the state has long been highlighted as a risk to the investment outlook for the country. A lack of delivery on key reforms, maladministration and corruption have conspired to bring the country to what is a crisis position. This hollowing out of much of the state’s capacity to deliver is likely to be the largest cost to South Africa of the years of State Capture.

This weakness hinders the ability of the state to undertake the structural reforms that are necessary to bolster our long-term prospects. We will not right the ship without a functioning public service working in partnership with business, labour and civil society.

In this context, we noted with interest the President’s re-establishment of the ministry for performance monitoring and evaluation (MPME). The ministry was first established by Jacob Zuma in his first month in office in 2009 to improve the delivery of public services and was headed by the late Collins Chabane. Since then, the function has fallen under the remit of ministers in the presidency, or under a deputy minister.

The MPME was intended to increase managerial accountability, improve policy planning and enhance inter-ministerial coordination and support. It was based on Tony Blair’s Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, which was tasked with managing progress against Blair’s goals of public service reform, and similar initiatives in the UK, Canada, Chile and New Zealand. Maropene Ramokgopa – the former special advisor on international relations to the President– will be the first full minister in charge of the function since Chabane.

Public service reform is a preoccupation of President Ramaphosa’s. In October 2022 A National Framework Towards the Professionalisation of the Public Sector was published. In a foreword, President Ramaphosa wrote: “Several years into democracy, it can be said of the Public Service that while several pockets of excellence exist, we still have serious challenges in many government departments regarding skills competence, and professionalism … Only a capable, efficient, ethical, and development-oriented state can deliver on the commitment to improve the lives of the people of this country.”

The framework proposed a set of reforms, including a recommendation that the public service is non-partisan and that government departments are “insulated from politics”, that pre-entry requirements are tightened, that the tenure of departmental heads are extended based on merit and performance, that integrity tests for public-service candidates are introduced, and that entrance exams are extended beyond senior management.

The framework is a potentially important document. It could – if its recommendations were diligently followed – lay the groundwork for a public sector that revitalises South African policy implementation. This is desperately needed to help unlock growth potential in an economy that hasn’t grown by more than 3% in the past decade. While the framework is one thing, implementation is another, and this is where we have so often come up short. A useful accompaniment to the framework, as a next step, would be a publicly available implementation plan with objectives, milestones, timelines, and measurements – without which the plan may not become reality.

But business must work with the government of the day, and it does so, by and large, not at ministerial level but at the coalface of departmental public service, where it is less about personalities and more about the daily reality of policy as set and implemented. A professionalised and capacitated public service would open the door for easier cooperation between government and the private sector.

BLSA welcomes the new appointments, and we wish them the best. They have an important role to play in addressing the many ills that are plaguing South Africa, and we demand high standards from them. But ultimately, they must be judged not on their titles, but on their delivery and how this improves the lives of all South Africans.

We will continue to advocate for and work towards the adoption of a policy and implementation environment that advances the socio-economic development of South Africa. South Africa has a difficult journey ahead to set the economy on a steady growth path, which is achievable only with a competent, capable state. Professionalising the public service is an important step in getting there but we need to get this done and not just talk and plan for it.

*Busisiwe Mavuso (@BusiMavuso2) is the CEO of BLSA. This article first appeared in News24 Business.

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