SPEECHES: Keynote address by L N Sisulu, MP, Minister for the Public Service and Administration on the Occasion of the Centenary Celebrations of the Public Service Commission, Cape Town, 1 August 2013

Date: 1 Aug 2013

Ministers and Deputy Ministers

Speaker of the National Assembly

Chairperson of the Public Service Commission

Public Service Commissioners

Chairpersons of Portfolio Committees

Members of Parliament

Directors-General and Senior Public Service Managers

Esteemed Guests

On the occasion of the Public Service Commission’s celebration of its work, I am delighted to be here to attest to the success of the work of the Public Service Commission as I know it, as it has existed and still exists, in its founding document, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. This is the custodian and monitor of all the values and principles of what we fought for, for well over 50 years, that today we should have a government that is based on the will of the people, improves the quality of life of all citizens and builds a united, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

At this point, allow me a personal detour as I engage with today’s celebration of 100 years. Let me share with you my own experience with the quagmire of the age of institutions of government, the age of our democracy and therefore, how old any institution of our democracy is. As you all know, I was the Minister of Defence until June last year and one of the most important events I was invited to as the new Minister of Defence in 2009, was the 90th anniversary of the South African Airforce. I very willingly committed myself to give the keynote address and preside over the event. I was very excited about this prospect of having all these airplanes flying over and believe me, they did fly on that day. Little did I know I was walking straight into a historical interpretation nightmare. Because, on that occasion, none of the other Chiefs of Services attended the celebrations and I would later discover that it matters which system of counting is used. Because, for some of the Service Chiefs of the Defence Force, the SANDF was only 15 years old. And therefore no institution of the Defence Force could be more than 15 years old. But the occasion was too beautiful for me to allow for these hard facts to dampen my excitement. I want to ride over these hard facts and leave them for another time when they will not cloud the excitement of the day. But, even though I was caught up in the excitement, there was an underlying tension about where does the history of our democratic government start.

I never did resolve that problem and I hope history will not repeat itself, because I am equally excited to celebrate with the Public Service Commission today, their successes and for now leave out the numbers game. For now I will bask in the moment and take my inspiration from a beautiful plant, best known for its beautiful fragrance. Its impact is stronger on its fragrance, rather than its form. The plant is called the "yesterday, today and tomorrow". And for today, numbers fade for a while in the same way as the blossoms of this flower change from deep purple, known as the yesterday, to the pastel lavender called today and then the white of tomorrow. This unique plant creates variegated blossoms of colour and it is made more breathtakingly beautiful when all three shades are present with plenty of yesterdays, more of today and even brighter tomorrows, flowering long into the year. So it is for now with the Public Service Commission. I will accept your claim for a 100 year yesterdays, I will attest to your today and we will all eagerly await a brighter tomorrow. For today we celebrate the fact that this central pillar of good administration is firmly entrenched in our Constitution, now with very clear guiding principles, founded on democracy and equality.

For me, observing the centenary of the Public Service Commission offers more than a celebration – it is rather a moment to pause, reflect and observe the trajectory of the Public Service Commission and its contribution to the lives of the people of South Africa. After all, at the center of the Public Service is our people. We may take a leaf from history to chart the way forward in our collective endeavor to finding better and more effective ways to deliver services and opportunities to our people.

Let us celebrate the Public Service Commission that existed prior to 1994, which did not represent the will of the people, did not represent the aspirations of a better life, did not represent any of the values we, all of us here together, associate with our democracy. Perhaps it is against this dark hue of yesterday that the beautiful dew lavender of today is thrust in such stark contrast. So that we forever are reminded of where we come from, just so that we never do forget.

At the beginning of ‘talks about talks’ and the formalization of constitutional negotiations for our country, the liberation movements lead by the African National Congress, and all South Africans listening, reading and watching on radios, print media and television must have been occupied with the political and human question – how do you work together with an apartheid government and its state institutions so despised by the majority of South Africans and the world to create an all inclusive democratic state and government?

It is within this context that we must measure why and what it is that we are celebrating on the occasion of the Centenary of the Public Service Commission.

The 1994 dispensation allowed the transformation of the institution that we now call the Public Service Commission in order for it to play a more constructive role. The function of only public administration within the Commission was associated with the old order. The change from public administration focus of the PSC was influenced by its participation in the Commonwealth which moved from public administration to public service. Thus, SA had to be modernized and the CAPAM and other international associations influenced the new naming. Or so we thought.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) as we know it today, was established as a bulwark of democracy. It is a constitutional body providing oversight over public administration across all spheres of government, all organs of the state and public enterprises to ensure adherence to the Values and Principles of Public Administration outlined in Chapter 10 of our Constitution. It has always been my belief that the founding principles of Chapter 195 of the Constitution, of which the Public Service Commission is the custodian, was meant indeed, as the Constitution states, to cover all spheres of government. That would include local government. It cannot be that the principles of public administration of the Republic of South Africa could ever exclude any part of public administration and it is in my view very significant that in the wording of the Constitution, all these principles were to be monitored by a single Public Service Commission. If at any stage the Public Service Commission had excluded itself from monitoring administrative principles at municipal level, it would in my view only have been an interpretation as opposed to the intent of the Constitution.

If I knew at the point when all of us were involved in the processes of Constitution making what I know now, I would not have moved away from the concept of Public Administration and I would have motivated for a Public Administration Commission, because all of those values spelled out in section 195 of the Constitution, for which the Public Service Commission has a responsibility of monitoring over the public service, leaves the other areas covered by section 195 of the Constitution open to no monitoring. There is an illogical connection in my view. But I guess that is why constitutions are described as living documents. That is why the word "developmental" is so frequently used in this section, almost in anticipation that our institutions would grow and evolve to meet the needs of society and the state at particular times.

I remember mentioning to some people this idea of mine of section 195 of the Constitution as requiring a new interpretation, but based on a Public Administration Commission and I remember vividly that it was not the idea that got them gasping, but the acronym that would come out of it – the PAC. Because you see, we do not want to immortalise the dying. It is not unlikely that this thought would have propelled us permanently in the direction of the Public Service Commission. It would be unthinkable to have the PAC as a permanent feature of our lives!

In reporting to the National Assembly, the Constitution calls on the PSC to propose measures, give direction, advise, promote, investigate, monitor and evaluate the performance of the South African Public Service. This powerful democratic mandate is what we need to celebrate today, while recognising the oppressive exclusive role that the PSC played in its evolution under white minority rule.

Through the promotion, monitoring and evaluation of the constitutional values and principles of public administration, the PSC makes a critical contribution to deepening democracy in our country. These values and principles are a concrete expression of the manner in which state action seeks to secure and implement the socio-economic rights entrenched in Chapter 2 of the Constitution. The values and principles are both compliance as well as developmental in character. The compliance values and principles such as the promotion of professional ethics, transparency, accountability and human resource management constitute the scafold of the Public Service. The developmental values and principles such as developmental-oriented public administration responsive to people’s needs, and participation by the public in policy-making require innovation and excellence for their realisation in practice.

It was under the Interim Constitution of 1993, that the Public Service Commission as we celebrate it today began to take shape. Its mandate was broadened beyond traditional administrative and personnel functions, to include the promotion of efficiency and effectiveness in departments and a code of conduct for the public service. It was the 1996 Constitution, however, that saw the final evolution of the PSC into an independent developmental institution expressed through the values and principles of Chapter 10. The Constitution, as Professor Sangweni has often indicated, transformed the Commission from "an executive policy-making and implementing institution to an independent, impartial advisory and monitoring body with responsibilities for promoting good governance in public administration."

Essentially, the constitution challenged the PSC to oversee the establishment and evolution of a people-centred public administration, which must support the type of developmental state described now in the National Development Plan, with a strong professional and meritocratic ethos.

We celebrate the work of the PSC since its inception and reconfiguration in line with its constitutional imperatives under the stewardship of Professor Stan Sangweni and continued by the current Chairperson, Ben Mthembu and the motivated, energised Commission. With limited resources at its disposal, the PSC has made a significant impact across the public service, within all sectors of society in South Africa and on the African Continent.

As the custodian of good governance the PSC immediately focused its energy on creating a framework for a public service characterized by ethics and integrity. It developed a Code of Conduct for public servants, implemented a Financial Disclosure Framework for senior managers in the public service with a view to manage potential conflicts of interest and introduced the National Anti-Corruption Hotline. The PSC was also instrumental in establishing the National Anti-Corruption Forum comprising Government, Civil Society and Business and has since its inception, acted as the secretariat, thereby playing a leading role in driving the National Anti-Corruption Programme on behalf of the Forum.

The PSC has developed and refined its monitoring and evaluation system which on an annual basis has provided Parliament, provincial legislatures, the Executive and Heads of Department with invaluable information on the State of the Public Service measured against each of the Constitutional Principles governing public administration. Currently the PSC is further refining its monitoring and evaluation methodology and has developed a Public Service Barometer, which in future will enable the PSC to provide State of the Public Service reports for both the national and provincial spheres of government, and if my requests are worth anything, these reports will cover local government as well.

Through the application of investigative research and monitoring and evaluation, the PSC has produced a multitude of good quality reports, focusing on the full spectrum of public administration practices including human resource management. The recommendations of the PSC emanating from such reports have already resulted in legislative and regulatory amendments to strengthen such practices.

The PSC has conducted various assessments to measure departments’ performance against the principles of the Batho Pele White Paper. In addition, the PSC, in certain instances with the collaboration of the Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration, also has conducted announced and unannounced inspections at key service delivery sites and has recommended improvements to be implemented by departments. My plea is target inspections of education at schools, as this is the area we have declared an apex priority.

In its efforts to promote participatory governance, the PSC developed and implemented a toolkit for Citizens Forums to assist the executive, departments, Parliament and provincial legislatures to improve service delivery.

In pursuance of its mandate the PSC developed Grievance Rules for the Public Service, which were formalized through a collective agreement in the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Chamber and Gazetted. Grievances of public servants that cannot be resolved within their departments are referred to the PSC for consideration and advice. Apart from being involved in the dispute resolution process in the public service, the PSC also produced several reports aimed at promoting sound labour relations in the public service and together with the GPSCBC, held Public Service Labour Relations Summits with a view to create a platform for knowledge sharing and the enhancement of sound labour relations.

To facilitate access and redress by the public the PSC has developed and gazetted Complaints Rules, which enable the public to submit complaints for investigation by the PSC at any of its offices across the country. The PSC established a dedicated public administration investigation unit, while a steady increase in the number of complaints that the PSC receives annually has been observed since the introduction of the Rules. The PSC’s role in this area of work, has been strengthened by the fact that directions made in respect of promotions, appointments, transfers and dismissals are enforceable in terms of the Public Service Act.

The PSC has played an active role in assisting Executing Authorities in conducting performance assessments of their heads of department (HoDs) through the PSC’s framework for the evaluation of HoDs. This work enabled the Commission to provide clear statements on the role of public service leadership. The evaluation of HoDs also provides a barometer to measure the achievement of governmental priorities.

The PSC has also charted a continental role for itself as a founding member of the Association of African Public Services Commissions and since its inception has held the positions of President and Secretary. This gives new meaning to "President for life!". The Association through a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the African Union, is poised to become an important instrument to promote good governance on the continent.

The achievements of the PSC are clear and visible to all role players within the arena of public administration and must be commended. They motivate us to ensure that the PSC, in terms of Section 196 (3) of the Constitution, be protected by other organs of the State to ensure its impartiality, dignity and effectiveness. But it is important to emphasise, the PSC as a democratic constitutional organ of state, forms an integral part of the developmental state. As stated in the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the review of Chapter 9 and Associated Institutions led by the late Professor Kader Asmal:

"…the Commission is mindful that it operates in the context of a developmental state where there is a major focus on the transformation of society and also of the public service itself. The Commission cannot afford to hold itself aloof when exercising its independence. The Commission submitted that for it ‘independence is about the direct or indirect interference with the programme and decisions of the institution and not about issues of location and participation in government activities’".

This approach to the PSC’s independence should form the basis for its future activities and contribution to the developmental state.

In South Africa, we have committed to building a developmental state that efficiently guides national economic and social development by mobilising the resources of society and directing them toward the realisation of common goals. We place job creation, inclusive economic growth, the needs of the poor and social issues such as health care, housing, education and a social safety net at the top of the national agenda.

The developmental state must be able to direct and support socio-economic development through building a strong public service and using state owned enterprises to transform the economy and acelerate growth. The State needs strategic, organisational and technical capacity to play its developmental role.

In the area of public administration, the developmental state requires an activist PSC that combines public administration capability and exellence with a dogged determination to interact with all levels of the state and society in a developmental way. The PSC must provide citizens with a voice to articulate legitimate demands for access to state services and excellence in their delivery.

The success of developmental states is dependent on the ability of governments to embed themselves in society through interactive relationships between the political and administrative apparatuses and the people. Public service and administration in this way is as central as politics is to the developmental state project. South Africa’s constitutional values and principles of public administration provide public servants with the road-map of how to get there. The challenge for the PSC is to use its mandate and independence creatively to ensure that public service institutions and practices are aligned with executive priority, parliamentary oversight and people’s aspirations. In this way, the work of the PSC must support the policy and mandate of the Minister for the Public Service and Administration.

Similar to the PSC, I as the Minister for the Public Service and Administration also have a vast mandate that covers the organization and administration of the public service and the career incidents of employees in the Public Service. The Public Service Act covers the full spectrum of public administration excluding financial management. The responsibility of executing this mandate comes with accountability related to how the public service implements the relevant legislative and regulatory framework as well as the directives issued by me in terms of my legislative mandate.

In pursuance of this role the establishment of components to strengthen my accountability and ensure compliance by the public service has been necessitated. The establishment of these components must be viewed as complementary to the role of the PSC but more importantly as recognition by the executive that it must have a hands-on approach in dealing with problematic areas in public administration.

The establishment of the Anti-Corruption Bureau seeks to provide the executive with a dedicated anti-corruption investigative capacity. I believe there will be opportunity for collaboration with the PSC in terms of its anti-corruption initiatives and that the bureau will play a significant role in strengthening capacity to investigate NACH cases to conclusion. It will also make an important contribution towards ensuring that disciplinary processes in the public service are concluded expeditiously.

The Office of Standards and Compliance, which will focus on areas of non-compliance with the Public Service Regulations and prescripts and conduct compliance audits has also been a much-needed intervention given the state of the public service in certain departments and provinces.

This Office is not designed to encroach on the PSC’s mandate but to assist in areas of public administration where executive intervention is required. As in the past it will more than likely be necessary to request the PSC’s assistance in some of these interventions. The review of the Public Service Commission Act and proposals to empower the PSC to give directions relating to the principles governing public administration both complements and supplements the establishment of the Office of Standards and Compliance.

The introduction of the Public Administration Management Bill to create a single public service will further contribute to sound public administration with uniform norms and standards being applied across all spheres of government. Extending the PSC’s role and mandate to local government will pose additional challenges to the institution, which I am confident that it will address with the same vigor as it has in respect of the national and provincial spheres of government.

The National Planning Commission’s diagnostic documents highlighted the unevenness in state capacity, which leads to uneven performance in local, provincial and national government. Chapter 13 of the National Development Plan sets out the requirements for building a capable developmental state demonstrating how the uneven performance of the public service stems from the interplay between a complex set of factors. These include tensions in the political- administrative interface, instability of the administrative leadership, skills deficits, the erosion of accountability and authority, poor organisational design, inappropriate staffing and low staff morale. The Plan further contends that weak managerial capacity and a lack of leadership prevent these issues from being addressed promptly.

The PSC will have an important role to fulfill in monitoring and supporting the building of a capable developmental state as envisaged in the National Development Plan. The Plan also emphasizes that ways must be explored to ensure that the PSC’s recommendations become enforceable.

The Public Service Commission Amendment Bill, once enacted, will achieve precisely this, by empowering the PSC to issue directions in terms of all the constitutional values and principles governing public administration. The PSC will in its planning processes, have to develop a clear strategy on the circumstances, criteria and procedures that will apply in issuing such directions.

The establishment of the National School of Government provides an opportunity for the PSC as a knowledge-management centre of excellence for public administration, to impart its research findings and inform curriculum development. The PSC should therefore strategize on how to collaborate with the School to enhance the quality of public service leadership.

I have already referred to the manner in which the PSC manages its independence. There is little doubt that there will be many challenges for our developmental state where the PSC’s intervention will be required in the future by the Executive in a similar manner as was requested of the PSC in the past. The impact of the PSC in interventions such as the Eastern Cape, Correctional Services, Home Affairs and the Defence Secretariat clearly illustrates that a hands-on approach by the PSC will have to be maintained and managed.

The relationship between Parliament, the provincial legislatures and the PSC should be further strengthened and these institutions in executing their oversight responsibility should engage the PSC more frequently. Parliament and the legislatures are the PSC’s primary stakeholders and a more structured and vigorous relationship with these institutions has most certainly promoted democracy and good governance.

The new democracy in South Africa has managed to steer the PSC ship away from its orientation as an instrument to promote the interests of a privileged minority to that of a custodian of the values and principles that underscores a democratic and just society based on democratic values, social justice and basic human rights. The responsibilities that rest with the PSC in terms of its constitutional mandate are heavy indeed, but with dedication and diligence the institution can continue to succeed and build on its past achievements.


And for our brighter tomorrow, much valuable and commendable ground has been covered, I wish for more for this institution. I wish for a more proactive tomorrow, more active intervention. I wish for a tomorrow where every public servant would know of your work. Be in their face, so that they know every day that you are there, monitoring their adherence with the principles of the Constitution. Be there so that they know when they are unhappy or aggrieved, they can turn to someone who will promptly respond to their grievance. Be there so that when they do good, it is recognised. Be there to help them as they grapple with this jungle called state administration.

On the basis of its founding legacy and experience, we need to ask ourselves how the PSC as an important institution of democracy can be strengthened in order for its impact and effectiveness to be enhanced.

The Constitution has richly bestowed all the powers you need to do all you have to do. Be a visible force in defence of our democratic principles of good governance.

Honorable Chairperson, Mr. Mthembu, Commissioners and staff of the PSC, I stand here today not only to celebrate with you and congratulate you but to challenge you as well! Turn the PSC into a beacon of hope for South Africa’s citizens. A beacon of hope that the public service that serves them will transform, in the same manner as the PSC has, into an effective and efficient instrument that promotes the values of democracy, and that provides them with the services they deserve and are entitled to. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "Be the change you want to see!" Be the active change the country needs.

Lead by example and make sure that your achievements are made evident and accessible to the people of South Africa. Do me proud, because I depend on you. I am your walking, talking advert. Don’t let me down.

I thank you

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