SPEECHES: Panel Discussion Input by Mr Collins Chabane, MP, Minsiter pf Public Services and Adminsitration

Date: 14 Nov 2014

TOPIC: Reflections on the South African Public Service Transformation journey since 1994 and road ahead

Ladies and Gentleman

I have been requested to share with you from a political perspective, my analysis and refection of the South African Public Service Transformation journey since 1994 and the road ahead. The nature, scale and pace of change since 1994 have been phenomenal. Few parallels exist elsewhere internationally. We therefore need to appreciate why South Africa 20 years into democracy is often quoted internationally in relation to a success story of peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy. Our Public Sector Reform strategy remains on track since the introduction of the White Paper on the Transformation of the Public Service, introduced in 1997.

In April 2010, at the Heads of Public Administration Commonwealth meeting held in Botswana, the South African Public Service was hailed as scoring the highest on successes in Public Service transformation and reform initiatives in Africa, when measured against numerous indicators impacting from the macro-organisation and architectural design of the state to human resources and performance management practices, which brought about radical systemic transformation within the SA Public Service.

What does this mean for the road travelled to where we are today?

South Africa’s first democratic government inherited a fragmented, unaccountable and racially divided governance system in 1994, consisting of homeland administrations, as well as, separate national and provincial administrations, for designated racial groupings. The homeland administrations were poorly organised and resourced, largely without local government functionality, and the services they provided were determined by the apartheid state. Those government service points that were well capacitated were mostly in the urban areas and served the needs of a minority. These balkanised apartheid-era institutions had to be amalgamated into a single democratic, non-racial system.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary since the dawn of our democratic dispensation, we need to reflect on how far we have come, what we have achieved, and the challenges that still lie ahead.

A synopsis of the 20 year review highlights a cogently structured government strategy which focused on the evolution from pre-1994 highly centralised regulated and bureaucratic frameworks which governed the public service, resulting in an unresponsive and risk-averse public service. In addition, the public service lacked transparency and accountability, providing space for abuse of power and corruption.

Post-apartheid South Africa needed both a reformed governance and structural system that would allow all South Africans to claim political and social ownership of the country. This meant changing the system of governance to be geared towards transformation by addressing the legacy of apartheid. There was a need to modernise the architecture of the public service, to make it more efficient, effective, accountable and people-centred, so that it would be able to fulfil its transformative role.

What was the Evolution by the Strategic Focus of PS Reforms?

To this end, the country’s governance landscape has changed significantly since 1994. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996) provided the foundations for building a democratic and inclusive state and is hailed as one of the most progressive in the world. Apartheid laws were repealed and a Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution, guaranteeing all citizens’ socio-economic and human rights. Independent institutions were established under Chapter 9 of the Constitution to strengthen accountability, safeguard democracy and build a responsive state. An independent judiciary and the constitutional freedom of speech and assembly were legally established. This has enabled citizens to pursue their political views and ideals freely and to trust the decisions of the judicial system.

You may ask, how politically have we structured the evolution of our own Masterplan?

If we look at the structural and Policy Reform phases after our Democratic Transition we can summarise the touch points as follows:

  • Phase 1 (1994-1999) - Rationalisation and Policy Development Focus -

    • During this period we ensured that all the legal instruments were aligned to the Constitution and that all the administrative enablers were institutionalized in our public administration laws and regulations.

  • Phase 2 (1999-2004)- Modernisation and Implementation Focus-

    • After the second administration we needed to overhaul the old bureaucratic processes, systems and procedures and look at a more humanistic face of the Public Service

  • Phase 3 (2004-2009)- Accelerating Implementation Focus –

    • With the introduction of e-Government and electronic systems in delivery services to the public, the SA PS, invested in many new technologies in order to reach our people

  • Phase 4 (2009- 2014) - Monitoring, Evaluation and Oversight-

    • during this phase we put systems in place to monitor and evaluate the performance of government departments and Municipalities to oversee government performance against management practices.

  • Phase 5 (2014-2019) - Productivity and Efficiency Measurement through Evidence Based Policy, Planning and Practices-

    • I am now fortunate to be heading the Public Service politically and am proud to share with you our vision during this 5th administration to focus holistically on productivity and efficiency measures through the collection of evidence based policy, planning and practices

    The storyline above indicates that in the first decade after the transition to democracy, government focused on restructuring, intensive policy development and comprehensive legislative reform, including the wholesale revision and modernisation of the legislation governing the public service. New legislation introduced during this period includes the Public Service Act (PSA) and the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), as well as the Municipal Systems Act (MSA) and the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA). This legislative reform process was largely completed by 2004, and since then the focus has shifted to improving and accelerating implementation.

    The extension of access to basic services such as water, electricity, education, housing and social security has been a major achievement of the post-apartheid era. However, despite this dramatic expansion, access to quality services remains uneven. These disparities result from apartheid spatial and governance systems, compounded by institutional weakness in some provinces and municipalities. In short, the state’s capacity is weakest where socio-economic pressures are the greatest. Nevertheless, some departments have also made dramatic progress in improving service delivery; this is why we use some departments who have excelled in the execution of their duties as examples to improve the public service.

    Ladies and Gentleman, you will appreciate that as the ANC lead government we have a clear strategy to drive the Public Service to higher productivity. Minister Nene. Minister of Finance, recently delivered his Medium Term Strategic Budget Statement whereby he placed an emphasis on increasing the productivity of public servants in order for us to envisage an increase in economic growth.

    Bear with me in sharing with you our social vision for the road ahead: The National Development Plan (NDP) clearly identifies that an unevenness in capacity leads to uneven performance at local, provincial and national government. Together with a complex set of factors, including tensions in the political-administrative interface, instability of the administrative leadership, skills deficits, the erosion of accountability and authority, poor organisational design and low staff morale, this has forced government to address these outcomes and impacts through evidence based planning and policies. The National Development Plan in particular highlights the importance of building a state that is capable of playing a developmental and transformative role, which requires collaboration between all sections of society and effective leadership by government. The state provides the institutions and infrastructure that enable the economy and society to operate optimally. However, critical interventions are required to build a state capable of realising the vision for 2030.

    In studying the recommendations from the diagnostics from the National Development Plan (NDP), a great emphasis is placed on improving the capacity of the state through:

    • Managing the political- administrative interface which we are currently addressing through a uniform Delegations Framework; looking at the role of SPecial ADvisers ( called ‘SPADS’) who are not elected members but who may subsume political roles which undermine the role of the administration. We have to be clear about our role as political principals and that of administrative officials.

      • A second important recommendation from the NDP, is strengthening the capacity of the state, through appropriately suitable skilled and qualified personnel. The National School of Government has been tasked with addressing this gap and we are back to the drawing board and going back to basics as we are cognizant that the universities are in the business of transferring knowledge and the Public Service workplace is responsible to turning these into usable skills which are capable to transform the state.

    The public sector has a massive work force which needs to be managed. We therefore need to recognise the challenges we face.

    Realising the NDP objectives will, inter alia, address one of the challenges identified in the NDP Diagnostic Report namely that corruption is widespread, impedes service delivery and undermines public confidence in the state, Transparency International notes a slight increase in the public perception of corruption between 1988 and 2014. However, government’s 20 year review notes that this does not necessarily mean that corruption has increased as it could mean that more incidents of corruption are being exposed, thus increasing public awareness and public reporting. The transparency of exposure of perceived corruption is a good indicator of the will and capacity of SA to openly address such instances. Corruption is partly a symptom of weak management and operations systems, which create the space for corruption to thrive. In this regard, a number of mechanisms have been put in place to limit the scope for conflicts of interest since 1994. Among these mechanisms is the compulsion for all senior managers, as well as officials working in procurement, to declare any financial and business interests. Recently, there has been an improvement in timeous submission of disclosure forms by senior managers to the Public Service Commission (PSC), from 47 percent in 2009/10 to 84 percent in 2013/14.

    Finally, while government has come a long way in transforming the machinery of the state to better address the challenges facing the public service, it recognises that more still needs to be done to confront numerous challenges of unevenness in service delivery.

    Hence I believe that the focus in the road ahead in the sixth administration in 2019 will be to focus on Measurement, and Accountability and Co-Production of Public Services whereby civil society and business alike will be directly assisting government in ensuring that services reach each and every citizen equitably.

    We have a strategy, linked to our good story to tell!

    The Public Service will also continue to engage in further research in preparation for 2030 as we want every citizen to wake in 2030 and find their promised public service as envisaged and promised today. This task rests firmly on the partnership between the Public Service Commission, Centre for Public Service Innovation, National School of Government and all our key stakeholders.

    I thank you!

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