SPEECHES: Building a Capable, Career-Oriented and Professional Public Service to Underpin a Capable and Developmental State in South Africa: A Response to the Public Service Commission’s Discussion Document, Mashwahle Diphofa, Director General

Date: 21 Jul 2016

Programme Director

Chairperson of the Public Service Commission, Adv RK Sizani

Other Public Service Commissioners present here

Representatives of the Principal and Vice Chancellor of UNISA

Other members of the UNISA Staff present here

Directors General and other senior government officials

Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for this opportunity to not only be part of this important Roundtable discussion, but to also serve as one of the respondents. I also wish to congratulate the Public Service Commission for continuing this valuable journey it started a few years ago to interrogate what a Developmental State means in the South African context, and more specifically, the character of a Public Service in such a State. The task of positioning our Public Service to function optimally continues, and roundtable discussions such as this can only enrich our understanding of the situation we are dealing with, and the considerations we need to make going forward.

Programme Director, I have been requested to not only respond to the issues raised in the PSC’s Discussion Document tabled here today, but to also specifically indicate how the Department of Public Service and Administration envisages addressing and implementing these recommendations. Of course, at the outset I should point out that some of the issues raised and recommendations made do not fall within the DPSA’s sphere of authority, and they would thus require a much broader engagement with other appropriate state institutions.

Ladies and gentlemen, the PSC’s observation that the central theme and project for the public service is the promotion and realisation of the values outlined in the Bill of Rights and Section 195 of the Constitution is correct. The issue, however, is how to achieve the institutionalisation of these values so that they become part of the DNA of our Public Service. I agree that public servants should undergo training on the values-base of the Public Service. Indeed, there already exists various training programmes of one form or another which seek to address this, and the recommendation by the PSC to advise on the curriculum is a welcome development. I would, however, like to submit that if a values- driven Public Service is indeed critical for a capable developmental state, then we would need to focus on more than just the provision of training. A few years ago, the Public Service Commission advised as follows:

…there needs to be a range of coordinated and complementary processes, instruments and institutions that collectively promote and support integrity and anti-corruption in public administration …

This collection of instruments and institutions has been referred to elsewhere as an 'Ethics Management System', and 'Ethics Infrastructure', or a National Integrity System. A key consideration is that on their own each of these instruments and institutions may not achieve optimal results. However, when functioning in a coordinated and integrated fashion, their impact is likely to be higher" (State of the Public Service Report,2010:6)

Therefore, as we deliberate on the content of the training and the modalities thereof, let us not lose sight of the fact that we need to buttress such training with other complimentary interventions to improve its chances of having more impact.

Programme Director, the PSC’s discussion document also contains a set of recommendations which collectively seek to strengthen the requirements of different occupations and grades, including entry and promotion requirements. For jobs determined in terms of the Occupation Specific Dispensation, this is already the case to a large extent. For the rest, the power lies with Executive Authorities, guided by the approved job evaluation system in the Public Service. I must point out that the amended Public Service Regulations which are scheduled to take effect on 01 August 2016 provide for new measures for the processes to be better coordinated through the Minister for Public Service and Administration. For example, the Regulations now provide that :

The Minister may determine norms and standards on the main objectives and inherent requirements of jobs or categories of jobs, …and

The Minister may issue directives that direct the evaluation and grading of any job or category of jobs

The new Public Service Regulations thus provide opportunities to strengthen the job evaluation and grading processes in the Public Service. In terms of the Senior Management Service, the PSC’s Discussion Document acknowledges the DPSA’s Directive which already specifies, among others, certain entry requirements. This ladies and gentlemen, is indeed one of the ways in which the Department, with the support of Cabinet, is trying to address some of the concerns that the PSC has alluded to.

Perhaps what could be challenging to implement in the recommendations made by the PSC is the proposal that “… entry into the Middle Management Service should be restricted to public administration and management interns and occupations that serve as feeders for the MMS…”. The issue is whether such an approach would stand the test of Constitutionality. This could be challenged for violating open employment principles, in a country which values redress. DPSA has been doing some work on a Graduate Recruitment Scheme for the Public Service, and when the proposals get shared later in the year, perhaps these ideas can also be considered. Of course, ultimately, any of these measures should not be seen to be taking away the powers of departments with regard to recruitment, selection and appointments.

The Discussion Document also makes a number of recommendations regarding Performance Management. The evaluation of the effectiveness of the current Performance Management and Development System is already being done, and the PSC itself has a series of reports that it has produced in this regard. What would be difficult to implement would be the recommended suspension of individual assessments in certain contexts. There has to be consistency in the application of policies and where there are implementation problems these should be dealt with as opposed to denying a section of employees an opportunity to be assessed. Of course, it is true that other complementary processes such as Organisational Performance Assessment should be explored, but it is highly unlikely that these would in turn replace individual performance assessment.

A further proposal in the Discussion Document is that the current SMS Competency Framework in the Public Service should be reviewed specifically to include economic competencies, political competencies and technical and/or functional competencies. This proposal would need to be interrogated further to ensure a better understanding of the indicators and behavioural attributes that would constitute these competencies. Safe to say that this should not make the framework unwieldy and thus difficult to implement. That is in fact one of the main reasons why the current framework does not deal with technical/functional competencies as these would be occupation specific and can be best dealt with in departments themselves.

In order to strengthen the political-administrative interface, the Discussion Document recommends that the Public Service Act be amended to assign all powers relating to the career incidents of public servants below the level of a Deputy Director General to the Heads of Department. This proposal has actually been around for several years, and was initially even built into the draft Public Administration Management Bill. At the time, the Bill provided as follows:

The draft Bill effects a significant change to the current public service legislation in that it vests human resource powers in relation to the career incidents of national and provincial employees (other than heads of institutions and employees reporting to them) in the head of the relevant institution. Currently, these powers are vested in executive authorities. This is intended to enhance the accountability of heads of institutions by locating both human resource and financial management powers in them.

However, following several iterations of consultations on the draft Bill, this provision was removed. What the DPSA has since done, with the approval of Cabinet, is to introduce minimum delegation requirements in departments. There continues to be improvements in the uptake of these delegations and perhaps over time, it might be opportune to revisit the PAM Act again to see if the amendments can pass the consultation phase.

A further recommendation made by the PSC is that of creating an Administrative Head of the Public Service and introducing a hybrid approach to top appointments in the Public Service, as proposed in Chapter 13 of the National Development Plan. Work is underway at the moment, coordinated by the Director General in The Presidency to explore this proposal further. The possibility of creating an Administrative Head of the Public Service requires a lot of thorough work, taking into consideration our contextual realities. Different countries do not necessarily implement it the same way. For example, in some of countries (such as Zambia, Botswana , Uganda, etc), the role of an Administrative Head of the Public Service is combined with that of a Cabinet Secretary (this is actually the case with many Commonwealth countries). However, in the United Kingdom, after many decades of combining both roles, they separated them after the retirement of Sir Gus O’ Donnell in 2011 (who had been the incumbent since around 2005). What lessons can be learned from these experiences. Should the two roles be combined or not? Also, in countries like Swaziland, this role is actually provided for in the Constitution of the Country, while in others it is simply provided for in their Public Service Act. Again, South Africa needs to take all these experiences into consideration in the process of carving its own way forward.

Finally, the Discussion Document makes a number of recommendations on training programmes and the funding thereof. A number of these would require engagements with the National School of Government, but they are certainly feasible and indeed take government’s capacity building project forward.

In conclusion, as the PSC takes this process forward, it would be important to note that there are other important contextual considerations for building a capable public service that delivers on the developmental agenda of the state. Factors such as an active citizenry and social partners like organised labour are important players in our developmental project, which might not necessarily be the case in other countries. How should the public service be positioned to interface with these actors? There are also other critical elements such as the macro-organisation of the state, and although these are not dealt with in the current discussion document, they should not fall on the blind-spot of future debates.

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