In response to the 2019/20 national and provincial audit outcomes released by the Auditor-General, Tsakani Maluleke, on 31 March 2021, Mr Freeman Nomvalo, SAICA’s CEO, stated: ‘As a country we need stability at leadership level (directors-general and boards of state-owned entities), effective parliamentary oversight and appropriately skilled personnel. And finally, we need to ensure that professional conduct and ethics are upheld at the highest level by both government employees and consultants used to prepare annual financial statements for audit. That is why SAICA supports the initiative by the National School of Government to professionalise the public sector. Professionalisation will compel staff to be proficient in their disciplines as well as comply with Codes of Professional Conduct and Ethics as part of their membership commitment.’
The public sector currently grapples with attracting, training and retaining employees who have the requisite skills and experience. This was further highlighted in the 2019/20 provincial and national audit outcomes which indicated that the resourcing of 122 finance units (32%) within provincial and national government was either concerning or requiring intervention, due to:
Staff vacancies (93)
Inadequate skills (13), and
A combination of staff vacancies and inadequate skills (16)
In an effort to address the challenges experienced with skills in the public service, the draft ‘A National Implementation Framework towards the Professionalisation of the Public Service’ was issued by the National School of Government on 24 December 2020.
The framework alluded to the National Development Plan: Vision 2030: ‘In order to enable sustainable and inclusive development, the NDP places emphasis on the key developmental interventions of creating jobs and livelihoods; expanding infrastructure; transforming urban and rural spaces; improving education and training; building a capable state; fighting corruption and enhancing accountability. A capable state is an essential precondition for South Africa’s development. According to the NDP, “there needs to be a uniformity of effort and competence across the entire public service” or else there is a “real risk that South Africa’s national plan could fail because the state is incapable of implementation”.’
The objectives of the framework are:
- Entrenching a dynamic system of professionalisation in the public service
- Strengthening and enabling the legal and policy instruments to professionalise categories of occupations in the public service
- Enhancing and building partnerships and relationships with professional bodies
- Ensuring meritocracy in the recruitment and career management of public servants, which are in line with the National Development Plan and the Medium-Term Strategic Framework
- Initiating consequence management for material irregularities through the transgression mechanisms available to professional bodies and the Public Audit Amendment Act 5 of 2018
The draft framework proposes the following value chain for professionalising the public sector:
- Pre-entry, recruitment and selection
- Induction and onboarding
- Planning and performance management
- Continuing, learning and professional development, and
- Career progression and career incidents
SAICA submitted comments to the draft framework on 26 February. In addition to commenting on the proposed value chain, SAICA also commented on the following:
An enabling environment for professionals
SAICA believes that the professionalisation of the public sector is broader than the qualification of individuals and includes an improvement in the entire public service ecosystem.
SAICA received many concerns from its members on the intimidation threat experienced in the public sector and undertook a survey with its members in 2019 to confirm the existence of these intimidation threats. The responses received from the survey confirmed the existence of intimidation threats to professionals in the public sector.
Perceived and actual intimidation threats in the public sector act as a deterrent to attracting professionals and provide reasons for those who are employed in the public sector to flee.
It is therefore important that consideration is given to strengthening the public service environment to enable professionals to thrive and operate without fear. Professionalisation of the public service based on a professional qualification only will not be sufficient. In order for the implementation of the framework to succeed, the environment needs to be ready to enable professionals to function and abide by the Code of Ethics. This will assist in retaining and attracting professionals to the public service.
Implementation and monitoring of the framework
SAICA further advised that the monitoring of the implementation of the framework is key to its success.
Both the Municipal Finance Management Act 56 of 2003 (MFMA) and the Public Finance Management Act 1 of 1999 (PFMA) require that the chief financial officer (CFO) be responsible for the effective financial management of the institution including the exercise of sound budgeting and budgetary control practices, the operation of internal controls, and the timely production of financial reports.
However, the Auditor-General has over the years identified key officials lacking appropriate competencies as one of the root causes for poor audit outcomes in both the PFMA and MFMA audits.
The Minister of Finance tried to address the lack of competency levels of officials responsible for financial and supply chain management at municipalities and municipal entities by issuing the Municipal Regulations on Minimum Competency Levels on 15 June 2007 which were later amended on 26 October 2018.
The Municipal Regulations on Minimum Competency Levels seek to professionalise the local government sector and to make it a career choice for talented officials, and to some extent mitigate some of the root causes of poor financial management and service delivery.
All financial and supply chain management officials who did not meet the minimum competency levels at the effective date of the regulations had until 2 August 2018 to meet the minimum competency levels. A financial and supply chain management official who was appointed on or after the commencement of the regulations had to attain the minimum competency level within 18 months from the date of appointment.
The vacancy rate for CFOs at municipalities was 15,2% and as only 36,2% of CFOs appointed at municipalities met the minimum competency level as at 30 August 2018, 63,8% of municipalities who had CFOs appointed at this date were not complying with section 83(1) of the MFMA in terms of the required competency.
This reflects a lack of monitoring in the implementation of the minimum competencies framework, as well as a lack of accountability. Monitoring and accountability will be key to the success of the Framework.
SAICA believes that the ethical conduct of public servants is a foundational component of professionalism. SAICA recommended that a separate Code of Ethics be developed to manage the ethical behaviour of public servants.
Although public servants generally work to improve the lives of the public, their behaviour in public service is based on subjective morals and belief systems as opposed to universal, ethical principles. The purpose of ethics is to bridge the gap between these varying moral systems, ensuring that public service represents all of the public.
Importantly, trust in public services is being eroded by public officials and public sector institution acting unethically, which emphasises the need for a Code of Ethics in the public service.
Natashia Soopal, Senior Executive: Public Sector and Enabling Competencies at SAICA