In my previous article, I posed the following scenario. An individual finds himself in a body of water with no means to stay afloat and unable to swim ashore. Flanking the shore are several individuals, each positioned at a vantage point that offers a clear view of the person slowly sinking. However, rather than aiding the person in need, those ashore merely look on despite the glaring need for intervention. With those who can make a difference choosing to remain ashore, eventually that individual will be beyond saving.
In the above scenario, the individual in the body of water serves to represent the South African government and public administration as a whole. Upon initial consideration of the scenario, one may conclude that those ashore should intervene and provide the aid that is so obviously needed. However, at what point do we consider what the individual could do? This now brings us to consider the ‘government predicament’.
The government predicament in South Africa can be attributed to a diverse and complex array of persistent challenges across the country’s public administration. If an ordinary South African citizen were to be posed the question ‘What challenges do the South African government face?’, most would immediately begin to list a lack of skill and capabilities, political interference, nepotism, corruption, overall lack of accountability … to name but a few. Yet, if we consider each of these challenges, there is a single commonality that can be drawn. Each challenge is symptomatic in nature. So, what then is the diagnosis?
At a global level, there is a call for the professionalisation of the public service, and South Africa is no exception. Viewed as fundamental to South Africa’s development, the need for professionalisation of the public service is undoubtedly the source from which the current challenges stem. The notion of professionalisation has various interpretations across academia, yet each definition draws upon the rights and value system enshrined within the constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996) as the founding basis of the concept. However, as South Africans embark on their 27th year of democratic freedom, there is insurmountable evidence that compliance has been prioritised over the need to drive professionalisation of the public service, despite the constitution’s cry for the latter.
With the adoption of the National Development Plan 2030, there has been a rise in the discourse around the need for the professionalisation of the public service. Yet, similar to the multitude of oversight reports circulated within public administration, the focus primarily vests on causation and corrective measures rather than the means to implement redress. In conjunction with the NDP 2030, the Medium-Term Strategic Framework has also highlighted the need for professionalisation and has even taken a step further to commit to this noble cause in order to build a capable, ethical and developmental state.
What remains in question, however, is how do we professionalise the public service now that we know what is needed?
Recently the National Implementation Framework towards the professionalisation of the public service was drafted and tabled before Cabinet and approved for draft publication. Having familiarised myself with the content of the framework, it is clear that government’s predicament has been assigned the correct diagnosis, and that what is needed as treatment has been considered. What this framework further showcases are South Africa’s attempts at aligning with Africa’s initiative around professionalisation and solidifying our presence as a role-player.
To provide further context around the diagnosis, I have listed the framework’s objectives:
- 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 aim of these objectives is to drive the professionalisation of the public service by adequately treating the symptomatic challenges within government.
However, the need for the creation of an enabling environment remains critical to success in this regard. To provide further context around an enabling environment, one may consider the regulation of trade in relation to certain occupations or disciplines. Currently, one occupation that falls within the ambit of public administration is regulated, namely the healthcare sector. In order to create an environment that would enable the implementation of the necessary measures to drive the professionalisation of the public service, there would need to be further regulation of trade in relation to the various occupations and disciplines within government. This would foster an all-encompassing standard against which diligent working practices are gauged and thus create an enabling environment for professionalisation.
If we cast back to my first article, ‘The onus to change the narrative’, three broad categories encompass the challenges that government face, namely an overall lack of accountability, capacity constraints and capability deficits. If we consider the objectives of the framework and what has been identified as what is needed, it is clear that collectively the objectives of the professionalisation of the public service will alleviate the symptomatic challenges. Yet, the question remains … how do we achieve this?
Alluding to a comment earlier in this article, the current position with regard to oversight reports, frameworks or the like is to provide a comprehensive diagnosis and identify the corrective measures necessary, but further clarity on how to implement these measures remains wholly lacking … And so we circle back to that individual unable to swim ashore.
Ultimately the government predicament has been diagnosed. However, what is needed now is two-fold − determine how we implement the treatment plan while simultaneously aligning each role-player with a singular vision to drive implementation.
In my next article, ‘Calling all role-players’, we will unpack the pivotal role that each role-player (government included) plays in addressing government’s predicament − demonstrating that the predicament is not restricted to public administration, but rather is a collective issue among all South Africans.
Garth Pretorius CA(SA), RA founder and owner of GPA Consulting and Training