South Africa

From 30 to 20 ministers – what a smaller government for South Africa would look like

The Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) called for a significant reduction in the number of ministers in South Africa’s government and a fundamental overhaul of the Presidency.

The CDE said these are important steps towards fixing South Africa’s weak state and included these suggestions in a new report, ACTION ONE: Reorganise the Presidency and the Cabinet. 

“The state’s capacity to develop policies and deliver public services and programmes has been undermined by systemic corruption, too many compromised party loyalists, inadequate skills at critical levels, and a lack of accountability for poor performance and wrongdoing,” said CDE executive director Ann Bernstein.

“At the same time, government has taken on more responsibilities, creating new government departments and public entities.”

“Adding extra layers of bureaucracy and parallel management structures has made it harder to take decisions and co-ordinate key actors to deliver on outcomes.”

To deepen reform, the CDE suggested that the President select the best people available to him – those with the necessary experience and skills to lead large government departments and those with integrity to govern honestly. 

“He should resist the urge to preside over a bloated Cabinet since smaller Cabinets tend to be more agile, more collegial and more accountable,” the organisation said.

A Daily Investor analysis found that South Africa has more ministers than the world’s largest and wealthiest countries, including the United States, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. 

Last year, the DA’s shadow minister for public service and administration, Leon Schreiber, revealed that this large cabinet is costing taxpayers billions.

He said ministers and deputy ministers employed 624 personal staff members, costing taxpayers R1.9 billion since Ramaphosa took office in February 2018.

He added that ministers and deputy ministers live in 97 state-owned mansions in Pretoria and Cape Town worth nearly R1 billion.

“We are alive to the political reality of a potential coalition government and the need for the President to accommodate various parties in his Cabinet,” said Bernstein.

“However, we believe – even within this constraint – it is possible to reduce the number of Cabinet Ministers and ensure that the best available people are chosen in key portfolios.”

In CDE’s analysis, a better-organized, smaller, and more effective cabinet of about 20 ministers could be constituted out of the current 30. 

The organisation explained that not all ministers have equally important portfolios. The most important figure in the Cabinet after the President is the Minister of Finance, who must have personal and political authority and the full confidence of the President. 

“This support must include backing the Finance Minister’s assessment of affordability or otherwise of policy proposals from other ministries and critically of what is and is not, a sustainable fiscal position,” it explained.

“The President must fully use his constitutional prerogative to appoint two Cabinet Ministers from outside the National Assembly. This is a crucial mechanism to bring in new leadership and specialist expertise into key positions at a time of national crisis,” said Bernstein.

She said cabinet processes must be dramatically improved and the Presidency reorganised to ensure a focus on key priorities.

“Judging by the quality of government’s decision-making and from the accounts of senior public servants with experience of Cabinet processes, Cabinet’s ability to make evidence-based decisions is weak, largely because its processes deny it the information needed to make those decisions,” said Bernstein.

She said a far more rigorous priority-setting process would greatly strengthen cabinet processes, allowing the government to focus on doing fewer things well.  

“We need to stop the tendency of Presidents endlessly updating their list of priorities and announcing new initiatives every time something captures their imagination,” said Bernstein.

She suggested strengthening Operation Vulindlela (OV) and reconstituted as a delivery unit focused solely on implementing priority reforms. 

It should absorb the Department of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation and the Project Management Office in the Presidency while ensuring that the implementation of a reform agenda is its core function. 

What a streamlined cabinet might look like

CDE provided an idea of what these changes might look like, with a smaller and more effective cabinet of 20 ministers that be constituted out of the current 30. 

“South Africa needs an urgent and serious discussion on what a more effective Cabinet should look like in order to meet the country’s challenges for the next five years,” the organisation said.

Here is what South Africa’s current cabinet looks like:

1Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development
2Minister of Basic Education
3Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies
4Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs
5Minister of Defence and Military Veterans
6Minister of Employment and Labour
7Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment
8Minister of Finance
9Minister of Health
10Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation
11Minister of Home Affairs
12Minister of Human Settlements
13Minister of International Relations and Cooperation
14Minister of Justice and Correctional Services
15Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy
16Minister of Police
17Minister in the Presidency
18Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity
19Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation
20Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities
21Minister of Public Enterprises
22Minister of Public Service and Administration
23Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure
24Minister of Small Business Development
25Minister of Social Development
26Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture
27Minister of Tourism
28Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition
29Minister of Transport
30Minister of Water and Sanitation

Here is the CDE’s suggestion for an alternative, smaller cabinet:

MinistryChangesDeputy Ministers
1FinanceAs is, but appoint a strong minister, with full presidential support.No
2EconomyThree into one – DTIC, Mining, and Tourism.Yes (Two Deputy Ministers)
3Employment and LabourLeave as is, but with a primary focus on reducing unemployment.No
4Cities, Housing, and Urban DevelopmentNew ministry focused just on Metros. Absorbs Human Settlements where a national focus will continue.Yes (Two Deputy Ministers)
5Water and Sanitation, Energy, EnvironmentTwo into one – Energy splits from Mining.Yes (Two Deputy Ministers)
6Transport, Infrastructure, Communications and Digital TechnologiesThree into one. Infrastructure splits off from public works.Yes (Two Deputy Ministers)
7Agriculture and Land ReformAs is.Yes (Two Deputy Ministers)
8Local Government (non-metros) and Traditional AffairsAs is – but now main focus on non- Metro local government, along with Traditional Affairs.Yes (Two Deputy Ministers)

The Social Services Cluster

MinistryChangesDeputy Ministers
9Education and TrainingTwo into one. Main focus on basic and higher education, with a strong small division focusing on science and innovation.Yes (Two Deputy Ministers)
10HealthAs is.No
11Social DevelopmentAs is.No
12Sports, Arts and CultureAs is.No
13Home AffairsAs is.No

The Safety and Security Cluster

MinistryChangesDeputy Ministers
14PoliceAs is.No
15Justice and Correctional ServicesAs is.No
16DefenceAs is.No
17State Security and IntelligenceAs is but outside the Presidency.No
18International RelationsAs is.No

Public Service

MinistryChangesDeputy Ministers
19Public Service and AdministrationAs is.No
20Minister in the PresidencyAs is, but providing support in driving the reform programme.No

Therefore, the following ministries would either be terminated or downgraded to non-ministerial level if the CDE’s suggestion is implemented –

  • Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity – Terminate
  • Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation – Downgrade and to be absorbed into Operation Vulindlela.
  • Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities – Make this a function in every department where appropriate.
  • Minister of Public Enterprises – Terminate (Viable SOCs to report to line departments)
  • Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure – Public works should be a provincial function. Infrastructure is part of a new Ministry
  • Minister of Small Business Development – Terminate and shut down the department

The CDE said its proposed list is based on advice from experts, but it is not intended to be the final word on the topic.


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