South Africa

Government officials should reapply for their jobs – CDE

Cyril Ramaphosa

The Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to ensure that only the best people are appointed to top public service positions.

The CDE said underperforming public officials should be replaced with excellent people of impeccable integrity to turbo-charge the new government’s reform agenda.

This is according to the organisation’s latest report, ACTION TWO: Appoint the right people in mission critical public sector jobs.

“The focus of the new government must be on putting the best possible people into key positions. Excellent professional appointments can kickstart change, achieve faster growth, and generate millions more jobs,” said CDE executive director Ann Bernstein.

“It’s important to point out that many senior civil servants are excellent, and we commend their commitment to the public and their hard work in difficult circumstances.”

In this report, CDE identifies a list of mission critical jobs essential for implementing the first phase of a new government’s reform agenda.

These include Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Directors-Generals, and their deputies in the priority portfolios of Finance, Trade, Industry and Competition, Police, Justice and Constitutional Development, and Employment and Labour.

The CEOs, chairpersons and other senior officials of state-owned companies and institutions under government control are also considered mission-critical.

“We use the term ‘mission-critical’ to describe jobs that will determine the success or failure of turning South Africa around,” Bernstein explained.

“If the state is to become much more effective, opportunities must be seized to improve state capability dramatically and ensure the best possible people for the job required are appointed.”

“Wherever possible, officials in mission-critical positions should be asked to reapply for their positions and appointed only after rigorous recruitment processes.”

The CDE report proposed replacing cadre deployment with merit-based appointments. It is a common practice globally for political advisors to join a new government.

However, to ensure effectiveness, the number of advisors and their specific roles need to be clearly defined.

“South Africa’s newly elected President should – very early in the new administration – issue a statement unequivocally indicating the government’s opposition to and termination of cadre deployment.”

“This is an essential and fundamental principle required for the rebuilding of an honest, effective public service,” Bernstein said.

“In implementing this commitment, a first urgent step is to ensure the right people are in mission critical jobs as soon as possible. We have seen the devastating consequences of putting the wrong people at the top of vital institutions.”

The CDE also proposed establishing a permanent disciplinary tribunal chaired by a retired judge for officials accused of corruption to avoid lengthy delays in dismissing officials credibly accused of corruption.

This tribunal would operate on an inquisitorial basis and would not have to wait for criminal investigations and prosecutions to be completed first.

Other important reforms include strengthening the Public Service Commission, more rigorous entrance exams for public servants, and the amendment of the Labour Relations Act to make it easier to replace civil servants in senior leadership positions.

“Achieving a workable reform agenda requires a well-oiled state machine. That, in turn, depends upon hard-working, honest public servants executing their responsibilities effectively and conscientiously,” said Bernstein.

“In the absence of a capable civil service, attempts to overcome the multiple crises that beset the country will fail. Rebuilding an effective state will take time but we need bold reforms and more effective delivery to occur urgently.”

The CDE’s concerns about South Africa’s public servants have been echoed in part by the Public Service Commission, which has said there is a shortage of professional and technical skills in the civil service.

Head of the Commission Somadoda Fikeni has previously said the public sector does not exhibit “the astuteness, agility, capacity or single-mindedness to do its best for the country”.

He said some public servants see their role as enforcing rules rather than achieving outcomes, while others abuse their positions for self-enrichment and patronage.


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