Public service system needs overhaul

Michelle Pietersen

The Public Service Commission this week told Parliament that the system of recruitment of heads of government departments needed a "rethink".

A report by the commission said only 18% of heads of department had been evaluated on their performance. (David Harrison, M&G)

A report by the commission said only 18% of heads of department had been evaluated on their performance in 2009 and 2010, a decline from 53% in 2006 and 2007.

But many of the commission’s recommendations – aimed at improving the appointment and management of heads of department to ensure more effective and sustainable service delivery – may not be implemented, given the historical tensions between the political and administrative arms of the state.

The report, like the National Planning Commission, suggested that a head of administration in the public service be appointed. Directors general and heads of departments would report to this person. The appointee would also advise premiers – as well as the president – on the appointment of heads of department, but senior officials would continue to report to their political principals for policy matters, said the report.

ANC insiders expressed doubt that the party would approve such “extreme measures”, which would take away powers from the political heads of departments. They said it may argue that some of the recommendations could be in violation of the Public Finance Management Act.

Loyalty is tantamount
One of the main concerns noted in the report was the tension between the political and administrative arms of the civil service, which “often created instability in departments” and led to them “being unable to deliver on their basic mandates”.
Sixty-five percent of heads of department who were surveyed said a protocol needed to be developed that would better manage their relationship with their bosses.

“Politicians decide who they work with. Loyalty is tantamount,” said one ANC insider.

“There is already this debate over the term of the heads of department. They [the ANC] cannot decide. This just will not fly,” said a government official who is also a member of one of the ANC’s subcommittees.

In response to the commission’s report, Minister for Monitoring and Evaluation Collins Chabane gave MPs an overview of the proposal submitted to the Cabinet for consideration. His spokesperson, Harold Maloka, said the proposal only dealt with the assessment of the performance of heads of departments and did not address other areas such as recruitment, which, he said, needed intervention.

The proposal is in stark contrast to the commission’s report and calls instead for greater political input. Chabane’s department, with public service and administration, recommended that the presidency and premiers “play a stronger role in the performance evaluations of head of department in future”.

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