Professor Daniel Plaatjies is quite correct to draw attention to the need to professionalise the public administration, writes Paul Hoffman.
("Building an agile public service", September 28 to October 4), But he omits to mention two elephants that are in the room in his analysis.
The first is the persistent illegal practice by the ANC of deploying its cadres in the public administration. This has been frowned on by the Eastern Cape High Court in the leading case of Mlokoti vs Amathole District Municipality and is in direct contravention of the constitutional requirement that good human-resource management practices should be promoted in the public administration.
The problem with cadre deployment (unexceptionable in respect of political appointments) is that no matter how competent the public administration cadres might be, they are inevitably placed in an intractable conflict of interest by the mere fact of their deployment.
Loyalty to the deployment committee and the ANC always trumps any loyalty to the public, which service of the kind contemplated in the Constitution ought to elicit in all public servants.
Unless cadre deployment is stopped, the chances of a truly professional public administration emerging from the competency-based induction programme led by Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu are zero. No deployed cadres, no matter how competent, can provide services "impartially, fairly, equitably and without bias". Yet this is precisely what the Constitution requires in section 195(1)(e). Cadres remain accountable to the party, not the public. This destroys all hope of professionalism.
The second elephant in the room is the quasi-federal nature of the democratic dispensation in place in South Africa. Already one province is governed by the Democratic Alliance, a minority party at national level. One metropole and many municipalities are also in opposition hands. In time, more may follow.
It is impossible to divine how a single, centrally appointed public service (whether or not it is populated by deployed cadres) can adhere to a high standard of professional ethics and use public resources efficiently, economically and effectively when it is confronted with the vagaries of the ballot box. The loyal execution of the lawful policies of the provincial or municipal government of the day by a centrally appointed public administration is unachievable in any province or local sphere that falls into opposition hands.
This problem will be exacerbated exponentially if cadre deployment in the public administration continues, because cadres are bound by the strategy and tactics of the "national democratic revolution" and not, to the extent that they are inconsistent with hegemonic revolutionary ideology, by the principles and values of the Constitution.
How many deployed cadres could seriously sign the pledge for the public administration of South Africa, which requires them "ceaselessly to build our multiparty, democratic and open society in accordance with the rule of law"? – Paul Hoffman, Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa (ifaisa.org)