Schools of public management and administration at South African institutions need to rethink their academic positioning amid a fundamental shift in the new government’s approach to governance.
The renaming of the department of provincial and local government to that of cooperative governance and traditional affairs is one indication of this shift, according to Professor Jerry Kuye, director and chair of the University of Pretoria’s school of public management and administration.
‘Cooperative governance suggests that there has to be closer collaboration between national,provincial and local governments and provincial boundaries must become porous to allow effective governance,” he said. Kuye said the Western Cape’s change in the provincial government from ANC to DA does not mean that the national and provincial government don’t collaborate.
With the emergence of a department of cooperative governance and traditional leadership, one is forced to state that South Africa will see a different approach to the utilisation of the instruments of the state. For Kuye, the message from the government has been ‘let us govern together”.
The challenge of improved service delivery at grass-roots level, which overwhelmingly takes place at municipal level, also demands better cooperation between local governments and the sharing of resources and experience as this will prompt the greater emphasis on collaborative governance, said Kuye.
Against this backdrop schools of public management and administration need to rethink the role they can play and the impact they can have through both their curricula and advisory support. Kuye said: ‘These schools must shape the way forward by creating viable and constructive training programmes.
And although public sector education must have relevance nationally, by the same token it cannot disregard that the world is global. National issues therefore have to be viewed in a global context too.”
Schools of public management and administration –there are more than a dozen at public universities in South Africa –are training significant numbers of undergraduate students who take up employment in the government, public sector entities and parastatals.They also provide postgraduate academic qualifications to students as well as middle and top managers in the bureaucracy.
Kuye said both politicians and these public managers can no longer hide their responsibility and accountability obligations. ‘There is consensus that the government needs to move away from planning to service delivery.
In this instance proper policy implementation is critical. Citizens are no longer impressed by policy plans. They are looking for results,” he said. ‘This is why schools of public management and administration should be relevant in terms of policy training to ensure a safe, democratic and orderly environment that is conducive to sustainable growth and the development of its citizens.”
But, despite huge problems in service delivery, Kuye does not believe the public sector is doing too badly. ‘If you look at the public sector, coming from the obscurity of apartheid, robust gains have been made by the government and it is not as bad as some would like to attest.
We came out of a revolution only 15 years ago and had to debunk some of the then existing theories.
Transformation is a gradual process. Change will take time. We are in an incremental evolution –evolving a new template of government and leadership,” he said.
More empirical research about the state of public administration in South Africa is also necessary. ‘Research should focus on contemporary policies, but also innovative policies for the country.
Best practices should assist with proper service delivery programmes and policy implementation,” he said.
Schools of public management and administration should become more involved with solutions in future. ‘They should become part of the solution and be more focused on creating advisory support to the state at all levels.
Schools should run together [and even set the pace] with government in achieving its ideals in service delivery and development,” Kuye said.