Transformation challenges public sector

Prioritising the poor remains a key challenge for government (Photo: Oupa Nkosi)

Prioritising the poor remains a key challenge for government (Photo: Oupa Nkosi)

This is further compounded by several factors and, in the case of South Africa, glaring socioeconomic inequalities.

Some of these factors include the following: over three million households are in poverty; over 2.3-million South Africans suffer from malnutrition, including 87% of all African children under the age of 12; almost 95% of all poor are African, 5% are coloured and less than 1% are Indian and white; over 75% of poverty is concentrated in rural areas, especially in the former homelands for which the previous regime conveniently never kept statistics; some 65% of the adult population is illiterate; and about 4% of all children between the ages of 10 and 14 engage in child labour.

Furthermore, in excess of nine million people live in imijondolo (shacks). Only 41% of rural clinics have an ambulance within one hour of an emergency call, compared to 71% of urban clinics, and 6% of the population earns 40% of the income.

It is against this stark statistical backdrop that the over 1.2-million men and women in the public service have to do business. They account for about a fifth of all formal employment in South Africa and about a 10th of the labour force as a whole. This makes the government the largest single employer in the country.

Between 40% and 60% of the public service workforce belongs to unions and staff associations.

Their daily responsibilities include creating a better life for the people of South Africa — the rich and the poor. The poor with almost no voice and the rich with far too much to say.

What constitutes governance?

Governance is about the implementation of laws and the actual provision of services and products. In theory, the government’s programmes should contribute towards an enhanced quality of life for all.

Which of course implies that the outcomes of public administration are aimed at service delivery and the improvement of the general welfare of the people.

Many would argue that public administration does not really do much to improve the general welfare of anybody, especially those who have been waiting in line for two or three hours at a government building and are then turned away because someone is “on a tea-break”.

The ongoing upheavals with the City of Joburg and its billing system are a case in point. These are issues that affect all the city’s clients, rich and poor.

But what the clients forget is that the ordinary staff, such as the call-centre employees, the help-desk staff or the other trouble shooters who face the barrage of rage from the public, had nothing to do with the decisions that caused the problems. They just work there and follow orders, although some do it better than others.

While there is an abundance of effective performance enhancing solutions that work in the private sector, they somehow don’t trickle through to the public sector and even when they do, they don’t seem to be as effective.

“Process over results” is known to be a modus operandi in government corridors. Never mind the fact that someone knows of a better, smarter, more cost effective way to get something done — the process needs to be followed, which invariably involves meetings about meetings.

Batho Pele

Yet, the Batho Pele White Paper states that the South African Public Service will be judged by one criterion: its effectiveness in delivering services that meet the basic needs of all South African citizens.

Batho Pele, Sesotho for “people first”, was launched in October 1997, aimed at providing the public service with a fresh and focused approach to improve service delivery, while putting pressure on systems, procedures, attitudes and behaviour within the public service to have a radical shift in orientation.

But after all these years of Batho Pele in action, do employees in government feel anything has changed?

Do they actually feel any kind of patriotic commitment? Do they understand that their salaries are paid by the people’s taxes? Is it more than a job to them or is it just cool to have a job with benefits — for life?

Duties of a civil servant

To respond to people’s concerns is one of local governments’ core responsibilities and certainly one of its primary functions in terms of the South African constitution.

For the past few years, service delivery protests have been rife in municipalities across South Africa. Angry residents take to the streets in remonstration against the poor performance of these municipalities.

In many municipalities there has been minimal delivery and services have ground to a standstill. Money has been misappropriated and diverted away from the people and into the pockets of salaried employees. The good thing about working for the government is that it is very hard to get fired.

The government is big on suspensions, disciplinary hearings and a whole range of measures that don’t seem to act as much of a deterrent or an inspiration to its staff.

The government is also a tangled morass of rules and regulations, red-tape, meetings and seminars — hardly a setting conducive to inspirational human resources practices.

Phelele Tengeni, deputy chairperson for the Public Service Commission, said in a foreword in 2011: “Human resources (employees) are an integral element to the functioning of any organisation, yet enjoy a backwater status and are not taken seriously at all levels.

“Managing to harness the potential of individuals, each with their own needs, views and opinions, means that one must manage this resource with due sensitivity to providing constant stimulation and satisfaction.

“This means organising the work in such a manner that it inspires and promotes intrinsic motivation, rather than work that takes place only when there is supervision or instruction. Such a task of growing, motivating and improving individual skills, training and development needs remains one of the most challenging aspects facing an organisation.”

From the abovementioned excerpt and the conclusions of the PSC, it looks like the public service has not yet quite got around to HR.

State-owned enterprises

There are over 130 state-owned enterprises. State-owned enterprises (or public entities) are independent bodies partially or wholly owned by government. They perform specific functions and operate in accordance with a particular Act.

They range from the Airports Company South Africa, Denel and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration to Freedom Park and the National House of Traditional Leaders.

Parastatals are a whole other story. Only last year, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba proclaimed that the pay package perks for executives of state-owned enterprises would definitely be capped.

“As long as you are employed, whether you meet your shareholder targets or not, you get your benefits. Whether you’re underperforming or over-performing, you get the same benefits,” Gigaba said.

Gigaba called the current remuneration packages of top executives “unsustainable” and says they shouldn’t be allowed to escalate, particularly taking into account the high income inequality in the country.

In an article on Moneyweb in September 2012, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union warned of the widening gap between workers and executives and said it had been creeping up over the years.

Nehawu claimed that the earnings of the top 20 directors of parastatals grew by 59% between 2008 and 2009 alone.

End white domination

And now, 19 years after liberation, government is looking to end white domination in the public service.

In an article published on July 31 in Independent Newspapers, the heads of state-owned enterprises and Gigaba are reported to have been strategising to transform the industries that are still dominated by older white males.

South Africa’s racial imbalance in the workplace was put in the spotlight again in April this year when the Commission for Employment Equity launched its 13th annual report, which showed that white men still dominated top management positions in South Africa.

Dr Loyiso Mbabane, chairperson for the Commission for Employment Equity, says: “The ‘designated group’ members who are now in senior management and top management have yet to flex their muscle.

Their impact is not showing in terms of the trends that have just been alluded to. We need transformational leaders and transformational management. The report is an indictment on the part of past and current leadership in all sectors, including government.

“We need to go back to the drawing board and re-visit the fundamentals. The leaders and managers who are committed to non-discrimination and employment equity are called upon to rise up to the challenge.

“The paradox is that as we tend towards more and more ‘empowerment’, according to ‘scorecards’, we are getting less and less transformed in terms of substantive behaviours and practices.”

Aviation industry

In a big move to transform the South African aviation industry (where 70% of South African African Airways (SAA) pilots were white males) SA Express chief executive Inati Ntshanga, whose airline runs the pilot cadet programme with SAA, said the focus would be on women because in SA Express there were only nine black women and 22 white women out of about 250 pilots.

“At our next intake of cadets we are looking to be taking almost an all-female team of pilots,” he said.