The appointment of President Jacob Zuma’s 25-year-old daughter, Thuthukile Zuma, to a powerful ministry position may have to stand up to the scrutiny of the public protector.
Thuli Madonsela’s office has received a complaint about Zuma’s appointment as chief of staff of the telecommunications and postal services ministry on Wednesday, after it was revealed in the Mail & Guardian.
“So far the public protector has received one complaint,” Madonsela’s spokesperson, Kgalalelo Masibi, said on Thursday. “The complaint is still being assessed to establish the merits and jurisdiction for the public protector to investigate.”
Meanwhile, experts say political appointments should not be freely handed out as there are clear guidelines governing the kind of candidate required for political posts, even if the selection process is not regulated.
The M&G reported last week that Zuma’s daughter had been appointed to the ministry in May, after serving as a public liaison officer for slightly less than a year under Siyabonga Cwele, then the minister of state security and now the minister of telecommunications.
Being one of a handful of staff in the minister’s office, Thuthukile’s appointment did not have to follow the same procedures or be advertised, as is the case for civil servants in larger departments.
But the law is clear that, even for political appointments, experience matters.
The Public Service Act of 1994 and its relevant regulations make it clear that an “executive authority” such as a Cabinet minister may appoint ministerial staff to advise and help the minister without following the normal advertising or selection processes.
But chapter seven of the 2001 regulations clearly states that, although these posts don’t need to follow a bias-free selection method, “the training, skills, competence and knowledge necessary to meet the inherent requirements of the post” must be considered.
Although Thuthukile seemingly has the requisite academic qualifications, with an honours degree in anthropology from the University of the Witwatersrand, her employment history is extremely limited, meaning she is unlikely to meet the required “training, skills, competence and knowledge necessary” for the post of chief of staff.
Her employment history is patchy and she has refused to explain her suitability for the position.
The M&G could trace only two positions she has held since leaving university: the short period working as a public liaison officer, according to her former department, and a brief time volunteering at ANC offices, which itself caused controversy over allegations of nepotism.
The position of chief of staff is an integral appointment for a minister. Although a thorough selection process is not required, several ministries have advertised the same position, with strict senior managerial requirements of five to 10 years’ experience, to ensure they attract the best-qualified candidates.
The debate over whether Thuthukile deserved the position or not proved to be divisive, with those defending the president’s daughter pointing out the established culture of political appointments in government.
“The minister could hire his girlfriend if he wanted to,” said one senior government employee speaking off the record.
Much of the debate that took place on radio and television shows and social media following the news centred on the lack of process required to appoint a ministerial staff member. There were also accusations that the appointment amounted to clear nepotism.
The ministerial handbook provides no clear guidelines on hiring for such positions and the Public Service Act’s requirement of relevant experience appears to have been forgotten or minimised in this particular case.
But a government expert on hiring processes within the ministries, who wanted to remain anonymous, given that the president’s daughter was involved, said the culture of hiring private staff had become distorted.
He pointed out that politicians exploited the fact that neither the law nor the ministerial handbook prescribes strict procedures or minimum requirements for positions in the private offices of ministers.
But this does not mean that the appointments are necessarily divorced from regulatory and other professional frameworks. The position, after all, is still paid for with public money.
For instance, according to the expert, an adviser to the political principal is required to have extensive knowledge and expertise in that field or, in the case of a political adviser, have demonstrable political knowledge.
In the case of the chief of staff, the incumbent is required to have extensive technical knowledge of the ministry, because it requires particular skills to maintain the interface between the ministry and the key industry players and stakeholders it has to deal with.
And, although the ministerial handbook is silent about the processes required to hire such a person, it is clear about their responsibilities. The person is expected to direct and manage the ministry strategically, in conjunction with the department. He or she needs to “quality assure whatever emanates from the ministry”, including budgets and speeches.
The person must also reflect the attitude and posture of the “brand” of that ministry and minister.
Therefore, it requires someone with extensive knowledge of the public service, the specific ministry, budgeting, management, strategic liaison and more. Given these demands, extensive management experience is a prerequisite.
In addition to a possible investigation by the public protector, the minister who hired her, Cwele, will have to reply to written questions submitted by the Democratic Alliance about the appointment.
“What criteria was set for filling this position, and what influenced the consideration? If it was based on the CV, I would like to know what other CVs were looked at,” the DA’s national spokesperson, Marius Redelinghuys, said.
But the ministry appears unfazed by the fuss. Although the news made international headlines and trended locally, the ministry insisted Zuma was not going to be moved.
Instead, the ministry has clung to a narrow interpretation of the framework guiding the appointment.
“The appointment is consistent with the regulations,” the ministry’s spokesperson, Siya Qoza, said on Thursday. “We’re sticking to the [same] statement from last week.” – Additional reporting by Moshoeshoe Monare