The Public Service Commission (PSC) is investigating the appointment of President Jacob Zuma’s daughter Thuthukile Zuma (25) to the powerful role of chief of staff at the ministry of telecommunications and postal services – and a new study shows her appointment may have been out of line, contrary to government’s claims.
Public protector Thuli Madonsela received the initial complaint in July and referred it to the commission in August.
“The PSC is currently conducting its investigations relating to the matter,” the commission told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday in response to written questions. “The complaint relates to the regularity of the appointment of the chief of staff at the ministry of telecommunications and postal services, Ms Thuthukile Zuma.”
Neither the PSC nor the public protector would say who had lodged the complaint. “The name of the complainant is known to the PSC. However, the PSC cannot divulge third-party information,” the commission said.
Meanwhile, a comprehensive PSC report into the appointment of ministerial staff has blown away much of the defence around Thuthukile’s appointment.
Thuthukile’s defenders have emphasised that hers is a “political” appointment.
They say that, as one of a handful of staff in the minister’s office, her appointment did not have to follow the same procedures or be advertised, as is the case for civil servants in larger departments.
Stringent selection processes
But the PSC recommends in a May report into the appointment of ministerial staff that stringent selection processes should be followed.
“The chief of staff position is at a senior management services level, and therefore the selection processes should not be different from those utilised to select a chief director for a line function in a department. This means that candidates should be assessed/interviewed and should undergo a competency assessment in line with the requirements.”
This contrasts with the culture in state ministries, where the idea of “political appointments” has often meant hiring a free-for-all, with little regard for the relevant legislation – or the experience of the individual.
“The question was raised by some respondents as to why there is a need for all these stringent processes for a position in a ‘political’ office,” the report noted dryly.
“The response given is that the chief of staff is one of the key people that are appointed to support the [minister] administratively and ensure co-ordination so that the [minister] is able to deliver on the mandate of the department.”
The PSC report emphasises the importance of the chief of staff and slams the growing culture of appointing unqualified individuals.
Telecommunications spokesperson Siya Qoza previously would not respond to questions about what selection processes had been followed and Thuthukile’s relevant experience for the role, saying only that it is “consistent with the rules and regulations governing the appointment of people in government ministries”.
Thuthukile refused to discuss her experience and why she qualified for the job when the M&G contacted her initially and did not immediately return questions on Thursday.
“Any person who … is appointed in this position should possess the minimum, essential management, administrative, liaison and interpersonal relations competencies,” the report stresses, noting that these competencies are more important than political understanding.
The M&G reported in July that Thuthukile, who has minimal work experience, had been appointed to the ministry in May.
She has an honours degree in anthropology, meeting the minimum academic requirements.
But the M&G could trace only two positions she has held since leaving university: a short period working as a public liaison officer under Siyabonga Cwele, then the minister of state security and now the minister of telecommunications, and a brief time volunteering at ANC offices, which caused controversy over allegations of nepotism.
The department of telecommunications did not respond to questions relating to the PSC report before going to print.