The Public Service Commission (PSC) may have cleared the appointment of President Jacob Zuma’s daughter to a powerful government job but, if it gets its way with a report currently before Parliament, hiring ministry staff will entail a far more rigorous process in future.
And the oversight body is less than impressed with Thuthukile Zuma’s limited work experience.
“The PSC noted with concern that the work experience of Ms Zuma falls short of the recommended three to five years’ senior management experience.
“However, the benchmark job description serves only as a guideline and is therefore not mandatory,” the body said in official responses to the Mail & Guardian this week.
The M&G reported in July that 25-year-old Zuma was appointed chief of staff at the ministry of telecommunications and postal services, despite not having the recommended experience for the job.
She was given the job by minister Siyabonga Cwele – a Zuma loyalist – and potentially earns about R1-million a year.
After reading the article Democratic Alliance member Ndumiso Gumede complained to the public protector and it was referred to the PSC in August. The commission finalised its investigation in October and informed Gumede that “the appointment of Ms Zuma was found to be in line with the prevailing prescripts”.
This seemed to contradict a critical report by the PSC into the appointment of ministerial staff, published in May, before the high-profile news broke.
The commission recommends in its report 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,” it said at the time.
Simply a recommendation
The PSC told the M&G this week, however, that the commission’s report was simply a recommendation on its part: the investigation into Zuma had to be based on current legislation that allowed ministers and other executive authorities to hire ministry staff without following the normal process of advertising and selection required of departmental staff.
The freedom granted by the relevant legislation has led to something of a free-for-all, with little regard for the experience of the individual. The PSC is hoping to tighten up the situation with the report.
“It’s still a long process before it can become legislation,” one of the PSC commissioners told the M&G.
In its brief response to Gumede, the PSC said the appointment was allowed “in terms of section 9 of the Public Service Act (PSA), 1994” and chapter eight of the ministerial handbook.
But the law is clear: even for political appointments, experience matters.
The PSA 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 Zuma 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.
The PSC has acknowledged that this is a problem in Zuma’s case and in ministerial appointments generally.
Whether the government will actually adopt the PSC’s report is another matter entirely.
The body has no way to enforce its findings and has complained about the cavalier attitude of some officials towards its recommendations. A bid to enhance its powers and root out noncompliance in the government was previously stonewalled by the ANC in Parliament.