/ 8 July 2024

Cabinet ministers can’t fire directors general, says Public Service Commission

Public servants should forget about wanting to “serve as both administrators and political bearers at the same time”, said PSC commissioner Anele Gxoyiya. File photo

The Public Service Commission (PSC) has again cautioned new ministers against attempting to remove the directors general of the departments they now head, saying they cannot legally do so.

The PSC, which monitors and evaluates the organisation, administration and performances of the public service, did so at a media briefing held in Pretoria on Monday, ahead of the first lekgotla of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s new cabinet later in the week.

The body has also called on civil servants to “maintain loyalty and support to the new leadership” appointed to the 32-member cabinet, which contains ministers from the Democratic Alliance (DA), the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and other parties involved in the government of national unity.

During coalition negotiations, the DA had demanded a review of directors general in the ministries it took over and had suggested it would want to play a role in deciding who to appoint to the key posts.

The PSC, which opposes this idea, recently held a plenary to discuss the problems presented to the civil service by the changes introduced by the 29 May elections, the decisions of which it made public at the media briefing.

It also released its quarterly Pulse of the Public Service, which contains updates on important issues regarding the civil service.

PSC commissioner Anele Gxoyiya said that the despite the potential of the elections to change priorities and programmes from the previous administration, public servants should “focus on moving forward and respecting the choices made by the citizens and supporting those elected into office in a non-partisan way”. 

Public servants should forget about wanting to “serve as both administrators and political bearers at the same time” while the politicians should focus on policy and leave the implementation up to the bureaucracy.

Gxoyiya said the transition “should not compromise service delivery” and the relationships between political and administrative, which were “often a site of much strife” needed to be managed properly.

“Directors general are directors general of the public service, and not directors general of certain ministers,” Gxoyiya said.

He said that while “there might have been mistakes in the past” where directors general were removed for political reasons, “we need a process through which the public service is insulated from politics”. 

“If there is nothing in relation to incompetence or misconduct, there is no reason for a director general to be removed. They just need to continue doing their work as public servants,” Gxoyiya said. 

“We would certainly discourage any attempt to remove people on the basis of them not having been appointed by certain people.”

He said that during the period in which there had been no government in place, the public service had continued to do its work and to deliver services in terms of its mandate.

“That is the kind of a public service that we want,” he said. “We don’t want people who are preoccupied with politics.”

Commissioner Vusumuzi Mavuso said it was not up to ministers to simply “order that the DG must just pack and go because they don’t want them”. 

All directors general were on five-year contracts, subject to assessment, and would remain in office unless there was misconduct, which had to be dealt with through due process.

“The public service has to be professionalised. This is non-negotiable,” Mavuso said. “All those who have been appointed have a right to be there.”

He said it was up to the ministers to make the effort to “strike a relationship with their respective DGs” rather than thinking about trying to remove them and bring in their own people to fill the posts.

Gxoyiya said civil servants would also have to be “prepared and ready to serve anyone who gets elected to office, irrespective of political affiliation”. 

The Quarterly Pulse report revealed that national and provincial government departments were still not paying their service providers within the “generous” 30-day grace period provided for by the treasury.

National departments had failed to pay more than 108 000 invoices to service providers in the first four months of the year — totalling more than R4.6 billion. 

While this was a 2% improvement on the previous quarter, the PSC was “not impressed” because it wanted service providers to be paid on time.

As of the end of March, 1 427 invoices totalling R53 million were more than 30 days overdue, a situation that was a “real cause for concern”.

The department of defence was the major offender, with its late payments making up 78% of the backlog in the 30-day period.

Gxoyiya said this was not acceptable because it destroyed the lives and livelihoods of service providers and action should be taken against financial officers who failed to make payments.

Until then, the abuse would continue.

“When a department enters into a contract, as much as they are swift to terminate the contracts of a service provider or supplier who does not deliver, they must also be quick to pay on time,” Gxoyiya said.

He said the PSC paid its suppliers within 14 days, which showed that government departments could do so if the political will existed on the part of the financial officers.