/ 20 October 2020

The demon of cronyism in the public service must be crushed

The Zondo commission is useful in its scope but is not the answer to the societal problem of corruption.
State-owned enterprises are the worst victims of this systemic corruption as evidenced by the myriad and jaw-dropping testimonies being recounted at the Zondo Commission. . (Oupa Nkosi)

Having served for nearly a decade in local government, I can pronounce without any fear or favour that well-educated, skilled, experienced, brilliant and talented employees are overlooked in favour of unqualified, politically connected deployees when appointments and promotions to senior management positions are made in government. This is a form of corruption and must be stopped. 

This piece of commentary is my attempt to explore this incessant problem which is less entertained in the South African public intellectual sphere. The reason for this could well be that our citizens and government are focused on “more serious” corruption issues such as state capture, Covid-19 PPE procurement “treason” and other corrupt activities that continue to bedevil our country. 

In my view, cronyism deserves similar attention, perhaps even an inter-ministerial committee or another commission of inquiry since in South Africa this seems to be the best way to solve the mysterious puzzle of corruption. At least with the coronavirus there are multiple clinical trials on the hunt to find a vaccine or cure.

Two questions arise: do we have relevant, qualified employees in government offices to conduct fair and open recruitment and selection processes? Are our human resource practitioners coerced or manipulated by politicians to hire (deploy) or promote candidates who are not skilled, less educated and inexperienced than their colleagues?

Answers to the above questions are very simple. The answer to the former question is yes and no, and the answer to the second is a big yes. Honest HR professionals are routinely put under undue stress to accommodate the selfish desires of politicians — and others — to advance cronyism. Some HR officials even override their professional, ethical obligations in order to gratify the wishes of corrupt authorities in order to safeguard their livelihoods which later have disastrous repercussions at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and the labour courts. The government regularly loses a significant number of its recruitment and selection-related cases in the CCMA and the courts across the country.

It is treacherous for our government to continue to turn a blind eye to this perpetual cancer in all spheres of public service.

For the public sector to succeed in achieving quality service delivery, it is critical that they acquire the best skills to deliver their plans within reasonable timelines and without wasting already scarce public resources which will certainly dwindle even further in the aftermath of Covid-19.

Decisions by recruitment and selection panels should be regularly reviewed because they have had long-term, undesirable consequences in the past such as violent service delivery protests that lead to the destruction of public property and in some instances unnecessary loss of innocent lives.

Recruitment decisions that are poorly taken can have a demoralising effect on those employees who have been overlooked, and often the government is forced to spend time and money training incompetent recruits. The results of low morale on staff, among other things, includes absenteeism, valuable time spent on grievance resolution, loss of self-esteem, service delivery expectations not being met, possible lawsuits, protest action and high staff turnover leading to future recruitment costs. 

It is common knowledge that when employees do not give their best, it is the organisation that suffers the most, and in the case of the government this directly affects the citizens. South Africa cannot afford that. It is too early in the day for such luxuries.

My concern is that recruitment and selection is not a mere administrative function and an end in itself, but a strategic process that is aimed at contributing towards the achievement of organisational objectives that will improve service delivery for our fellow citizens. Therefore, my recommendation is that the department of public service and administration and all other relevant stakeholders must robustly discuss this matter and come up with mechanisms that will ensure that we recruit a credible public service force that is well educated, skilled, experienced (fit for purpose) for the good of our country. 

State-owned enterprises are the worst victims of this systemic corruption as evidenced by the myriad and jaw-dropping testimonies being recounted at the Zondo Commission.  

I believe in the Economic Freedom Front’s aspirations to build a Marxist-Leninist and Fanonian pan-continental movement, backed by research and educational institutions and professional organisations, to lead the whole of society towards economic freedom. 

The EFF wants the best qualified people to work in local, provincial and national government, not those who are politically connected. Party political deployment destroys our public institutions. 

In conclusion, as we fight the scourge of corruption in our beloved country, I call on all South Africans to “appeal to the better angels of our nature” to quote Abraham Lincoln, and restore the glory of our nation.