At its recent Developmental State Conference, the PSC addressed the efficiency and efficacy of the South African public service, acknowledging that 20 years after the birth of democracy, capacity deficits persist and that national transformation practices have not been effective. It has alluded to government departments abusing affirmative action policies through ‘job reservation’, by not appointing a white candidate when a suitable black candidate is unavailable. The Conference, which reviewed the transformation, recruitment and vetting policies of public service institutions, and engaged on how to improve its operations, will now develop a strategic framework document which will be tabled before Parliament next year.

The PSC – which draws its mandate from Section 196(4) of the Constitution – is prescribed to promote the values and principles governing public administration in the public service, to investigate and monitor the public service and to propose measures to improve performance. In hosting the conference the PSC abided by its Constitutional mandate, as well as the NDP (National Development Plan) recommendations advocating the need to “move towards a state that is more capable, more professional and more responsive to the needs of its citizens”.

The NDP commits to the establishment of a capable and developmental state. Such a state “does not materialise by decree, nor can it be legislated or waved into existence by declarations. It has to be built, brick by brick, institution by institution, and sustained and rejuvenated over time”. In order to build such a state, says the NDP, the public service must be professionalised, high-quality candidates must be attracted, and the role of the PSC in monitoring recruitment processes must be strengthened. Strong and effective institutions allow developmental states to achieve their goals; such institutions are invariably based on merit.

If the goal of a developmental state – where state-led macroeconomic policies lead to growth – is to come to fruition, the state has to fulfil its central features of rationality, meritocracy and professional bureaucracy. Without a competent, legitimate, performance-driven state apparatus, a developmental state cannot be achieved.

In committing to professionalise the civil service, acting PSC Chairperson, Richard Sizani, has recommended that candidates be recruited in an “open and competitive” manner, based on entrance exams. His emphasis on re-evaluating the employment processes, the need to address cadre deployment, and making the civil service a career of choice are all steps in the right direction. A transparent civil service, which can draw the talent to establish an effective bureaucracy, will undoubtedly contribute to a legitimate state and the PSC must be commended for initiating the discussion. Its suggestions, however, are only coordinates to our preferred destination. The onus now lies with government to critically engage the outcomes of the Conference and to prove itself true to its own NDP.

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation

Photo credit: Public Service Commission