According to its Article 1, the Charter, has at its purpose, among others, to “ensure an effective, efficient and responsive public service” and to “clarify the rights and obligations of each of the parties”. It also seeks to “professionalise and encourage excellence in the public service” aimed at ensuring effective service delivery as required by the Constitution. 

We welcome in particular the affirmation in the Charter’s Preamble “to upholding the values and principles of public administration enshrined in section 195 of the Constitution and other laws, policies and frameworks” and the concern regarding “increasing manifestation of corruption in the public service and the negative impact it has on the socio-economic and political landscape of the country”. The Charter also states that “membership or non-membership of a political party shall not be used as criteria for appointment into the public service” and requires public servants not to “abuse their position in the public service to promote or prejudice the interest of any political party or interest groups”. Hence, if the Charter, as a guiding tool for good governance, is faithfully applied and adhered to by all parties, it should go a long way to ensuring the development of a professional, non-party political public service in which there would be no place for the practice of “cadre deployment”, corruption or unconstitutional conduct.

In terms of section 195 of the Constitution, public administration must be governed by the democratic values and principles as provided for in the Constitution. In this regard section 1 enshrines the foundational values of human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedom; non-racialism and non-sexism; supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law; and a multi-party system of democratic government to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness. Moreover, section 7 provides that the Bill of Rights is as a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa and as such the State must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill.

Section 195(1) also determines, in addition to these foundational values and principles, that public administration must also be governed by the following principles:

a. A high standard of professional ethics must be promoted and maintained.
b. Efficient, economic and effective use of resources must be promoted.
c. Public administration must be development-oriented.
d. Services must be provided impartially, fairly, equitably and without bias.
e. People’s needs must be responded to, and the public must be encouraged to participate in policy-making.
f. Public administration must be accountable.
g. Transparency must be fostered by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information.
h. Good human-resource management and career-development practices, to maximise human potential, must be cultivated.
i. Public administration must be broadly representative of the South African people, with employment and personnel management practices based on ability, objectivity, fairness, and the need to redress the imbalances of the past to achieve broad representation.

Fittingly, in terms of section 195(2), these basic values and principles governing public administration apply to administration in every sphere of government, to all organs of state and to public enterprises. This clearly also includes the Cabinet and Deputy Ministers.

Section 197, in turn, deals specifically with the public service and provides that “within public administration there is a public service…which must function, and be structured, in terms of national legislation, and which must loyally execute the lawful policies of the government of the day”. Section 197(2) states that the terms and conditions of employment in the public service must be regulated by national legislation, subject to section 197(4), which provides that provincial governments are responsible for the recruitment, appointment, promotion, transfer and dismissal of members of the public service in their administrations within a framework of uniform norms and standards applying to the public service. Very importantly and in line with the principle of separation of party and state, section 197(3) determines that “no employee of the public service may be favoured or prejudiced only because that person supports a particular political party or cause”.

Although, in terms of Article 3.1 of the Charter, it serves as a “social contract, commitment and agreement between the State and public servants”, it remains subject to the provisions of the Constitution, relevant legislation and employment agreements and is therefore only a guiding tool to further good governance. In addition, regardless of this agreement, it remains the constitutional responsibility of the executive to ensure that public administration – including the public service, all organs of state and public enterprises – conduct their business in an accountable, transparent and responsive manner. The Centre nonetheless welcomes this initiative and the government’s commitment to a public service which respects the values of the Constitution and whose employees are appointed based on ability, objectivity and fairness, and not just the need to broadly represent the demographics of society.

by Adv Johan Kruger, Director: Centre for Constitutional Rights

[Photo Source: Trevor Samson / Business Day]