Only qualified, competent people are assigned to positions of responsibility, thanks to the National Framework towards Professionalization of the Public Sector.
In South Africa, widespread protests against the delivery of services are now commonplace and frequently accompanied by violence and reckless property destruction. From August 2020 to the end of January 2021, the Incident Registration Information System of the South African Police Services recorded about 1000 protest actions nationwide.
A close analysis of the protests shows that their root cause is the inability of local authorities to provide reliable and quality basic services such as water, electricity, safety and security and road maintenance. Experts attribute this to a struggling public service sector that is not fit-for-purpose and unqualified, incompetent and corrupt civil servants.
Professionalising the public service sector
To buck this trend, the sixth administration under President Cyril Ramaphosa has adopted a new policy framework to re-calibrate the current public service machinery. The National Framework towards Professionalisation of the Public Sector emphasises that only qualified and competent individuals will be appointed into positions of authority. They must internalise, embody and promote the values and ethos of the constitution, Batho Pele and the Public Service Charter. Cabinet approved the framework on 19 October 2020, paving the way for nationwide structured public consultations.
Acting Minister of Public Service and Administration Thulas Nxesi spoke to the Mail & Guardian to highlight some of the salient elements of the document. These range from conditions of employment for directors-general (DGs), DDGs, and heads of department (HoDs), pre-entry, recruitment and selection to integrity assessment and continual learning professional development.
He said the framework aims to achieve the following goals:
The tightening of pre-entry requirements as well as effective recruitment and selection processes that inform meritocratic appointments across all levels.
Undertaking workplace orientation and induction programmes that are linked to on-boarding and mainstreamed as an intervention for organisational development.
Effective HR planning, performance management and appraisal systems, including performance standards and assessment instruments for different categories of employees. Performance management can also be aligned with professional body/association registration.
Public servants return to the simulator by undertaking continuous learning and professional development. This will include public sector officials being encouraged to register with professional councils, starting with specific categories of occupations in the public sector.
Managing the career progression and career incidents of public servants and heads of department respectively.
In one of his recent weekly letters, President Cyril Ramaphosa echoed Nxesi’s sentiments about the significance of professionalising the public service. He said it is only a capable, efficient, ethical and development-oriented state that can deliver on the commitment to improve the lives of the people of this country.
“This means that the public service must be staffed by men and women who are professional, skilled, selfless and honest. They must be committed to upholding the values of the constitution, and must [do so], as I said in my inaugural speech,” said Ramaphosa.
Depoliticising public service
The current configuration of the public service does not protect the tenure of senior management such as DGs, DDGs and HoDs. Senior managers are changed or replaced each time a new minister is appointed, creating chaos and administrative turmoil. What the new framework seeks to achieve is to adopt a non-partisan approach that will depoliticise these positions. The bureaucracy will remain loyal and diligent in implementing the political mandate of the voters, and managers will be insulated from politics and political parties.
Nxesi said the cabinet decided that the DG in the presidency will be designated as the head of public administration (Hopa). “In the provinces, this function will be designated to the directors-general in the office of the premier. The Hopa will assist the president and premiers in the management of career incidents of HoDs, and also serve as a mediation mechanism in order to stabilise the political-administration interface. This is part of overall efforts to improve the retention of HODs and create stability at the HOD level, with the objective of improving the capacity of government to deliver on public goods and services, as mandated by citizens,” he said.
Tightening pre-entry requirements
Another key aspect of the framework relates to the requirements for individuals to be appointed into the public service sector. Appointments will be based primarily on merit and requisite technical expertise. Nxesi said the Nyukela, the existing pre-entry to senior management course, will be revised and extended to employees in the defence services, state security, police and correctional services, local government and to prospective boards of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Staff appointed into political offices, including advisors, must also complete the Nyukela, pre-entry competency and integrity assessments within 60 days of appointment into office. He said the pilot has been successful, with full compliance in national and provincial departments, and, subject to finalising the arrangements with SALGA and the Legislative Sector, the pre-entry course will be extended to them.
Tightening competency assessments tests
Nxesi said integrity assessment will become mandatory in the public sector and occupation-based competency assessments and pre-service entry exams for entry into the public sector will be tightened up. He said this will include the review of the middle management service and senior management service competency frameworks, so that they sufficiently reflect political and economic competencies, including competency attributes for a developmental state. The current pre-employment competency assessment will also be reviewed to include occupation-specific assessment to determine the technical challenge competencies of shortlisted candidates, added Nxesi.
All serving public servants must undertake compulsory participation in public sector re-orientation programmes. This must take place simultaneously with the induction into Public Sector and Workplace Orientation. In terms of the new professionalisation framework, participation in induction programmes will be introduced before one assumes duty. These will include employees in local government, boards of SOEs, the defence, state security, police and correctional services. In addition, officials employed to support the institution of traditional leadership, staff appointed into political offices and special advisors must also take part in induction programmes upon their appointment.
Planning and managing performance
Performance management, planning and appraisal systems as well as performance standards and assessment instruments for various categories of employees are key elements of the professionalisation framework and will receive priority. According to Nxesi, they “are working towards aligning performance management with professional body or association registration. It is important for the state to ensure greater alignment across the public sector and to optimise the nexus between planning and performance management”.
Normalising continual learning and professional development
Mainstreaming continual learning and ensuring public servants receive regular professional development is vital in helping to build state capacity. The National School of Government will be charged to determine appropriate training and learning pathways to assist in the professionalisation of employees. This will include the launch of the executive education portfolio of programmes to support the professionalisation of the executives within institutions. “We are going to professionalise various categories of public servants, which include specialist, technical and administrative employees,” said Nxesi, adding that employees in these specialised areas will be professionalised and gain certification with statutory professional bodies or non-statutory professional bodies.
Progressing careers of public servants
Career progression of public servants, in accordance with the national policy for an integrated development system for South Africa, will be introduced so that the public sector remains an employer of choice.
De-linking the tenure of office to politics
To ensure there is stability and continuity of administration, the tenure of municipal managers will be de-linked from a political term. Nxesi said COGTA will facilitate the transitional measures towards the employment contracts of 10 years for municipal managers and their deputies to be adopted by SALGA. This will be subjected to a rigorous process for recruitment, selection, training and development, performance management and reviews, and consequence management for non-compliance or non-performance.
Driving economic growth through SOEs
SOEs are the key to delivering the country’s economic growth and social transformation. They provide vital infrastructure and services such as electricity generation, commuter transport, water provision, freight logistics or telecommunications. The formation of these enterprises was informed by the need to deliver basic needs for all South Africans, particularly the poor and vulnerable. Therefore, they must be overhauled to effectively drive economic growth and transformation. To achieve these objectives, care should be taken to ensure they appoint ethical and professional board members who are not susceptible to corruption or manipulation. — Thabo Mohlala