Contribution by Mr Bantu Holomisa, MP at a University of Cape Town State Management and Administration class

Programme Director, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank your lecturers, Ms Raenette Taljaard and Mr Jon Cayzer, for giving me the opportunity to talk with you today.

It is pleasing to know that I am discussing these challenges besetting our public administration with future political leaders and public administrators.

I am therefore looking forward to a stimulating discussion.

My contribution today mainly draws from the experience I gained while I was working with various administrations, starting from my involvement in the former Homelands system, the Nelson Mandela administration, the Thabo Mbeki administration to the current Jacob Zuma administration.

Before 1994, civil servants took their jobs as a career. Many civil servants took pride in their professions and spent their working lives in public service.

Job satisfaction and employee retention in the public sector was made possible by, inter alia, the Public Service Commission’s (PSC’s) investment in employee training and development.

After political freedom, the ruling party ascended to power without a coherent skills development and employee retention programme. People with years of experience in public administration were removed from positions in favour of political deployees. This led to an exodus of experienced personnel and a politicisation of the public sector. The other challenge of cadre deployment is that people were put in positions without regard for their skills and suitability for the jobs.

Nowhere is this shortage of skills more evident than in the overreliance of state departments on consultants and high levels of maladministration. According to the Auditor General’s report, national government departments spent R33.5 billion on consultants between 2009 and 2011, whilst provincial departments spent another R68.5 billion.

In other words, government departments spent a staggering R102 billion on consultants during that period.

Of great concern, is that the plans these consultants develop, do not get implemented due to capacity constraints, while consultants continue to hover over State departments like vultures.

This is a damning indictment of a modern day public administration.

It is also clear that there are serious structural and organisational deficiencies in our public administration, when political heads are allowed to usurp the powers of Accounting Officers (Directors General). In South Africa, Political heads give directives to the accounting officers which often contravene certain sections of the Public Management Finance Act (PMFA).

This culture permeates all the different spheres of government, including the local government level. For examples one has to look no further than the Arms Deal and the incident in which the Minister of Communications awarded a tender to her boyfriend, among others.

The following are some of the areas the United Democratic Movement (UDM) believes require immediate attention:

  1. De politicisation of the public service,
  2. Strict adherence to PMFA rules,
  3. Intensification of training and development,
  4. Development of a merit-based appointment system,
  5. Development of a clear promotion and career progression policies,
  6. Improvement of employee monitoring and evaluation by the Public Service Commission.

It would bode well for public administration if politicians focused on playing their oversight role, rather than interfering in operational issues.

As future leaders, I urge you to take part in campaigns that militate against the prevalence of instutionalised corruption in government. We cannot afford to do nothing while the investment arms of the ruling alliance partners are first in line for government tenders.

Programme Director, the audience will recall that none of these issues is new. They have been part of public discourse for many years, with South Africans from all walks of life calling on government to address them. However, government failed to heed our call to change course. Arrogance of power has caused it to trivialise our people’s legitimate concerns and grievances.

This arrogance of power manifests itself in various forms. However, the most important one is the overreaction of the government during service delivery protests. It sends the police in to brutalise and suppress protests. Ministers and top government officials are only dispatched to listen to grievances after unnecessary loss of life and destruction has occurred.

The Andries Tatane incident and the Marikana massacre are a sad reminder of this.

In addition, some protests turn violent because of the failure of democracy at local government level. Many people accuse government of failing to consult them when making key decisions that affect them, or of refusing to take their concerns seriously.

Whatever the reasons, this political instability coupled with extraordinarily high levels of corruption and maladministration by the ruling party has had a crushing effect on our economy. They reinforce negative investor sentiment about South Africa. As a consequence, investors and rating agencies are jittery about South Africa’s prospects.

You will recall that in October last year, international rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded South Africa’s sovereign rating. They cited, as some of the reasons, a decline in the government’s institutional strength amid increased socio-economic stresses and the resulting diminished capacity to manage the growth and competitiveness risks and the challenges posed by a negative investment climate in light of infrastructure shortfalls, relatively high labour costs despite high unemployment, and increased concerns about South Africa’s future political stability.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are aware that rating downgrades have huge implications for government and companies, such as Eskom and Transnet that also suffered downgrades. They increase their external borrowing costs, which are then passed on to us, the taxpayers and consumers.

Amid this dispiriting situation, there is hope about the role that each one of us can play to pull the country out of this quagmire.

There are a number of proposals on the table. Some believe that there is an urgent need to reform our electoral system in order to improve accountability, while others are of the opinion that Parliament has to improve its oversight role, among others.

In addition to these proposals, there is a school of thought that opposition parties should join forces in an effort to build a strong and credible political alternative for South Africans.

In this regard, some opposition parties are busy exploring various models and vehicles available at their disposal that they can use to formalise their working relationship for the 2014 elections and beyond. In realising this objective, we will work with all the relevant stakeholders.

We therefore call on you to make use of this opportunity when it arises to advise us on the best way forward.

Once more, thank very much for inviting us to come and talk with you today.

I look forward to your questions and contribution.

I thank you.