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Political Appointments vs. Public Sector Productivity: A Peculiar Paradox in South Africa

Published September 25, 2023
9 months ago

The escalating inefficiency in the public sector of South Africa has been primarily contributed to political meddling in public administration, as noted by Professor Alex van den Heever, the Chair of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at Wits University. The professor pointed out that while costs increase, the productivity levels dip due to the erosion of leadership roles through political interference.

Van den Heever emphasised that a professional public service necessitates employing and promoting employees based on their qualifications, experience and their familiarity with the organisation or field. This key aspect seems to be missing as political patronage and interference dominate the appointment process.

"The rampant insertion of inept management layers and the imposition of political appointees, particularly in senior positions, are stifling performance and escalating costs, leading to a decline in service productivity," said Van den Heever. He underlined that these operatives often cause a toxic work environment, pressuring skilled public servants into departing the organisation, thus amplifying the issue.

Interestingly, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana echoed similar sentiments, stating that the imposed cadre deployment, particularly on the National Treasury, could potentially 'kill' the institution. He admitted to the government's major weakness being its inability to implement policy, caused by a severe skills shortage in both national and local governments.

The minister explicitly warned against cadre deployment, indicating that it could have an adverse impact on the National Treasury. He stressed the need for technical competence and fiscal conservatism, suggesting that organizations lacking these traits are prone to frequently seeking IMF bailouts.

Concluding, both experts stressed the requirement for the public sector to operate independently, implying policy rather than adhering strictly to the governmental ideological line.

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