South Africa on road to collapse unless Government takes corrective action – My Comments

[This is written by a Black Professor. Lots more people in SA, and even main stream newspapers are writing about the collapse of South Africa. I am delighted that we are finally reaching the end of the road. The sooner this nonsense collapses the better. This is just what we Whites NEED! Jan]

There has never been greater urgency to enact long-delayed reforms to reverse state decline. The top leadership of the ANC needs to take hard decisions if the party’s collapse and the failure of the state are to be averted.

South Africa is paying a heavy price for the failures of the governing African National Congress to build a meritocratic, competent, professional and corruption-free public service.

The public anger sparked by revelations of large-scale tender irregularities involving Covid-19 relief funds has served as another reminder of the widespread mismanagement, dysfunction and corruption that have hobbled state institutions in South Africa. This culture of wanton criminality and impunity will have dire consequences for future generations.

What is clear is that the ANC has betrayed the vision it set out in 1994 to dismantle the apartheid legacy and construct a developmental state that is responsive to the social and economic needs of all South Africans. When the ANC came to power in 1994, it outlined a series of principles to form the basis for the birth of a democratic state and implementation of public sector reforms. Among these reforms were those aimed at establishing a high standard of professional ethics in the public service. This was crucial to tackling corruption. A number of new institutions were set up to achieve this, including the Auditor-General, the Public Protector and the Public Service Commission (PSC).

The launch of these institutions was complemented by the creation of an ethical framework and ethics infrastructure to guide public sector conduct. The establishment of an ethics infrastructure was exemplified by the introduction of the Public Finance Management Act of 1999, which outlined stringent financial management practices for individual government departments and entities; the establishment of hotlines for reporting instances of corruption; the adoption and promotion of a Code of Conduct for the public service; the introduction of “whistle-blowing” legislation designed to protect individuals who expose corruption in government; and the creation of an Asset Register to record information on the financial interests of all managers.

An emphasis was placed on the need to promote efficient and effective use of public resources. For this reason, the government introduced a modern strategic planning and budgeting approach, including the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework. To rectify the lack of focus on development during the apartheid era, it was determined that public administration ought to be development-oriented. This was to include the prioritisation of social development, which was expected to be one of the main expenditure items in the national budget.

As a way of ensuring justice in public service provision, the government stressed the importance of dispensing public services impartially, fairly and equitably. Furthermore, it was agreed that the public sector must be accountable, both in terms of being open to public scrutiny and in being able to account for the use of public resources and the achievement of intended outcomes.

To undo the pervasive secrecy that shrouded public-sector activities under the apartheid regime, the promotion of transparency through the timely provision of accurate information to the public was prioritised. The national and provincial legislatures were given key roles in advancing transparency, with specialist portfolio committees assigned the task of scrutinising departmental budgets and plans. Likewise, the Government Communication and Information Service was created to aid communication.

A great focus was placed on the implementation of good human resource management principles and career development practices. This involved the rationalisation of various apartheid-era administrations, adoption of a single pay scale for the public service, and introduction in 1997 of the Skills Development Act that required that skills audits and needs analyses be undertaken in government departments.

Also, it was expected that public administration would be governed by the principle of broad representivity of all South Africans, supported by employment and personnel management practices based on ability, objectivity, fairness and the need to redress the imbalances of the past.

Underperforming municipalities have been commonplace, and this has prompted a wave of service delivery protests across the country. The extent of public disaffection with municipal services has been reflected in a multitude of court actions initiated by communities over service delivery failures. In several cases, the courts have ruled in favour of the disgruntled communities.

Over time, other laws and institutional mechanisms were enacted to foster good governance and entrench the rule of law. These include the Prevention of Organised Crime Act of 1998, the Asset Forfeiture Unit located within the National Prosecuting Authority, the Directorate of Special Operations, the Special Investigating Unit and the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act of 2004.

The current reality in the South African public service represents a negation of the progressive vision for institutional change espoused during the post-1994 democratic transition.

Although there have been improvements in terms of access to basic services, the number of reported incidents of service delivery failures across the country has remained unacceptably high. The calamitous implosion of the public health system in the Eastern Cape is the clearest example of the abject failure of the ANC’s development project.

Underperforming municipalities have been commonplace, and this has prompted a wave of service delivery protests across the country. The extent of public disaffection with municipal services has been reflected in a multitude of court actions initiated by communities over service delivery failures. In several cases, the courts have ruled in favour of the disgruntled communities.

Alarmingly, however, even in these cases some municipalities have failed to comply with court orders to improve public services. Performance management systems implemented by the ANC government have generally not led to significant improvements in accountability.

Across all spheres of government, there have been numerous cases of poor governance and corruption. Successive reports by the auditor-general have highlighted billions of taxpayers’ money misspent through unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure. There have also been various reports of conflicts of interest involving public officials, including senior political leaders.

The well-documented cases of service provision failures and dreadful governance have occurred against the backdrop of excessive politicisation of the public service. Political considerations have played a disproportionate role in decisions on the promotion, transfer and performance assessments of government officials.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed serious state capacity constraints that have paralysed governance in South Africa. It has also amplified already known governance failures, vividly dramatised by the disastrous collapse of state institutions in the Eastern Cape under the weight of the pandemic. This has exerted a devastating human and economic toll on the country.

The deployment of personnel into the public service has been carried out on the basis of party political incentives, rather than on merit principles. This has had detrimental effects in the form of increased clientelism, cronyism and corruption within the public sector. It has also eroded technical knowledge, skills and accountability among public servants. Nowhere has this been clearer than in state-owned enterprises such as Eskom, Transnet and the SA Post Office.

Equally troubling has been leadership instability in the top echelons of the public service. This has been illustrated by the high turnover of department heads in government. Endless factional battles, suspensions, resignations and golden handshakes have been symptoms not only of institutional dysfunction, but also of a failing public service.

The PSC, which monitors the public service, has stated that leadership stability is indispensable to high performance. It has also pointed out that staff morale is adversely affected by a constant change of leadership. Yet even the PSC has become dysfunctional: its top officials were recently found guilty of fraud and nepotism in an investigation report commissioned by the Office of the State Attorney.

Moreover, public sector reform in South Africa will not succeed if it does not address the problem of a bloated state. Over the past years, the civil service has grown exponentially without a corresponding increase in productivity. This has resulted in poor service delivery as well as in financially unsustainable political patronage that has bred populism.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed serious state capacity constraints that have paralysed governance in South Africa. It has also amplified already known governance failures, vividly dramatised by the disastrous collapse of state institutions in the Eastern Cape under the weight of the pandemic. This has exerted a devastating human and economic toll on the country.

There has never been greater urgency to enact long-delayed reforms to reverse state decline. The top leadership of the ANC needs to take hard decisions if the party’s collapse and the failure of the state are to be averted. There is a need to upend the gross mismanagement that has epitomised the country’s governance in the past decade. Importantly, South Africans must stand up to this ongoing assault on governance and the economy. At the rate at which corruption and economic decline are happening, the country is headed in the direction of a failed state. DM

Source: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-08-02-south-africa-on-road-to-collapse-unless-anc-takes-corrective-action/

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