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Don’t destroy Fuzile's legacy

Pretoria News
‘EXITS Lungisa Fuzile” I am sure the reader is wondering what words will follow this cliffhanger. Perhaps you thought I should have used the much abused cliché “when (Fuzile) goes...” Much of a muchness, really.

For his part, Minister Malusi Gigaba, the minister under whose captaincy the long-serving National Treasury senior official leaves, had this to say: “Director-general Fuzile is a model public servant who has devoted 19 years to the service of our country... He leaves a legacy of a strong National Treasury that has a formidable team and a strong institutional framework that will carry forward the mandate of the department.”

No doubt these words of affirmation will occupy prime pages in Fuzile’s biography, neither being the first nor the last to be spoken of him, especially as this super DG leaves the government without a cloud.

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Lungisa Fuzile File picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/Independent Media

Fuzile’s exit from the public service has significant markers for all public servants to observe. Let us reflect on a few, attendant risks of being misread notwithstanding.

Firstly, in recent times very few DGs have left the state without a cloud, real or manufactured. The body bags of heads of department, owing to so-called incompatibility, malpractice or other spurious corruption allegations, are countless. In fact many senior managers in the civil service quip that becoming a head of department is like signing an early retirement pact.

The joke is that once you are confirmed, immediately contact Frank (some insurance company) and sign up for that income-protector scheme they advertise on Morning Live.

The worst thing about this situation is that once you leave under a cloud, nobody touches you. Those lucky enough to get employment end up in NGOs or managing government relations in private sector firms - basically responsible for chasing appointments with politicians and sending VIP invites for the Cape Town Jazz Festival and the Durban Vodacom July.

Secondly, as Gigaba stated last Monday, Fuzile leaves a department intact, an institution that will outlive him, as it did with Maria Ramos and Lesetja Kganyago. That is significant, because stories abound of successors who have to pick up the pieces and rebuild departments once DGs are gone.

The National Treasury is a respected department (feared by the wicked and faint-hearted) because they have proven themselves over time with their technical expertise, excellence and ability to manage and adjust to transitions and policy realignments.

One recent controversial project comes to mind.

When we were delegated to explore reduced e-Tolls tariffs as recommended by the Gauteng Panel on e-Tolls, the Treasury team was at pains to see that the outcomes would not totally collapse the user-pay principle which anchors the government’s infrastructure programme.

With a combination of scientific rigour, skilful negotiating, political awareness and occasional outbursts, we emerged with a R220 unlimited trips monthly cap; down from R2000+ monthly bills that frequent users were facing.

We also recommended amnesty and other measures to reduce the cost burden to users of Gauteng freeways. For Fuzile, this meant looking elsewhere for funds to help SA National Road Agency (Sanral) meet its Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project debt obligations even as the fiscal envelope remained constrained.

Through his leadership, the “new e-Tools dispensation”, as it would later be dubbed, was eventually accepted and implemented by the inter-ministerial committee led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Fuzile is acknowledged for having committed 19 years to the public service, moving through the ranks to the pinnacle of the National Treasury.

This tells of commitment, persistence and selflessness. Few qualified and experienced executives stay in the government when they see their peers and sometimes inferiors in the private sector and state-owned enterprises earn obscene salaries and bonuses - sometimes even as income statements and balance sheets head south.

Fuzile's moving through the ranks also suggests continuity and change within Treasury. When one engages with senior managers at Treasury, you are left with an impression that the ruling party has done well to train future mandarins who are well on their way to lead the bureaucracy. Many are highly educated, assertive and politically conscious.

Some mistake this assertiveness for rudeness, not that they are always wrong. Boundaries were crossed many times with Fuzile breaking away from the “yes, minister” tradition. He spoke his mind to authorities. Fuzile commanded respect from his peers and counterparts inside and outside the state.

We see an exit of a public sector mandarin who was politically aware and appreciated the electoral mandate of the ruling party. As we navigate daily moral temptations and ethical dilemmas, we should remember not to destroy the legacy built by Fuzile and many other public servants who have left the state.

* Ngcaweni is a public servant writing in his personal capacity.

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