081010 BMF President Jimmy Manyi at their conference held in Sandton convention center.photo by Simphiwe Mbokazi

Our learned friend had secured himself a lucrative job as a special adviser to the minister, writes Mogomotsi Magome.

 

A certain former university professor and academic was once a subject of ridicule among some of his peers. Respected as a critical political analyst and a necessary voice in the public discourse, word was that he was now the official handbag carrier of a certain minister.

Our learned friend had secured himself a lucrative job as a special adviser to the minister, a title the Public Service Commission (PSC) suggested this week was one of those being used by ministers for cronyism and patronage.

But, to the credit of our esteemed professor, our ministers’ special advisers do much more than just carry a flamboyant minister’s handbags.

In fact, sometimes their “advice” can be lethal to the careers of many a public servant, whether it’s a director-general or a personal assistant.

As the PSC released its report this week, a newly-appointed special adviser to a minister hit the ground running in Pretoria.

Former government spokesman, Jimmy Manyi, has returned to the government communications, as special to Communications Minister Faith Muthambi. He left his post as CEO of Government Communication and Information Services (GCIS) under a cloud. This followed a litany of public relations disasters and a failed attempt to punish media houses by personally controlling government’s advertising budget and centralising it in his office.

However, he has returned in arguably the most powerful position that he has held in government, as the special adviser to Communications Minister Faith Muthambi.

The Sunday Independent understands Manyi has already hit the ground running, making his presence felt by several unexpected appointments.

Former acting chief executive of the GCIS, Phumla Williams, who held the fort after Manyi’s departure two years ago, seems set to return to her position as deputy chief executive.

Williams was snubbed for the position of chief executive (CEO) in spite of acting for two years.

If she took the government to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for not appointing her as CEO, they could have a case to answer in as far as the principle of having created an expectation for appointment is concerned.

According to relevant legislation, appointments for such positions are not made by special advisers, but the PSC’s study found to the contrary.

Their influence with ministers is far-reaching, to an extent where some actually run the department despite the director-general or the head of department (HoD) being the accounting officers. “A trend was noticed where special advisers gradually took over the responsibilities or run parallel with the responsibilities of HoDs in managing departments.

“This creates confusion among staff in the department as officials are expected to account to the special adviser on certain aspects whereas they know that they are accountable to the H0D. This also leads to tension between the offices of the ministers and HoDs,” reads the report.

Donald Liphoko is expected to be appointed as the CEO of the GCIS in an unexpected move in spite of his strong credentials as a communicator and media man. But his appointment has Manyi written all over it.

Liphoko has been the chief director of media buying and advertising at the GCIS, where he was in charge of the enormous advertising budget that covers more than 36 government departments and agencies.

The PSC’s report quietly slipped under the radar this week as Oscar Pistorius and Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene grabbed the limelight, but its importance is not lesser.

In many ways, it paints a picture of how our ministers flout regulations and the constitution in appointing close aides to powerful positions.

It was not long ago that the appointment of President Jacob Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile, as the chief of staff in Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele’s office came under scrutiny.

While the appointment was justified by Cwele’s spin doctors, the PSC’s report slams it and attributes the failure of some departments to such practices. What is also worrying are the perceptions, highlighted in the report, that the Ministerial Handbook seems to take precedence over some regulations already in place.

The consequences appear to be underplayed in spite of their critical effect on the proper functioning of government departments and ministries and the PSC is explicit about this in its report.

“In most departments the recruitment, selection and appointment of the chief of staff is not in line with SMS (senior management services) Handbook. The minimum skills required for the position, that is, management, administrative, liaison and interpersonal relations are not met, resulting in the poor functioning of the ministry,” reads the report.

It is also scathing on what appears to be an entrenched culture in government, particularly in the offices of ministers, where it is permissible to overlook procedures when appointing individuals preferred by the minister.

 “The implications of not following the proper processes for employees in (ministers) offices are that departments might appoint people whose suitability has not been tested.”

The PSC has recommended drastic steps to improve the functioning of the offices of ministers. But if the government and ANC’s scant regard for our Chapter 9 institutions in recent months is anything to go by, we should not hold our breath over the possibility of any of these being implemented or taken seriously.

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Sunday Independent