Sue Segar

THE deployment of politically connected but incompetent people to public service positions was one of the serious challenges facing SA’s embattled public services, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) said yesterday.

This deployment was leading to demoralisation in the public service and in communities, said Professor Modimowabarwa Kanyane, a researcher in the HSRC’s democracy, government and service delivery unit.

Addressing a seminar on the state of the public service in SA, Kanyane said one of the key challenges facing the public service and municipalities in the country was how to deal with the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment and the consequences of this policy. He said the SA public needed clarity on the controversial policy, because while the ANC denied having a cadre deployment policy, there was a general perception that it existed.

“One conclusion that seems to be common is that the ANC’s deployment strategy systematically places loyalty ahead of merit and even of competence and is therefore a serious obstacle to an efficient public service,” Kanyane said.

“Incompetent and unqualified people are unable to delivery services efficiently and effectively, and competency and ethical standards are critical for an efficient and effective public service.”

In the seminar, titled The State of the SA Public Service in the context of macro socio-economic environment in South Africa, the HSRC presenters used secondary and primary sources, such as the results of social attitudes and longitudinal surveys, to show that the public service was generally characterised by “poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency, incompetent and under-qualified officials, widespread corruption and massive failures in planning, budgeting and implementation – and that most citizens are dissatisfied with the state of the public service, including municipalities”.

The HSRC’s Dr Gregory Houston said the constitution demanded a public service that was “professional, efficient, development-orientated, impartial in the provision of services, responsive to the needs of people, accountable, transparent and representative of the South African population.”

However, the HSRC study had found that most citizens were generally dissatisfied with the state of the public service.

Houston said that one of the challenges which the public services were confronted with was a population explosion, including the influx of people from neighbouring countries and the growth in demand on the government to provide a range of services.

They also had to contend with the political, social and economic inequalities inherited from the apartheid past which had resulted in high poverty rates and a massive backlog in basic services.

Houston said the government was faced with a situation in which there was an increase in the gap between what people expected and what the government could deliver, and in which citizens expected the government to do more than before.

A key problem was that although the country had experienced moderate economic growth since the late 1990s, the economy had failed to reach its target of a 6 percent annual economic growth rate needed to address service delivery backlogs.

The global economic recession had seen the SA economy declining by 1.8 percent and 900 000 people losing their jobs – and the government was faced with a situation in which its tax base was declining while the demands made on it were increasing. Also, it was hard to attract and retain talented people.