Even if Ramaphosa believed in what he is now proposing, to now insist on merit and integrity in public service appointments would be political suicide.
The public service must be staffed by people who are skilled, selfless and honest.
Instead, while pockets of excellence exist, we have serious challenges with regards to skills, competence and professionalism.
Too often, people have been hired and promoted to key positions for which they are neither suitable nor qualified.
This affects government performance and contributes to a lack of accountability, mismanagement and corruption.
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There is also political and executive interference in the administration of the public service. It’s the kind of thing that opposition politicians bang on about ad nauseam.
Every word in those first four paragraphs was penned by President Cyril Ramaphosa, in this week’s missive from “The Desk of the President”.
Those are startling sentiments, given that it is the ANC that has created a largely dysfunctional, corrupt and capricious public service.
Typical Ramaphosa, his critics will say. All talk and no action. Except that this time the president has made specific promises.
A draft National Implementation Framework towards the Professionalisation of the Public Service has been approved by Cabinet and “structured consultation is under way”.
There will be integrity tests and a compulsory entrance exam.
The public service will be “depoliticised and government departments … insulated from politics”.
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This is all international best-practice but there are relatively few nations that manage it.
When the first International Civil Service Effectiveness Index (InCiSE) was launched in 2017, it included only 31 nations.
Excluded were what Donald Trump would probably collectively describe as the sh*tholes of the world. When InCiSE was expanded to 38 countries, Brazil and Nigeria were included.
To spare any blushes, these two are not ranked in the index but reported on separately as case studies, because they are “at different stages of economic development and with diverse political structures and traditions”.
The results are predictable. As previously, aside from South Korea and Netherlands, the top 10 are the four Commonwealth countries in the latest index (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK) and Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden).
The northern and western European countries (wealthier, older democracies) tend to rank higher than the southern and eastern ones (poorer, newer).
What the InCiSE analyses makes clear is that even under the best of circumstances, the obstacles to Ramaphosa realising his vaulting ambitions are obvious.
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The flaws that Ramaphosa catalogues in his missive are the predictable results of the ANC’s policies and those of its closest ally and ideological white cane, the South African Communist Party (SACP): cadre deployment to “capture” for the party every important post in government and its affiliates, as well as affirmative action taken to the point of institutional self-harm.
It would be reassuring if Ramaphosa – who for five years as deputy-president chaired the ANC deployment committee – has had a Damascene moment.
It is unlikely. Even if Ramaphosa believed in what he is now proposing, to now insist on merit and integrity in public service appointments would be political suicide.
So, don’t expect South Africa to feature in the International Civil Service Effectiveness Index for some time yet, not even as an also-ran “case study”.
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