Building a professional civil service our main priority - Lindiwe Sisulu

Minister says lack of such professionalism has always been the root cause of every Minister's nightmare


Professor Tebogo Mokgoro (Chairperson of Advisory Body on the School of Government)

Leadership and academics of universities and institutions of Higher Learning

Members of the Ministry of Public Service and Administration entities and officials

Invited guests

Let me express my sincerest gratitude to all of you for accepting the invitation to have this discussion. I requested your attendance today to discuss our main priority in this administration, which is "Building of a Professional Public Service that will assist and create a capable State and as a consequence the nexus between the state and higher education institutions".

We have defined for ourselves that one of our most critical mandates in Government and society is to build an ethical, accountable, competent and capable public service and administration. We as a Ministry chose to prioritise the professionalisation of the Public Service on assumption of responsibilities, even before we had had time to settle in, because it is that without which we as a government would not achieve anything.

Having been in the Executive through three successive administrations, this has always been at the route cause of every Minister's nightmare and having recently come from the Defence environment, which is an extremely professional environment, this became a clear and present, urgent task. Fortuitously its centrality in the National Development Plan has now entrenched it in our plans for the next 17 years.

This mandate also demands, given historic and still at present, structural and functional deficiencies within the domestic economy, to build as government, in collaboration of our citizens and various publics, an effective, efficient and capable public service. Notwithstanding, this social compact as articulated in the Reconstruction and Development Plan and recently the National Development Plan, the elected government will continuously be kept responsible and accountable for the performance of the public service.

I had an amazing call about two months ago from someone whose voice I did not immediately recognise and the conversation went something like this: "Lindi, you are on the right track, my dear. You have made me so happy. Professionalise the Public Service my dear, professionalise, professionalise. This is Professor Sangweni." Need I go on to tell you that I walked on air for the rest of the day.

And when I was informed we were oversubscribed for this engagement, I knew we can't fail when there is such a convergence on this important issue - professionalise, professionalise, professionalise. Thank you for being here. With your support we cannot fail.

The democratic South African state, including various private and public institutions such as universities, owe it to our people that this task is tackled with vigour and with the urgency that it requires. Government is required to take the lead and establish an environment where public-private partnerships are created to ensure that services are rendered to the public.  

This breakfast meeting with yourselves from the academia, is a mobilising call, a challenge and an invitation. We have an enormous responsibility ahead of us in building a professional and capable public service and we would want you to work together with us, or, more directly, we would want you to feel that you have a state and a space to work together with us. I would like to encourage a frank and robust dialogue to enable us to identify our respective expectations and explore the limitations of the current practice and the possibilities that exist in our partnership.

As we know, the interface between us, as government and yourselves, is complex and complicated by a blurring of lines and roles in areas such as research, consulting, education and training. This is due in part to the nature of public administration as an academic discipline and a professional practice.

By the time we got to the elective conference of the ruling party we had found phraseology that encapsulated our vision for an efficient, competent cadre of government.

The challenges our government faces are enormous. We have more than 1.3million public servants between around 45 national departments, more than 207 departments at provincial level and 270 municipalities. We have managed to reconfigure and transform the institutional and governance arrangements of the state, but to date we continue to be confronted with the structural and functional impediments of building a patriotic and professional public service at all spheres and levels of government.

We will be passing a law to effect what was once referred to as a single public service, creating a uniform body of public servants throughout the three spheres of government. That would mean in all, if this succeeds, a public service of some 1.6 million people - the total population of Namibia, spread across 45 national departments, 207 odd provincial departments and 270 municipalities - all requiring training. There is no clearer way than these figures to emphasise that the challenges of government are enormous as we seek to turn each one of our employees into a patriotic, professional public service.

From our public service management perspective, universities' Schools of Government must contribute to strengthening of our administrative capacity. The state administration and government are tasked to facilitate, where appropriate such public goods benefits through partnerships. I hope that by the end of this breakfast meeting you will all have collectively committed to work on strategies that will enable us to assist us with the enormous task at hand. Collectively we have a responsibility to equip our public servants to:

a)  find the way through the complexity with a sense of moral purpose and commitment to public service;

b) decide priorities taking into consideration the range of challenges, opportunities and resources available;

c)  equip them with the necessary tools to do their work;

How can we do this? Firstly, we work out what we respectively bring to the table. Universities play an important role in educating, expanding minds and producing knowledge, broadly. This is critical for building a developmental state and society. As education at all levels provides a space to explore how the world works, it assists to analyse regional trends and review practice as a basis for innovation and enabling social change.

Unlike education, law, medicine and accounting, which are regulated through professional bodies, public administration and management, are not. This means that there is little opportunity for the practice to influence the content and outcomes of curricula. As you all know, in many areas, the profession actually broadly defines curricula and quality assures outcomes. This is an area that needs further exploration. For example, might it be possible, like teacher training and education, to define a broad national curriculum for public administration, and related courses, which identify a minimum number of key areas that should be covered. Universities can of course add to these, but this would mean that pre-service education is an essential must have. The history of our relationship with yourselves and the history of public service management institutions would be instructive at this point.

When we took over as the democratic state, in-service training in the public service was provided by the Public Service Training Institute (PSTI). Needless to say, given its institutional inheritance from the apartheid system, the Institute was unable to embrace the new challenges of the democratic state, nor was it able to resolve the new challenges of the new form of government and the new public service.

The PSTI was subsequently replaced in 1996, after the adoption of the Public Service White Paper. It was replaced with the South African Management Development Institute (SAMDI) working in partnership with the UK Civil Service College, which had been responsible for training the first cohort of the ruling party's public servants. The establishment of SAMDI took place in parallel with the introduction of decentralised public service employment practices. Professor Mokgoro would be in a better position to provide insights into this institution.

In 1998, arising from the sheer magnitude of the challenges facing us in the public service President Mandela established a Presidential Review Commission. Gemma Cronin, a member of the Commission will be able to explain to us the thinking and goings-on in the Review Commission. The Review Commission recommended that SAMDI must cease over time to be a direct provider of training, and confine its functions instead, to ensuring that public management training needs are met by other appropriate providers, especially the Schools of Public Management at tertiary institutions, including competent training providers in the private and NGO sectors. Pointing out that South Africa has a rich array of institutions that were competent in proving training in the private and NGO sectors, they recommended further that SAMDI's role also be viewed as that of overseeing the maintenance of high standards in support of a professional civil service.

Follow-up steps by the relevant Executive authorities arrived at a decision that a new public service academy be established. Such academy should have the powers and responsibility to set and enforce mandatory training programmes, common standards and quality assurance mechanisms throughout the public service including local government. The Commission also recommended that an Advisory Task Team be established to oversee the establishment of such an academy.

Instead of a national public service training academy that will take full responsibility for education, training and professional development, a Public Administration and Leadership Academy was established in 2006 and the intention was that there would be on-going assessments of whether it was meeting the needs.

Between 2006 and 2009 there was a very firm view amongst members of the executive, accounting officers and the ruling party that PALAMA was a project that needed to be reassessed. They were firmly of the opinion that the training delivery model of PALAMA was outsourcing and it made the institution totally dependent on public and private sector service providers. And importantly, it was unable to ensure the creation of a very fundamental part of a professional public service

PALAMA's most strategic core functions such as causing training and development, including ensuring a context-based curriculum and syllabus were outsourced at great costs to the totality of the public servant that we wanted. Thus in 2009 the ruling party took a policy decision that a School of Government would need to be established for the public service, so that together with the public and private sector institutions we can create, what is now been termed a cadre of government - skilled, professional, people oriented, committed, patriotic and adapt to provide the government with an engine to drive the modern state.

On assumption of duty as Minister for the Public Service and Administration, I immediately complied with the policy of the ruling party in this decision. I have consequently appointed a Task Team of nine experts in the area, assisted by my advisers, Professors Daniel Plaatjies and Sipho Seepe and the Director-General of Palama, Professor Mollo. This engagement, I hope will serve as a consultation process with regard to our views and where we want to take the school of government. We stand ready to engage with yourselves about your views as practitioners and heads of institutions that we would like to partner with. Out of this we hope that there would be a common understanding and the School of Government will be launched on 21 October 2013, based on a partnership with yourselves.

My hope is that as citizens, users of public services and academics that contribute to the education of public servants, you will take from this gathering a common resolve to do things differently, so that we can strengthen the strategic partnerships that are embedded in our common purpose of building a capable, agile developmental state with a competent, ethical and professional public service.

Thank you

Issued by the Department of Public Service and Administration, May 20 2013

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