‘Poor management undermines fight against corruption’

2014-11-12 14:38

The presidency has lamented the state’s reliance on outsourcing work to consultants, poor management in departments and instability in the administrative leadership.

This will continue to undermine the government’s objective to develop skills to improve service delivery unless it is urgently reversed, said director-general for performance, monitoring and evaluation in the presidency, Dr Sean Phillips, this morning.

Phillips was standing in for presidency director-general Dr Cassius Lubisi at the Public Service Commission’s “developmental state” conference in Pretoria.

Lubisi is attending the G20 summit with President Jacob Zuma in Australia.

The presidency highlighted poor management as one of the major challenges in transforming the public service into an engine that can properly cater for South Africa’s developmental needs.

Phillips warned that the attitude and ethical behaviour of civil servants needed to be addressed to improve government work.

“Instability in the top levels of administrative leadership has been a particular challenge during transitions between administrations, when the arrival of new ministers and members of the executive council (MECs) can lead to sudden changes in senior management as new ministers and MECs often prefer to appoint their own heads of department. There is a high correlation between the performance of a department and the stability in its top leadership,” said Phillips.

He decried the fact that many senior managers were not adequately assigned, something public service and administration minister Collins Chabane also described in his address as a problem in the civil service where “managers are refusing to manage”.

“Middle managers are often not assigned significant responsibility or meaningful tasks, partly due to poor management and an increased reliance on outsourcing. If this is not reversed, it will undermine the ability of the public service to develop much-needed skills,” said Phillips.

Although Phillips said many successes had been made since 1994 to transform the civil service, the attitudes of those at the front line of service delivery needed to change.

“Attitudes and motivation of staff are important factors in shaping the public service ethos and culture. These are heavily influenced by the work environment, including the effectiveness of management and operations systems. Badly managed, poorly organised and under-resourced work environments make it harder for staff to respond to the needs of citizens, and ultimately undermine staff morale,” said Phillips, who bemoaned the long-waiting queues at service points as one indicator of this malaise.

The presidency also pointed out that although values could not be taught to civil servants, it was up to the political and administrative leadership to lead by example.

The state also had a problem managing conflicts of interest and rooting out corruption, mainly due to poor management, said Phillips.

“Corruption is partly a symptom of weak management and operation systems, which create the space for corruption to thrive. But corruption is largely a part of values and dispositions. Values cannot be taught in the same way as facts and theories can be taught. Values can only be internalised as a deep system of competence as opposed to technicist and conspicuous performance measures. The sooner we accept this reality, the better we can begin to effectively deal with this matter,” said Phillips.

Proper management of conflicts of interest would go a long way in rooting out corruption and unless conflicts were managed properly, the government’s fight against corruption would fall on its face.

“Priority should also be given to managing conflict of interest, which creates opportunities for corruption. Most incidents of corruption occur in the procurement system in departments with weak management systems, and a high turnover at the top levels of management. It would however be simplistic in the extreme to entirely attribute corruption to weak management systems. We want to posit that without paying attention to the political-administrative interface, the career incidents of the key public service cadre, and a transformed value system of public servants, the fight against corruption stands little or no chance of success,” said Phillips.

The management of the often frosty relationships between politicians and administrators, which has seen a revolving door of senior civil servants in the past, was also a major challenge that the government had identified, said Phillips.

He said there could be a need to change laws in order to clearly define the roles of politicians and administrators to avoid conflicts.

“This will ensure a degree of stability in the top levels of the bureaucracy. This can be achieved by putting in place standard administrative procedures for managing the career incidents of heads of department. Further, much clearer and bolder delineation of the politico-administrative divide should be pursued. This will certainly require legislative amendments in order to eliminate many of the grey areas that exist in the definition of tasks and responsibilities for political principals and administrators,” said Phillips.

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