Centres of excellence

2008-10-28 00:00

MANY people believe that standards of administration in South Africa have declined since the advent of democracy. Perhaps the most notorious example is the Department of Home Affairs, but there are others — health, justice, safety and security, education — where it is not hard to find numerous examples of inefficiency and a lack of delivery. At local government level, service standards in many municipalities country wide have declined to the extent of provoking riots and demonstrations. The uMgungundlovu Municipality, for instance, until its recent improvement, had been monumentally incompetent.

But not all is gloom and doom. Scenario-planning guru Clem Sunter, famous for his postulation in the eighties of the high road or low road options for South Africa, pointed out in an article on this page yesterday that there are “pockets of excellence” in South Africa which should be celebrated and emulated. We don’t need overseas consultants to tell us what to do. All we need to do is study and then copy our local success stories.

One such success is the South African Revenue Service (Sars). Under the stewardship of Trevor Manuel, the Minister of Finance, and Pravin Gordhan, the Sars commissioner, this department has become a lean and highly-efficient tax-gathering machine equal to any in the world. Indeed, so successful has it been that it needs to respect the fine line between efficiency and officiousness or bullying. It is undeniable, however, that all tax-payers have benefited year after year as increased surpluses above budget have enabled the minister to reduce taxes. Certainly, its methods are worth emulating by other government departments.

In other fields — schools and hospitals — there are individual institutions whose methods should be copied and within them departments and units which are far more successful than others, likewise worthy of emulation.

One proviso: “excellent” is not an accounting term. A department or unit is not necessarily “excellent” because of the amount of money it raises. Service is more important.

And a corollary: if excellence is to be rewarded, management must also be held accountable and poor delivery penalised.

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