Hold them to account

2013-05-09 00:00

SERVICE non-delivery is not only about having good people. It’s often about structures, policies and processes that are not conducive to delivery.

Often competent public-sector employees are hamstrung because they don’t have the necessary authority to carry out their responsibilities.

Current public-service institutional processes make it difficult for managers to hold employees accountable for performance.

Managers need the appropriate management tools to do their jobs. They must be able to hire people, reward them, promote them and discipline or fire them when they underperform.

According to Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, the Public Administration Bill, scheduled for Parliament in June, heralds a significant change to current public-service legislation.

This is because it vests human-resource powers in the head of the relevant institution, rather than in executive authorities. This, she says, is intended to enhance accountability by giving leaders of institutions human-resource and financial-management powers.

This indicates that some delegation of powers to relevant authorities is on the cards. However, it seems that managers will be empowered to hire people, but not necessarily to discipline them if they fail to perform.

According to the minister, a National Discipline Co-ordination Unit, covering all spheres of government, is to be established in response to the current poor management of discipline.

It is to be hoped that the intention is to limit this unit to fighting serious offences such as fraud and corruption, and not ordinary personnel misdemeanours. Disciplining employees is part of a manager’s job description. If they are not equipped to handle this, they should be removed. One of the core leadership competencies is the ability to exercise sound judgment and make appropriate decisions, including disciplinary decisions.

In the public service, we demand these competencies, and must give managers the opportunity to exercise them. We must provide the basic management tools to drive a high-performance culture throughout government. The Public Service Act (1994) states that the “executive authority” is responsible for all employment decisions. In practice, only the president or a minister may hire or fire members of the executive and senior management team and those immediately reporting to them. This system cascades throughout all three tiers of government.

While the act does make provision for some delegation of power, in practice this seldom happens. It is to be hoped that the current review of existing legislation will address these issues.

Sisulu believes an efficient public service is essential to the successful roll-out of the government’s National Development Plan. However, high staff turnover has plagued government departments in the past.

Planning Minister Trevor Manuel acknowledges that the average government department has had about four directors-general in 10 years, with the figure even higher at provincial level. Since there is no direct link between employees’ performance and the reward or remuneration they receive, high performers become discouraged and often exit government.

Poor performers, on the other hand, flourish for long periods of time without any direct consequence and, in some cases, are rewarded handsomely by being paid large settlements to leave, if they leave at all.

For this reason, it is good news that a presidential remuneration commission is being established to review the pay and conditions of service of the public sector. The commission aims to review the remuneration policy framework of the public service to align it with service-delivery improvement.

Unlike the broad remuneration frameworks that are standard in the private sector, the current Public Service Act dictates all conditions of employment by job level, across the entire public service.

It makes no provision for any deviation, whether for exceptional performers or for the payment of scarce resources, resulting in the loss of skilled people, which in turn must impact on service delivery. It is to be hoped that these parameters will come under review.

Public pronouncements by the minister show a clear intent to professionalise the public service. That demands empowering managers at every level, giving them the authority that goes with responsibility and holding them accountable for the consequences of their actions.

 — Fin24

• Sandra Burmeister is CEO of the Landelahni Recruitment Group. The views expressed are her own.

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