Public Service ‘abusing’ affirmative action

2014-11-16 15:00

The Public Service Commission says some government departments are abusing affirmative action by not filling posts when there are no qualified black candidates available.

The commission discussed a number of recommendations this week at a conference about professionalising the public service.

They will be tabled before Parliament by March next year and include:

» The review of transformation, recruitment and vetting policies in government;

»?The introduction of entrance exams for certain posts;

»?Competency exams for senior promotions;

»?Extending the contracts for directors-general and deputy directors-general beyond five years; and

»?Rotating directors-general in the departments’ state-owned enterprises.

The commission’s acting chairperson, Advocate Richard Sizani, told City Press: “Affirmative action has never been about setting rigid quotas, it was about setting [employment equity] targets that must be reached where it is possible.

“It has never been the position of affirmative action that where there is no qualifying black candidate, you must not appoint an available white candidate if service delivery requires that post to be filled.”

Sizani said affirmative action had never “promoted the principle that we must appoint people who are incompetent, who have no ability to do their job, who are not going to be efficient and appoint people because they are black”.

He added: “The policy never said that. What it said was that you must appoint people who have ability, people who are going to be representative in terms of service, but also to redress the imbalances of the past.”

The commission is not suggesting the removal of affirmative action, which Sizani said was necessary to “redress the imbalances of the past”. But, he said, some things had to change.

“The notion of job reservation as part of affirmative action is not correct. It’s not allowed, but it’s happening and it’s illegal.

“People who know of that must come to the commission and raise those issues. We will address them in terms of the law,” said Sizani.

He said if a black candidate scored lower than a white candidate for a job, and they were both qualified for the position, the black candidate must be appointed.

“But if there’s no qualifying black candidate and there’s a white candidate who’s there and the post should be filled according to service-delivery requirements, it should be filled. You can’t reserve the job while you’re searching for a black candidate.”

But the Black Management Forum (BMF), which lobbies for the empowerment of black professionals in the workplace, said the commission’s focus was wrong.

“If it happens to be that a white person is the only one who qualifies, the department would have to build in a case to say: ‘Because we don’t have a qualified black person for this job, we will appoint a white person where there is merit for it.’

“But we don’t believe there is job reservation, and if it happens in a few cases, it doesn’t mean there is discrimination,” said BMF managing director Themba Dlamini.

Dlamini said the commission should focus on helping departments to properly implement employment equity targets instead of reviewing transformation policies.

He said government should also focus on its own retention strategies and develop its own crop of experienced professionals.

Sizani said the commission would now advocate for its proposed changes by engaging with the department of public service and administration before taking its recommendations to Parliament in the new year.

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