Cronyism continues

2011-11-16 00:00

A FEW years ago, I accompanied an economics honours student to her grandmother’s house near Elandskop. Her gran, a sangoma, was holding an ukuphothula (graduation) ceremony for a young recruit. The student was very confident about what she wanted to do. She was going to work for the government and believed that with her economics background she would have no problem finding a job. She wanted to work in KwaZulu-Natal as she had an extended family to support. I remember assuring her that she would have no problem finding employment.

The next time I met her was about two years later at the Greyhound bus station in Johannesburg. She was working in Mpumalanga and was returning home for a short holiday. On the bus she explained that she never did manage to get a job in KwaZulu-Natal, despite trying very hard. Most disappointing is that she never even got an interview.

I thought of that young woman and her struggle to find work locally when I saw a job advert in The Witness recently for the post of deputy municipal manager, community services, at Msunduzi Municipality.

The advert said the applicant needed to have an appropriate degree in social science and that a post-graduate degree would be an added advantage. It called for extensive knowledge of local government and a minimum of five years’ experience at senior management level. The position of deputy municipal manager is one of the most senior positions within the municipality and is just below that of municipal manager.

My young friend now has the requisite experience and she would have been a worthy candidate to apply.

Then last Friday, the same advert was published again under a bold heading reading “Erratum”. It turns out there was an error in the original advert and the qualifications required were being amended.

The corrected advert called for the following qualifications: NQF [National Qualifications Framework] level seven in social science. There was no mention of post-graduate qualifications being an advantage. There is an interesting addition to the advert. It says a requirement would be a “certificate in municipal finance management (SAQA qualification ID no. 48965) or in the process of attaining”.

The way Msunduzi Municipality ran its affairs in the past was to craft adverts in such a way that they fit the profile of a particular incumbent. After the time wasting and costly exercise of going through the process of short-listing, interviewing and selecting, the person who was widely tipped for the job in the corridors of city hall was duly announced as the incumbent for the post. As journalists we would go to the powers that be and ask about cadre deployment and cronyism. Of course, this would be vehemently denied and some or other official would quote a string of rules showing that on the face of it procedures had been followed and the panel had made the selection after scoring the candidates.

Thereafter we would watch as the incumbent, who at that time would bear some some high-faluting title like strategic executive manager, produced no strategic plans. Instead, at council meetings documents prepared by several different consultants would be presented. This meant that ratepayers were paying twice, once for the high-level manager and once for the consultant.

Trevor Manuel’s National Planning Commission in its proposed national development plan has called for the end of cadre deployment.

The commission says it has been proved that the best candidates are often not appointed to the post and as a result service delivery suffers. It proposes to create a better-functioning administration, insulated from political interference, with a graduate recruitment programme and a skills-development strategy for municipalities so that the government can attract high-level candidates.

All well and good on paper but will this be adopted in practice? A key reason for Msunduzi’s spectacular collapse has been identified as the lack of skilled staff. Yet despite all this the municipality continues the bad habits of the past, tailoring adverts to suit certain deployees.

Already there is talk in the city hall that the advert in last Friday’s paper has been tailored so that the current acting deputy manager for community services Kwenza Khumalo gets the job.

Khumalo already cuts a controversial figure. There have been questions about his qualifications as a traffic officer, which he has duly denied. The allegations do not go away and keep coming up every time there is a breakdown in the troubled traffic and safety unit of the municipality. They could simply be because of long-standing divisions within the department.

The fact remains, however, that local governments must change the way they handle appointments if they are going to start delivering on their mandate and winning back the trust of residents and ratepayers.

In the words of Manuel, there has to be the political will to make brave decisions.

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