President Cyril Ramaphosa's focus on professionalising the public service deserves support if the National Development Plan's vision is going to be achieved, writes Thembinkosi Gcoyi and Linda Busuku.
On 3 December 2020, Cabinet approved the National Policy Development Framework (NPDF).
The NPDF seeks to codify and institutionalise rules and procedures for policymaking by creating standardised guidelines for all government spheres. It encourages the public sector to take a more integrated approach to develop policy to avoid duplication, contradictions, and unconstitutional policy proposals.
South Africa's recent history of policymaking has been an uneven one.
The disbandment of the Policy Coordination and Advisory Services (PCAS) in the Presidency dealt a massive blow to government efforts to institutionalise and standardise policymaking.
The establishment of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) was meant to plug the gaps left behind by the liquidation of PCAS.
Standardisation of policymaking
Cabinet approved the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment System (SEIAS) in 2015 as a pointed attempt by the government to reintroduce predictability and standardisation in policymaking. The DPME was tasked to institutionalise it through guidelines, templates, and training and provide quality assurance on submitted policy proposals. This followed a recognition that the Regulatory Impact Assessment process failed to account for all possible policy outcomes.
The SEIAS gives prominence to the role of stakeholder engagement to facilitate broad dialogue between government and society, to ensure that policy proposals would reflect and balance the interests of all affected stakeholders. Regrettably, the DPME has thus far struggled to stamp its authority on government planning and policymaking processes for various reasons, including resourcing and political will.
The NPDF aims to create harmonious cooperation between policymakers and stakeholders by enabling stakeholder participation at the initiation stage of policymaking.
Stakeholder consultation has been a challenging aspect of policymaking for many government institutions. To the extent that consultation takes place, it tends to happen after policies/legislation have been approved by Cabinet, leading to protracted Parliamentary processes, and in some instances, legal strategies to challenge constitutionality.
The president has also been forced to send bills back to Parliament because they were either vague, potentially unconstitutional, or failed to articulate and account for stakeholder interests properly.
In 2020 alone, President Cyril Ramaphosa referred the Copyright Amendment Bill, the Performers' Protection Amendment Bill, the Protection of State Information Bill, and the Liquor Products Amendment Bill back to Parliament for reconsideration.
One of the framework's principal functions is to create a roadmap that will ensure that every new policy is based on society's real needs rather than the ideological aspirations of political heads and their functionaries.
Ideally, the framework will force government institutions to earnestly implement the SEIAS, whose sole purpose is to ensure those policy responses are necessary, commensurate with identified problems, and above all, fair, equitable and practicable. Although the NPDF and SEIAS are reasonable steps towards evidence-based policymaking, more still needs to be done to insulate policymaking from the vagaries of politics.
Policymaking and implementation should not be affected by political and leadership changes, especially when the same political party continues as government. President Ramaphosa would also do well to seriously consider appointing a policy chief at the level of Minister. Such a policy head should have pride in advising the president about the necessary policy interventions across government.
Leaving this function to the Director-General of the Presidency would be asking a lot of a public servant in an inherently political position given the role of political heads in translating the vision of the ruling party into a government programme.
The policy head should have the ability to reject policy proposals that fall short of the standards required by the NPDF.
Further, they should have the authority to hold departments accountable for policy proposals through the government cluster system that requires urgent attention if it is to live up to its purpose. The president has already taken an important step by creating the Policy and Research Services within the Presidency.
However, this won't be very sensible if the people working within this unit do not have the required authority to enforce policymaking standards. It is also worth pointing out that no policy framework will succeed in the absence of government policymaking expertise.
Consensus seems to be that government has lost a vast amount of experienced public servants due to the public sector's politicisation. This needs to change.
President Ramaphosa's focus on professionalising the public service deserves support to ensure that skilled South Africans avail their services to the public sector.
This is critical if South Africa is to make an earnest attempt to achieve the National Development Plan's vision.
- Thembinkosi Gcoyi is the Managing Director of Frontline Africa Advisory and Linda Busuku is a Public Policy Intern at Frontline Africa Advisory.
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