An analysis of the score cards of the M&G and News24 shows that 56.7% of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet performed below the statistical mean score of 5.23 out of 10, in 2020, writes Malegapuru Makgoba.
The Cabinet of the Republic of South Africa is made of the president and the deputy president, plus 28 ministers - making a total of 30.
Every year for the past eight years and more, the Mail & Guardian newspaper has provided an annual performance assessment score of each minister and given each a symbol, similar to the matric mark symbols.
This process is done through teams of journalists. This annual performance exercise has come to be known as the cabinet score card.
If you score well, you like the system, but if you score poorly you not only disagree with the given performance score, but you also criticise the system. We all recognise the imperfections of the system, but we equally recognise its value as an independent process of developing our democracy.
"The M&G Cabinet report cards have become a respected barometer of government performance. Months in the making, these report cards are the most comprehensive snapshot of the performance of President Cyril Ramaphosa's Cabinet. We tell you who is going places and who's gotta go," the M&G's website reads.
As South Africans, we equally recognise the need to improve the system, for example, through the use of panels of experts rather than simply teams of journalists and by reducing "herd bias".
Herd bias occurs in a small community in which the adjudicators, although independent, often share collective biases, favouritism or a dislike for certain individuals. This may lead to the creation of "sweetheart" ministers i.e. ministers who can do no wrong and "good-for-nothing" ministers i.e. ministers who can do no right. South Africa is such a case for historical, political and racial reasons.
However, what is assessed or measured is often not clearly spelt out in terms of criteria, biasing the systems away from objectivity towards subjectivity. All these assessment systems are flawed in one way or the other, just as they are designed to measure complex factors.
They are all an attempt to measure performance so that we can improve on how we manage our leadership and how we are governed.
The strength of the scorecard system is that it is independent, it gets published and every citizen has the opportunity to read and formulate an opinion. The system also provides a learning perspective and a tracking system of performance for a minister over time. It can also assist the president in assessing the skill mix of the Cabinet.
Cabinet reshuffles are the order of normal politics. Certain ministers may perform better or worse following a reshuffle. This may be due to competence or skill sets.
Another performance assessment system for a Cabinet minister is the annual performance assessment contracts ministers enter into with the president. Unfortunately, the outcomes and scores of this system have not been transparent, made public nor has any consequence management followed from this system i.e. good performers are rewarded and poor performers are punished.
Perhaps this system, noble as it sounds, may be in the early stages of evolution and development.
There is also a fourth performance assessment of the Cabinet undertaken by the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. It is not clear how the DA can escape the conflict of competition, bias, political vested interests and ethics in such a scoring system.
In 2020, News24 entered the arena of Cabinet ministers' performance assessment scores for the first time. News24 scored each minister out of a total of 10.
READ | News24: 2020 cabinet rating
It became therefore easy to work out the statistical mean, median, mode and standard deviation for this cohort of 30 Cabinet ministers for each assessment system.
More importantly, the entry of News24 encouraged the author to translate these News24 numerical scores into symbols and also to translate the M&G Cabinet scorecard symbols into numerical scores out of a total score of 10 to harmonise the two systems.
A mean (the average), median, mode and standard deviation could be calculated for the M&G Cabinet scorecard and the News24 scoring system. While the scores are objective, the process of scoring is subjective.
A correlation coefficient could then be calculated and a comparative analysis undertaken between these two systems for the Cabinet.
The following 10 points found on Table 1 and Figure 1 emerged from this analysis:
1. The two assessment systems, the M&G and News24 have a positive correlation coefficient of 0.4995.
2. The two systems are also independent of each other. Both these characteristics are good features.
3. The two independent systems have produced identical statistical mean of 5.23, identical median of 5.0 and identical mode of 6.0
4. The total sum score for each system is 157 for the 30 Cabinet ministers.
5. In the M&G Cabinet scorecard, 17 (56.7%) ministers score below the mean of 5.23. and 13 (43.3%) score above the mean.
6. In the News24 score card 16 (53.3%) ministers score below the mean of 5.23 and 14 (46.7%) score above the mean.
7. In averaging the two scores of each ministers between the two systems, 17 ministers (56.7%) of the cabinet ministers score below the mean of 5.23 and 13 ministers score above the mean.
8. Significantly, the same 11 ministers score consistently poorly, below the mean of 5.23 in both assessment systems, while another 13 same ministers score well and above the mean of 5.23 in both systems.
9. One can safely conclude that there are 13 good performing ministers and there are 11 poor performing ministers in the Cabinet.
10. The remaining six in-between ministers are a mixed bag of well performing in one system and clearly performing below the mean in the other system.
While in general, most of these scores are reliable, acceptable and make statistical sense, there are several ministers whose scores do not match common sense knowledge on the ground and seem misaligned.
The ministers of Basic Education, Cogta, Culture and Sports, Home Affairs, Finance, Public Enterprises and Social Development are all capable and competent and their scores should be better and higher than they are currently scored.
Equally, there are ministers whose performances are negatively impacted by Cabinet reshuffles for example the performance of the Minister of Home Affairs previously health minister and the performance of the international relations minister, previously education minister and later science and technology. Their performances vary significantly with the change of portfolio. This may point to the skill set each minister has for a particular portfolio.
If these findings can be confirmed through the president's Annual Ministerial Assessment process, then the president and the nation have every reason to ask for consequence management of these performances i.e. reward for good performance, punishment for poor performance and a remedial focused developmental programme for the remainder.
One way to improve these systems is to introduce expert panels to complement these teams of journalists and also to bring rigour and better objectivity. It is also important to define what precisely is being measured through proper and consistent criteria.
It is important to minimise "herd bias" in a society such as South Africa for historical, political, cultural and racial factors.
As these assessment systems mature and become robust, so our trust in them shall grow. As what the systems really and actually measure is still in question, a clearer definition and criteria that are easily understood and are meaningful is of priority.
In the meantime, can South Africa, during these challenging times of re-imagining a new world, afford such a bloated, poorly performing Cabinet by these assessments? Is such a Cabinet compatible with a development state?
- Malegapuru W Makgoba, Health Ombud of the Republic of South Africa.
- Nombuso Zondo, a Statistics Lecturer at UKZN is acknowledged for the calculations and inputs she contributed to the article.