In Business Day today there is a report by Amanda Visser – Call to put skills before ideology in the public service.

Business Day kindly permits me to post random extracts from the report, which first appeared in Business Day, but the entire report needs to be read by clicking on the heading and using the link to Business Day, or by going directly to Business Day.

“Prof von Holdt and Prof Chipkin conclude that what SA needs is a public service that serves the needs of the people and is engaged in the unglamorous task of public ‘administration’. Prof Chipkin says: ‘It is not at all about leadership and managerial skills, but the task of getting organisational structures in place, of staffing the right people, of getting the budgeting process right and of getting a real understanding of what public administration is’.”

“He refers to two success stories in the post-apartheid state: the South African Revenue Service and the Department of Home Affairs. At the heart of their turnaround was a return to basic administration, he says. The effective collection of taxes depends not on policy and managers, but on a modern, appropriate and efficient system, with well-oiled processes and rules. The same is true at home affairs, he says. Issuing identity documents fast, safely and efficiently requires efficient systems.”

Neglect of attention to the notion of administration

“In a recent academic article, Ivor Chipkin and Barbara Lipietz from the Public Administration Institute at Wits University, examined what they described as racial bureaucracy versus new public management in the public service. They argue that with the undoing of the bureaucratic nature of the former apartheid system, a ‘value-driven system’ took its place.”

“The result has been a general neglect of rigorous attention to the notion of administration. In other words, the basic, unglamorous tasks of planning, organising, staffing, directing, reporting and budgeting have gone down the drain, they argue.”

“Academic Karl von Holdt, also from Wits University and a commissioner on the National Planning Commission, looks at six key features of the post-apartheid bureaucracy in an article that looks specifically at the decline of state health institutions.”

“Prof Chipkin says a debate on the framework of a post-apartheid public service is necessary, as the ‘public management’ model that replaced the ‘public administration’ model could be the root cause of the dysfunctional nature of the public service as we know it today.”

“He says an analysis of the transformation of the racial bureaucracy of the apartheid state into a ‘development administration’ shows the bureaucracy was destroyed to rid the public administration of anything associated with the apartheid system.”

“Prof Chipkin says it is clear from the latest policy documents released by the ANC that there is still no reference to the design of the public administration, despite the government’s insistence it is prioritising services and job creation.”

“Effective bureaucracies are seen as essential for ensuring order, delivering services on a large scale and underpinning the workings of a modern state.”

“Both professors refer to the Weberian perspective. German sociologist and political economist Max Weber’s view of an effective bureaucracy was a top-down, hierarchical and rules-bound public administration, staffed by permanent, neutral professional officials, motivated by the public interest and directly accountable to the political leadership.”