NSI Executive Director Addresses Public Service Reform in Sunday Times Op-Ed

The New South Institute’s (NSI) Executive Director and Co-founder, Ivor Chipkin, recently published an op-ed titled “Could real civil service reform be on the cards at last?” in the Sunday Times. The piece provides an in-depth analysis of the ongoing discussion about professionalizing the public service in South Africa.

Ivor’s article draws on the outcomes and ideas generated at a recent meeting that the Public Service Commission (PSC), the National School of Government (NSG), the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) organized. This important event, which Ivor attended, took place on July 13-14, 2023, brought together representatives from various entities, including the South African Local Government Association, the Presidency, and the Auditor-General. 

The op-ed dives into the systemic issues facing South Africa’s public administrations, asserting that many problems arise from institutional design and structure. It further highlights the over-politicization of post-apartheid public administrations and the expansive discretion politicians hold over operational decisions in state organs and public servant recruitment.

One of the potential solutions Ivor discusses in his piece is the Public Service Amendment Bill. This proposed legislation aims to limit the discretion of politicians in staff recruitment and operational matters, allowing departmental officials more flexibility in hiring and planning.

Ivor also explores the implications of a new professionalisation framework designed to impose stricter requirements on public servants, especially in specialist roles and senior managerial positions. These measures, he argues, could mark significant progress towards building robust public institutions capable of efficiently delivering essential services and managing large economic projects.

Ivor’s article reflects on the political hurdles that such reforms might encounter. Nevertheless, he suggests that the evolving political landscape and learning experiences of government officials could create a conducive environment for such changes.

In conclusion, the op-ed underscores the need for wide-ranging support for these reforms. Ivor urges business, unions, and civil society activists to rally behind these measures, asserting the importance of public service reform as an electoral issue.

This op-ed contributes to the ongoing dialogue about public service professionalization in South Africa. You can read the full article in the Sunday Times.

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