NSI researcher talks on SABC’s The Globe about “Personalising and Depersonalising Power” report launch
New South Institute (NSI) researcher Rafael Leite recently appeared on SABC’s The Globe to discuss the launch of a new report, Personalising and Depersonalising Power, co-authored by himself, Ivor Chipkin (director and co-founder of NSI) and Michelle Le Roux. The report examines South Africa’s progress towards greater autonomy and professionalism in the appointment of public officials and makes recommendations for further improvement.
The report contextualises the appointment of public officials in South Africa against the country’s legacy of apartheid, which historically denied civil and political rights to the majority of the population. To address this legacy, the South African Constitution granted broad powers to transform the state apparatus and create a non-racial, non-sexist society based on democratic values and respect for human rights. However, the separation between the political and administrative spheres was not clearly delineated, potentially allowing the vast majority of public offices to be filled on the basis of political criteria alone.
The Constitution also established a set of principles to guide the appointment of a small proportion of senior administrative positions in order to curb abuses, and established institutions of a counter-majoritarian nature to protect the functioning of the political and administrative system. Progress has also been made in broadening and strengthening the professional requirements for the appointment of public officials in South Africa, through court decisions that have developed interpretations and jurisprudence in this regard. The report describes the progress of this process in various key institutions of the South African state and points to a promising trend. However, the authors also note that the process is nascent and incomplete.
There is a need to institutionalise the assessment of managerial competencies as a precondition for the appointment of managers in the civil service. In doing so, the report suggests that limiting political discretion will also lead to improved public service delivery
According to Mr Leite’s interview, the report suggests that there is a need to strengthen the policy implementation dimension of the appointment process – that is, to strengthen the assessment of the fit between the professionals chosen for public office and the competencies needed in the civil service to manage change. In short, that there is a need to institutionalise new governance mechanisms capable of promoting the assessment of managerial competencies as a precondition for the appointment of managers in the civil service. In doing so, the report suggests that limiting political discretion will also lead to improved public service delivery.
The report is an important contribution to the ongoing debate on the role of public administration in South Africa’s democratic institutions and the need for greater autonomy and professionalism in the appointment of public officials. The launch event for the report will take place online on 28 February and the NSI encourages those interested in the issue to stay tuned to its website and social media channels for updates on the event and future developments.