Sunday Times Features New South Institute’s Insight on Public Service Reform


In a recent opinion piece published in the Sunday Times on 26 March, New South Institute Executive Director Ivor Chipkin and Research Fellow Rafael Leite analyse the ongoing challenges in South Africa’s public administration system. Chipkin and Leite argue that the deficiencies in the public administration system pose an existential threat to South Africa and that the country needs to revive previously proposed solutions to overcome these problems.

The authors point out that the struggle between political discretion and merit-based appointments continues to hamper the effectiveness of the South African public sector. Despite constitutional mechanisms and case law aimed at reducing the influence of politicians in departmental matters, the boundaries between politics and administration remain blurred. The African National Congress’s (ANC) policy of ‘cadre deployment’ has been criticised for manipulating the appointment process, but Chipkin and Leite argue that this is a symptom rather than the cause of the problem.

The New South Institute recently published a report, ‘Personalising and Depersonalising Power‘, which shows that the current system of recruiting senior civil servants gives the executive maximum discretion. To remedy this, the authors suggest strengthening the merit protection system, professionalising the recruitment process and establishing an independent commission to oversee the appointment process.

Chipkin and Leite also address the pitfalls of focusing too much on policy formulation at the expense of policy implementation. They discuss the Public Administration Management Bill of 2008, which aimed to establish basic state norms and standards for public administrations, while respecting the constitutional rights of different branches of government. However, this work has largely been forgotten, and current proposals to professionalise the civil service do not build on these earlier achievements.

In conclusion, Chipkin and Leite emphasise the existential nature of South Africa’s struggle to professionalise public administration. The revival and effective implementation of previously developed solutions is of paramount importance. By engaging in public discourse through articles such as this Sunday Times Op-Ed, the New South Institute reaffirms its commitment to fostering meaningful discussion and contributing to the development of sustainable solutions to South Africa’s most pressing challenges.

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