An Agenda for Reform: A Proposed Pathway Towards Professionalizing Public Administration in South Africa


We are pleased to announce the release of our latest policy brief, ‘An Agenda for Reform’, authored by our executive director and co-founder, Ivor Chipkin. This document is a crucial analysis of the systemic crisis facing South Africa’s government, and a clarion call for reform of our public administration system.

The core argument of the policy brief is that South African government at all levels is facing a systemic crisis characterised by weak government departments and agencies. This weakness is not the product of isolated instances, but a symptom of a deeper systemic problem. Chipkin argues that politicisation and the blurring of lines between politicians and administrators have led to a pervasive lack of standardisation and regulation, and a culture suspicious of competence and standards.

The report also argues that a shift towards managerialism and the outsourcing of government work to private companies – while driven by the quest for efficiency and black economic empowerment – has often resulted in the selection of service providers on the basis of political criteria rather than technical ability. This, in turn, has been detrimental to economic development, public safety and the widening of inequality.

“The culture in many organisations is suspicious of skills, hostile to efforts to measure them, and unable to enforce minimum skill standards for key positions,” writes Chipkin.

The proposed solution? Professionalising public administration through merit-based selection, reduced political interference and targeted institutional developments such as training civil servants as professionals and reforming the Public Service Commission.

“An agenda for reform should begin with … limiting the discretion and role of ministers and the president in the operational affairs of a ministry and in the recruitment of administrative and professional staff,” Chipkin suggests.

In particular, the report emphasises that public administration reform has become crucial as South Africa enters an era of coalition governments. The document predicts that governance will become an increasingly important electoral factor, highlighting the need for reforms that insulate administrators from political turbulence and promote a professional and impartial public administration.

While this path to reform may face resistance due to the political economy of government, the report underlines the need for an effective regulatory system to ensure a future where public administration delivers effectively and efficiently to citizens.

We invite our readers to download “An Agenda for Reform” to gain a full understanding of the challenges and potential solutions facing South Africa’s public administration. This policy brief is not only an insightful academic work, but also an important tool in the ongoing discourse on improving governance in South Africa. Access the report here.

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