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Will public servants help coalition in South 8k8 com login phAfrica function well?

曼城曼联首发 | 8k8 com login ph | Updated: 2024-07-15 18:57:40

President of the African National Congress and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (C) reacts as he arrives for the party's National Executive Committee meeting at Birchwood Hotel in Borksburg, east of Johannesburg on June 6, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Following the national and provincial elections on May 29, South Africa found itself facing an unexpected power-sharing arrangement. The ruling African National Congress, which prides itself on being Africa's oldest liberation movement, lost its three-decade-long electoral majority in the country with its vote share falling from 57.5 percent in 2019 to 40.2 percent in 2024. Nearly a month after the elections, 10 parties joined hands to form the Government of National Unity.

The short-lived post-Apartheid GNU arrangement and its related experiences have completely faded from public memory, thus making it difficult to serve as a reference point. Instead, the complex and challenging local government coalitions produced by the last two elections serve as a benchmark for an unknown future.

Some public service mandarins in the country are viewing this period of change and uncertainty with trepidation. Section 197(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1996 states that: "Within public administration there is a public service for the Republic, which must function, and be structured, in terms of national legislation, and which must loyally execute the lawful policies of the government of the day."

This section in Chapter 10 of the Supreme Law is rarely cited in public discourse. Even in debates on public servants being accused of being partisan, the following provision in Section 197(3) remains muted: "No employee of the public service may be favored or prejudiced only because that person supports a particular political party or cause."

Section 195(1) of the Constitution outlines the "basic values and principles governing public administration (government)", which apply to all spheres of government, organs of state and public enterprises. A further provision is that a public administration must be governed by democratic values and principles characterized by high standards of professional ethics, efficiency, economic and effective use of resources, impartiality, inclusivity, accountability and transparency. The basic proposition is that we have a firm legal foundation to manage current and unfolding realities.

The term "mandarins" is invoked because the state requires a cadre of executives with exceptional leadership and managerial skills to navigate political dynamics, deploy human and capital resources, interpret political mandates and diligently lead the execution of plans that improve the socioeconomic conditions of society. The responsibility of a patriotic mandarin is to faithfully execute the government's policies and ensure that service delivery is sustained, even in the face of political changes. The supreme structure that commands the bureaucracy is the Cabinet, where the government's program of the day is adopted.

The essence of the public servant is that there is a proactive embracement of uncertainty by exercising capabilities and agency to navigate complexity and mobilize people and resources for what lies ahead. Adopting the National Framework Toward the Professionalisation of the Public Sector by the Cabinet in October 2022 served to effect the constitutional obligation by providing better guidance on managing shocks such as the current exceptional circumstances. The framework provides agency to the mandarins by emphasizing the importance of maintaining higher standards of professionalism, regardless of personal affiliation with a political party or cause.

As with counterparts in other parts of the world who have been through coalitions, South African mandarins should continue to advance the national development agenda. As the country enters the era of significant changes in public positions, they are understandably concerned, as coalitions have inherent problems. Some officials have expressed concerns that because a coalition government includes additional layers of bureaucracy, different parties may claim control of specific institutions. Public servants receive contradictory directives from political principals of coalition parties, causing confusion, frustration and inefficiencies.

Coalition partners may exert political pressure on public servants to align with their respective party agendas, possibly jeopardizing the civil service's neutrality and professionalism. Again, the mandarins should manage this at the departmental level by ensuring that reference is always made to the Cabinet's national development agenda.

Job insecurity is a genuine concern, particularly among senior public servants. Disagreements over budget allocation to government departments and entities may compromise funding for long-term projects and consequently affect service delivery. Despite all these perceived and potentially genuine challenges, experiences in other countries have shown that GNUs and coalitions provide opportunities for constructive change and are a vital component of further professionalizing the public sector. Coalition governments can promote public policy innovation by bringing together the perspectives and ideas of different political parties. Such political joint ventures also intrinsically promote collaborative governance practices, with departments and ministries working together to develop and implement integrated policies.

To navigate this dynamic political landscape, public servants must be adaptable and resilient to their mandate of serving the public effectively and efficiently. Now is the moment for public servants to embrace coalition arrangements to broaden their horizons by learning and adapting policies and strategies to a changing political landscape. A GNU or coalition agreement would reinforce the Cabinet as the primary policy direction and decision-making source. Coalition governments can have a multidimensional impact on professionalizing public service, influencing various aspects such as recruiting, training, performance management and overall efficiency.

In Germany, for example, the Grand Coalition (2005-09 and 2013-21) aimed to modernize the public sector through training programs that would rapidly adapt to new policies.

In Belgium, coalition administrations have prioritized capacity-building within public service to deal with the complexity of a multilingual and multicultural society. For example, their training initiatives aimed to ensure that public servants were fluent in Dutch and French, thereby boosting communication and service delivery. In India, coalition governments have recognized the importance of a professionalized public service to effectively implement diverse policy objectives.

A practical further example is coalition arrangements in Italy, where the 2009 Brunetta Reform was adopted, which aimed to boost public sector efficiency and accountability by implementing performance-based compensation and rigorous performance evaluations for public servants.

In the Netherlands, coalition governments have promoted professionalization through collaborative training programs that bring together public servants from different ministries.

These programs seek to build a cohesive and well-trained public service capable of working across political divides.

While coalition administrations can introduce complexity and obstacles, they also provide opportunities for professionalizing the public service. They can contribute to building a more capable and professional public service better equipped to implement diverse and sometimes conflicting policy agendas by prioritizing training, performance management and ethical standards. We must soothe the concerns of our officials by urging them to fully embrace the new opportunities and possibilities provided by the new concept of cooperative governance.

As dedicated mandarins, we owe it to South Africans to respond proactively to the growing realities of coalitions and work relentlessly to build a better, stable and prosperous South Africa. Now, more than ever, we must take the initiative to display the diligence and resilience demonstrated during significant events such as the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only have we navigated potentially disruptive changes caused by past Cabinet reshuffles and other unprecedented events, such as the start of new administrations, but we have also helped stabilize and sustain public institutions' successful operations to ensure business continuity. Again, I must restate that the mandarins are expected to act as the "Talented Tenth". We are expected to lead institutions of the state per the constitutional provisions, instead of rushing to carry handbags to endear ourselves with the new principals.

The ethic of development and work distinguishes this advanced detachment from the rest of the officials who are largely measured by showing up and completing the tasks for the day while being kind to the public and not stealing. We must earn the trust and respect through leadership and diligent execution. As we proudly proclaim: ! ke e:/xarra//ke, literally meaning diverse people unite, we must all work toward the noble objective of eventually establishing a single public service, which exists in countries of both the Global North and the Global South.

The author is director-general of the National School of Government of South Africa and a visiting professor at Fudan University.

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