By Jessie Taylor

A new municipal law has been signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, taking South Africa a step closer to professionalising the public service.

The government has introduced several key measures as a part of a project to professionalise public services in South Africa and to take a stance against questionable appointments of government officials.

South Africa has pockets of excellence in public service, but a number of areas remain dysfunctional and struggle to advance the aspirations of the Constitution. This was highlighted in reports by the Zondo Commission, which found that in some cases senior government leaders do not have the necessary expertise and that the public administration still has some work to do to become effective and professional.

To address these challenges, the government is implementing a series of measures to reform the public service and professionalise public administration.


Legislating for a transparent public service

This month, President Ramaphosa signed the Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill into law. This legislation prohibits South African municipal workers and senior managers from holding political office. It also empowers MECs to take the necessary steps to validify appointments and enforce compliance.

The legislation includes the political office of chairperson, deputy chairperson, secretary, deputy secretary or treasurer of a political party nationally or in any province, region or other areas in which a political party operates.

The previous legislation in South Africa only prevented municipal managers and those who reported directly to them from holding political office. 

The latest legislation is just one of several steps being taken by the government to professionalise the public service, including the Local Government Municipal Structures Amendment Act which came into effect on 1 November 2021. This legislation introduced a specialised code of conduct and minimum requirement for councillors.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma recently established uniform norms and standards and introduced minimum qualification and competency criteria.

The criteria require senior management to have tertiary qualifications, a minimum of five years of management experience and essential leadership competencies.

The regulations introduced by Minister Dlamini-Zuma also seek to delineate roles and responsibilities for councillors and officials and prohibit councillors from taking part in recruitment and selection processes.

There are several other interventions planned by the government, among which is the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA)’s work to deploy professionals – such as registered engineers, planners, energy and water specialists, and transport specialists – to specific municipalities. They would provide on-the-job training and support to municipal staff.

“Such support includes enrolling the youth, local community members and officials in the recognition of prior learning programme, apprenticeship programme, and young graduates programme among other professional development programmes,” said Minister Dlamini-Zuma.

“However, this support is far from being adequate because we are limited by resources at the disposal of MISA. Nonetheless, the participants are enabled to professionally register.”


Building a culture of Batho Pele 

At the recent ANC policy conference, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government, led by the party, has been rebuilding the public service and the culture of Batho Pele (meaning “people first”), in government departments, municipalities, state-owned enterprises and other organs of state.

This move has seen public servants trained on a range of subjects, including ethical conduct, economic governance and planning.

The government is expected to soon finalise a national framework on the professionalisation of the public sector.

“This framework proposes a stronger emphasis on merit-based recruitment and appointments, integrity testing for all recruits to the public service, and curriculum development for ongoing learning of public servants,” said President Ramaphosa.

Another aspect of the reforms to the public sector is the District Development Model, which is a whole of government approach to planning, budgeting and implementation with the aim of eliminating waste and duplication of resources.

The District Development Model will mobilise other departments to come to the assistance of local government in providing an integrated, district-based service delivery approach aimed at fast-tracking service delivery.

“As we have recognised before, many of these challenges arise from poor management of the political-administrative interface. There is weak oversight, poor accountability and inadequate consequence management systems. There is a shortage of skilled leadership and management, and widespread fraud and corruption,” said President Ramaphosa.

In addition to these measures, Minister Dlamini-Zuma said a review is under way to build capacity for local government. This will see municipalities developing and implementing a capacity development plan, aligned to the Integrated Development Plan. 



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