Modern, Growing, Successful Province

Keynote Address by the Premier of the Northern Cape, Dr Zamani Saul, at the Public Service Commission Seminar

Programme Director, Commissioner Bacus
Acting Chairperson of the PSC Commissioner Professor Somadoda Fikeni
Vice Principal of UNISA Professor T Meyiwa
CEO of the Ethics Institute Professor D. Rossouw
Public Service Commission DG, Ms Dinky Dube
Head of the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation, Dr Lebeya
Retired Deputy National Director - Public Prosecutions, Mr Willie Hofmeyer
Representatives from law enforcement agencies
Representatives from Chapter 9 and 12 Institutions
Distinguished guests
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen

I appreciate the opportunity to provide the keynote address at the 2022 Public Sector Commission Seminar with the captivating theme, “improving governance, systems and processes in the public sector”.

Let me thank Professor Fikeni and the Public Service Commission for this surprise invite to address you at this Seminar on this very important topic, “Implications for the Public Service based on the outcome of Commission of Enquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector.” This is not an easy topic, taking into cognisance the sheer size and scale of public service in South Africa, it is multi-layered and multi-dimensional.

The Public Sector in South Africa has recently been marred by a series of scandals, which is as a result of instances of clear lack of ethics. Commissions, such as the Zondo Commission, Nugent and Mokgoro, have revealed that public administration in South Africa is faced with an increasing challenge of rampant corruption.  Lack of ethics and corruption manifests among public office bearers and public servants. This scourge impedes government departments’ capacity to render public services effectively and efficiently. It goes without saying that corruption robs the poor the most.

We came to accept it that for every human being that dies there are beneficiaries, similarly with the death of the apartheid dispensation, the new democratic dispensation inherited a whole host of things. To mention two, which I think is relevant to this conversation. First we inherited an apartheid State, which was fundamentally flawed and corrupt, whose primary existence was to cater for the white minority interest by oppressing the black majority.

Secondly, we inherited a people yearning for change. This change was beautifully captured in the RDP as a “BETTER LIFE FOR ALL”.  To achieve this dream of a “BETTER LIFE FOR ALL”, required social re-engineering that involved the transformation of the State because what was inherited was completely ill-equipped to mid-wife the vision of a “BETTER LIFE FOR ALL.”

The political tagline of a “BETTER LIFE FOR ALL” generated untold expectations, particularly from the black population who are at the receiving end of the socio-economic disparities in the country. They trusted the State as their only hope to deliver the dream of a “BETTER LIFE FOR ALL”. This was a fair expectation because without an active involvement of the democratic State, “BETTER LIFE FOR ALL”  will be a stillborn.

The State transformation project started 1994 and in the early 2000’s we started speaking of constructing a capable and ethical developmental State. At the heart of the transformation of the State is the transformation of the public service, which is expected to be capable and ethical. These two attributes, capability and ethical disposition are essential to instil the much needed trust and confidence in the public service.

The public service is created by laws, but fundamentally derives its legitimacy from public trust. Public trust is a belief from citizens that the powers that reside in the public service will be exercised fairly and equitably, and that their resources will be managed capably and ethically.

Right throughout the world there is general decline in public trust. Not trusting public service is becoming a norm. On average only 51% of citizens across Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries trust their public service. The OECD is now exploring how governments can build public trust. This is not an easy task given that trust had only slightly recovered from the 2008 financial crisis.

The Mo Ibrahim Forum 2018 Report shows that while there is an increasing demand on public service; public trust in the public service in Africa is at an all-time low and South Africa is no exception. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) report of 2021 indicates that corruption remained constant across the globe without any significant efforts undertaken to end it, or to at least bring it under control. The CPI ranks 180 countries and territories across the world on the perceived level of public sector corruption on the scale of 0-100, where 0 represents highly corrupt and 100 means “very clean”. The ranking is based on the position of a country relative to other countries in the index. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, in 2021 South Africa ranked 70/180 and scored 44/100 in the same period. These are concerning outcomes.

Furthermore, the Afro barometer team in South Africa, led by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and Plus 94 Research, interviewed 1,600 adult South Africans in May and June 2021. A sample of this size yields country-level results with a margin of error of +/-2.5 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. The key findings are:

  • Only a minority of South Africans say they trust the President (38%) and Parliament (27%). For the first time in Afro barometer surveys, only a minority (43%) express trust in the courts of law.
  • Only about one in three citizens (36%) trust the Electoral Commission of South Africa, with trust levels particularly low among younger respondents. Slightly more (42%) trust the Public Protector.
  • Two-thirds (67%) of South Africans would be willing to give up elections if a non- elected government could provide security, housing, jobs and fight corruption.

What these survey outcomes reflect is that trust in nearly all institutions is low – and declining. In South Africa this has been exacerbated by the glaring incapacity of the public service to meet the delivery needs of the citizens in an environment punctuated by scary corruption recounts.

The final staggered reports of the State Capture Commission were presented in this environment of discontentment with public service. This discontentment comes with high levels of mistrust between the citizens and the public service.

Also, and very importantly, the presentation of the final commission reports is sandwiched by two natural disasters. First, is the Covid-19 pandemic that brought the economy to its knees and compounded the efforts to address the triple fault lines in the socio-economic landscape of the country. Secondly, are the recent floods in Kwazulu Natal (KZN) and certain parts of the Eastern Cape (EC). During a disaster, public service is expected to play a pivotal role to mitigate its impact and it is also expected that there will be an increase in public trust.

However, the plunder of public resources which are meant to save lives during Covid- 19 accentuated a sense of deep mistrust by citizens in the public service. The recent government intervention in both KZN and parts of the EC to mitigate the impact of the floods is met with a deep sense of cynicism by the majority of South Africans, that this intervention creates another front for looting of public resources.

The cumulative impact of events that took place in the country, including the State Capture Report resulted in a worsening deficit in the public trust in South Africa’s key democratic institutions, which includes the public service. The Daily Maverick, a South African news publication, estimated that state capture cost the country roughly R1. 5 trillion. The confirmed costs of the almost three-year probe stood at almost R1-billion. But very importantly, this is roughly equal to the R864-million which McKinsey has repaid to Eskom and SAA after negotiations with the commission.

The nature of the State Capture was concentrated in the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) which are meant to be drivers of economic growth. These SOE’s are:

  • SAA,
  • Denel,
  • Transnet,
  • Eskom,
  • SABC, and

Because of the deleterious impact of State Capture on these SOE’s, they are now limping and are fiscal guzzlers depending on the overstretched fiscus for their continued existence. Through fiscal bailouts to these SOE’s we take money from public education and public health to fund their operational cost and capex needs.

One of the critical objectives for the existence of SOEs is for them to be catalysts and drivers for economic growth and through an extensive rollout of strategic infrastructure, for instance for communication, energy needs and transport to the poor and rural masses.

There are many factors that lead to sluggish economic growth in the country and amongst them is the weakened capacity of the SOE’s. We are experiencing bouts of load shedding, rail transportation is in shambles and SAA is now trying to rise from a death bed. These maladies continue to hammer the little that is  left of the public trust.

The Reconstruction and Development Programme advocate for “people-centred development” and Vision 2030 speaks of  a “citizen based” development trajectory. The scale of corruption exposed by the Commission generated a great deal of mistrust in the public service and this leads to alienation of citizens, who are expected to be active participants. 

This alienation in turn results in disengagement by citizens from the legal platforms of citizens’ participation, which in turn results in disempowerment. This disempowerment is a precursor for civil unrest. Hence, the violent protests, which target the economy and public infrastructure. Under such circumstances the effectiveness of the public service is directly impacted and this could result in high levels of attrition from the most skilled public servants.

Some of the implications of State Capture Commission report in the fight against corruption include the following:

  • The commission report will serve as deterrent to public servants who may want to “capture” the state in the nearest future.
  • The Zondo Commission Report will give the public service an opportunity to build trust. This is likely to take time, but it is an opportunity that must not go to waste.
  • The Zondo commission's report is expected to send strong signals to senior officials who have tendencies of corrupt practices. All South Africans have been urged by the commission report and President Ramaphosa to report any act of mismanagement or corrupt practices to authorities and private whistle-blower platforms. Part of Zondo Commission’s suggestion was to, among other things, enhance transparency by amending political party funding act and also enact laws that can redefine public procurement processes.

As part of our efforts to deal with the abuses and malfeasance perpetuated in our country due to unethical behaviour, the Department of Public Service and Administration has launched the public administration ethics, integrity and disciplinary technical assistance unit. This initiative must be appreciated.

This unit will focus on curbing fraud and corruption among public servants by implementing norms and standards on ethics, integrity and disciplined management in the civil service.  It will also strengthen the measures for the protection of whistle-blowers in the public service and will contribute to building a culture of ethical leadership whilst helping to professionalise the public service.

Public servants are crucial in ensuring that government undertakes measures to ensure sound governance and administration. We need activist public servants, with courage and grit to be change-agents as the state renews, rebuilds and repositions the institution as the pinnacle of anti-corruption.

As public servants and representatives we all need to play a key role in combating systemic corruption in the public service.

Thank you again for the opportunity

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