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  • Ivor Chipkin

A New ThinkTank: Government and Public Policy (GAPP) -

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

I am excited to announce that I have accepted the position as director of a new ThinkTank in South Africa, the Centre for Government and Public Policy (GAPP), dedicated to delivering meaningful and realistic policy on reforming government.

Unlike an academic or a research institute, a think-tank is primarily devoted to making and winning arguments in the public domain. Although well developed in the US and in parts of Europe, there are few such centres or institutes in South Africa and none dedicated to advocacy around professionalising government and making it more effective. GAPP will fill this space by generating and sustaining public focus on government affairs and revitalising debates about practicable and meaningful reforms in key areas (economy, education, health).

1. Lost Momentum

In 2017 momentum was building in favour of reforming and modernising government in South Africa. Civil-society organisations, business groupings, politicians and some political parties were beginning to argue that the mass corruption of the Zuma period revealed flaws in the structure of government and vulnerabilities in the way government worked.

· The extent of outsourcing in South Africa, together with the highly decentralised system of public procurement made the delivery of services and goods vulnerable to intense political and economic competition for tenders. It also created numerous opportunities for corruption.

· The power of the President to appoint heads of many key state institutions made them vulnerable to his or her personal whims – especially damaging when the President was prepared to act unconstitutionally and in his or her interests. This is what had happened to the police and the prosecution services under President Jacob Zuma.

· The failure in the 1990s to professionalise the public service by, for example, making recruitment meritocratic intensified the politicisation of many departments and agencies at all levels of government. This resulted in high turnover rates amongst senior staff and frequent tensions in what the National Development Plan called the ‘political-administrative interface’, that is, between Ministers and Director-Generals. There were some notable exceptions to this general trend. The National Treasury until 2015 had been an important exception, as had the South African Revenue Services until December 2014. Recruitment practices also saw the ‘juniorisation’ of personnel with fewer and fewer skilled and experienced civil servants rising through the ranks.

Some of this analysis had come together in the Betrayal of the Promise report, compiled under the auspices of the State Capacity Research Group. It proved highly influential across civil-society, business and political sectors.

2. The Current Situation

There were high expectations that momentum for government reform would pick up speed after the fall of Jacob Zuma and the inauguration of Cyril Ramaphosa as President. In a few places this hope was well found. In the State-Owned Enterprises there are moves afoot to replace compromised individuals with honest and professional ones. The Zondo commission into State Capture is shedding light on the influence of key families (the Guptas, the Watsons) in the business of government and the degree to which senior officials in the State corrupted, inter alia, supply chain management processes. So too has the Nugent Commission revealed the malaise at the South African Revenue Services (SARS) under Tom Moyane.

Yet the broad momentum for government reform has largely stalled. Voices in business and civil-society for the introduction of meritocratic recruitment of civil servants, for example, are few and far between. There is little public debate about the role of State-Owned Enterprises and how they should be structured and governed. There was much hope that such proposals would become talking points for the 2019 election and that party manifestos would reflect this urgency. These issues have been knocked off the agenda by others: land expropriation, economic freedom.

An important opportunity is being lost.

There is a growing consensus that a key condition of development and economic growth is a state that is able to make policies and see them translated into actions. This means that the way governments are organised, staffed and incentivised is key to understanding what they do and how they do it. This simple maxim, however, is not well understood in South Africa.

One of the hallmarks of the Zuma administration was the degree to which the governance of public institutions was allowed to deteriorate. We see little appreciation for the value of institutions and of government elsewhere too. The ‘Fees Must Fall’ movement made ambitious and important demands on education and on decolonising university syllabuses. Yet this was not accompanied by recommendations about how to re-organise how universities are managed, administered and financed.

3. Filling the Gap

GAPP will work to win the argument in the public domain that building autonomous and professional administrations is vital to the long-term development of the country.

It will focus on two main issues, aiming within 3 or 4 years to see laws being passed concerning:

· Meritocratic Recruitment into the Public Service and Municipalities

· Professionalising Public Procurement
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1 Comment

May 15, 2021

Ivor it seems to me that our problem in SA is first and foremost a cultural one. The electoral majority is comprised of people reared within an authoritarian culture and as a subordinate you do not question the actions of any person higher than yourself in the hierarchy.

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