19 Oct

Public Administration in South Africa is in a state of ferment. Policy problems faced by the state are increasingly complex, iniquitous and global, rather than simple, unilinear, and national in focus. Simultaneously, the prevailing paradigms through which the South African public sector reform are designed and implemented are relatively static and do not fully encompass the significance or implications of these wider changes. They tend to operate within the traditional public administration paradigm.

In this brief we argue that in South Africa, as in many other African countries there are complex and multi-faceted policy problems in the nature of governance and contemporary approaches to public administration which require more coherent responses from the state and greater collaboration between the public, private and non-governmental sectors. Public administration needs to shift from a preoccupation with organisational form and function to place greater emphasis on citizen engagement and the motivations and incentives that drive the public service. The frequent news about violent service delivery problems at local government level are the catalysts for a better and transformed public sector administration and management. In short, the country needs a paradigm shift in public sector management.

Public sector management is viewed as encompassing organisational structures, managerial practices and institutionalised values. Some academics even argue that public sector management and public sector administration are the same. Public sector management, though, seeks to reduce the role, scope, and size of the government for an efficient service delivery system for its citizens as clients. It is a comprehensive system of governance which can be established through deregulation, decentralisation, privatisation, downsizing the administration, de-bureacratisation, and introduction of partnership between state and civil society to the improvement of the relationship between citizen and state. In effect, public sector management attempts to downsize, devolve, dispense, and empower recipients of governmental services.

Therefore, the core element of public sector management is to concentrate on the outcome rather than process. It aims to revitalise a traditional bureaucratic organisation to maximise its efficiency and effectiveness to meet the challenges of socio-economic development within South Africa.

Public Sector Management in South Africa: Problems and Challenges

Public sector management in South Africa faces a number of challenges that limit the scope, speed and quality of services that need to be rendered. The frequency of public sector administrators being accused and charged for gross ethical violations, neglect of moral and civil values, cronyism, ill discipline, corruption and nepotism has almost become the order of the day and service delivery protests have escalated.

Institutional Capacity

Generally, it is claimed that weaknesses in public sector management stifles the process of socio-economic development in most emerging economies. It is also agreed that the endurance and viability of the democratic exercise in the long term will be determined by the effectiveness, fairness and public accountability of its political and public sector institutions. Within this context, good political governance entails an effective separation of powers between the legislature, the judiciary and the executive. The legislatures are mandated to have adequate constitutional powers and the political legitimacy to regulate their own affairs and play an active part in law making, and in checking and monitoring the activities of the executive.

However, in reality, the South African legislature is one of the weakest links in the governance process. Its institutional, technical, and administrative capacities are inadequate to support those responsible for public sector management to perform their functions efficiently. It is evident that the main vehicle in public sector management is the public service and the people who run it and that the mobilisation and harnessing of this resource is very critical. Building critical institutional capacities in South Africa for good governance, economic growth and development is therefore a pre-requisite.


The importance of accountability within public sector management is another important factor. The critical question that remains, however, is to whom should public servants be accountable? In response to this question, four distinct areas of accountability emerge; managerial accountability, political accountability, financial accountability and public accountability. In reality it is a combination of these ‘accountabilities’ from which public institutions are supposed to derive ultimate legitimacy, since citizens are normally the intended recipients of the services a public sector organisation provides. Public administrators often face a situation of being financially, managerially and ethically accountable to the public and the political system. In the South Africa public sector administration, efforts to ensure accountability are often frustrated by conflicting expectations from the public and the political managers.

Declining Social Values and Corruption

One of the major challenges to public sector management in South Africa is the declining social value of society itself. Values such as integrity, honesty, dependability, helpfulness, impartiality, courteousness, and fairness are gradually disappearing from the public services. A key factor underlying the ineffectiveness of administrative and financial accountability systems is corruption.

Likewise, public service ethics are the traditional values of the public service, which emphasise equity, probity, integrity, moral conduct and political neutrality. Public sector management should espouse ethics as a cornerstone of a moral society. Such a value system denotes the values associated with right or wrong, appropriate practices or inappropriate practices. Public sector management in South Africa can be enhanced through an organisational culture that strengthens employee involvement, rewards teamwork, recognises individual effort and incorporates the needs of clients and users.

Public Sector Management in South Africa: A Paradigm Shift

Whilst there is no doubt that there are observable limits to the ability of a government to solve all economic and social problems, there is a consensus that public sector management, particularly in the area of service delivery, needs to be improved. Such challenges include institutional capacity; multiple accountability and declining social values and corruption. The South African state needs to increase its efforts to curtail these challenges to well-meaning public sector reforms.

To remain viable, efficient and effective in responding to the dynamic needs of the citizen, public sector management has to embrace strategies that can enhance improved productivity and the quality of services delivered. Towards this end, a number of strategies to enhance public sector management are proffered for adaptation by the South African state. These strategies, while not exhaustive, touch on the key requirements for improving public sector performance in general, and public service delivery in particular. Among these are Total Quality Management, Organizational Strategic Management, and Training and Development. These strategies are based on the concept of a ‘lean’ government, which means a government that is run in partnership with all stakeholders.

Remember, public service is a calling and not the enrichment of a few at the expense of the majority.

Paresh Soni is Manager for Institutional Research at the Graduate School of Business – MANCOSA

Dr. Zaheer Hamid is Director of the Graduate School of Business – MANCOSA

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