Sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, man­age­ment and the recog­ni­tion of merit are cru­cial

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As op­po­si­tion par­ties ready them­selves to gov­ern in 2019, ar­eas they should pri­ori­tise are the restora­tion of pub­lic ser­vice cred­i­bil­ity and staff morale. Ja­cob Zuma’s era of mis­gov­ern­ing has se­verely in­jured the pub­lic ser­vice; merit has been his great­est ca­su­alty. Yokels have been cat­a­pulted from obliv­ion to po­si­tions of sig­nif­i­cance, leav­ing scores of qual­i­fied and ex­pe­ri­enced pub­lic ser­vants de­mor­alised.

Un­der Zuma, state-owned en­ter­prises have be­come bank­rupt, as his con­cu­bines and cronies loot with im­punity. Chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions have be­come tooth­less. The Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor can no longer be trusted and the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity is be­com­ing a hide­out for dis­cred­ited pros­e­cu­tors. The Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion is con­spic­u­ously ab­sent.

Staff turnover among se­nior gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees is wor­ry­ing. A study by an aca­demic from the Univer­sity of Cape Town shows that a to­tal of 28 direc­tors-gen­eral did not com­plete the full terms of their con­tracts dur­ing Zuma’s first term. One can only won­der how any pub­lic ser­vant can work un­der the mis­for­tune of a Batha­bile Dlamini and look for­ward to go­ing to work ev­ery morn­ing.

To sug­gest that this trend stopped after 2014 is to al­low wishes to fa­ther thoughts. No scin­tilla of morale can be ex­pected amongst staff work­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment char­ac­terised by such lev­els of medi­ocrity, ram­pant loot­ing and in­sta­bil­ity in se­nior po­si­tions in gov­ern­ment.

It goes with­out say­ing, there­fore, that any op­po­si­tion party that is ready­ing it­self to gov­ern must de­velop clear strate­gies on how to pro­fes­sion­alise the pub­lic ser­vice and re­ju­ve­nate staff morale. The be­gin­ning of such a process must be to learn from oth­ers; lessons from China and Ger­many are in­struc­tive.

In his com­pelling book, Deng Xiaop­ing and the trans­for­ma­tion of China, Ezra Vogel il­lus­trates how, after in­her­it­ing the dis­as­ter cre­ated by Mao Ze­dong’s Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion, Deng trans­formed China into a mod­ern and ef­fi­cient econ­omy. Un­der Mao’s 27 years of misrule, China reached a point where food short­ages were rife, and mil­lions were dy­ing of star­va­tion and other un­nat­u­ral causes. In­tel­lec­tu­als were purged and at some point no tech­ni­cal spe­cial­ists were trained for an en­tire decade.

Un­der Mao, a proud cen­turies-old Con­fu­cian tra­di­tion re­quir­ing can­di­dates to write ex­am­i­na­tions to gain en­try into civil ser­vice was dis­carded. The pub­lic ser­vice be­came a pa­tron­age ma­chin­ery to re­ward party cadres.

When Deng took over in 1978, he re­solved to “open the coun­try wide to sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and man­age­ment sys­tems, and new ideas from any­where in the world, re­gard­less of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem”. He was fra­ter­nal with China’s his­toric arch­en­e­mies such as Ja­pan and Amer­ica, and sent le­gions of young peo­ple for train­ing abroad, to learn and bring new ideas to help re­form China.

He ini­ti­ated re­forms in ed­u­ca­tion, which would later en­sure that “new gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials would be cho­sen based on their knowl­edge and abil­ity to man­age, not just on whom they knew”. China is to­day an eco­nomic su­per­power be­cause of their recog­ni­tion of merit, pro­mo­tion of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy, and be­cause they learnt from oth­ers.

Some may has­ten to sug­gest that the ANC can still sal­vage the sit­u­a­tion and that Cyril Ramaphosa is po­si­tioned to be our Deng.

Re­gret­tably, un­like Deng, Ramaphosa is in­tel­lec­tu­ally weak, too meek in char­ac­ter and lacks the sup­port of his party. The rot in the ANC is too deep and re­quires some­one with a back­bone to erad­i­cate it. Ramaphosa has shown nei­ther the stamina nor knowl­edge of what needs to be done.

Deng could suc­ceed be­cause China was not a democ­racy, but a one-party dic­ta­tor­ship. Be­ing a democ­racy, Ger­many is, per­haps, a bet­ter ex­am­ple.

In his vol­ume, Po­lit­i­cal Or­der and Po­lit­i­cal De­cay, Fran­cis Fukuyama traces the ori­gins of Ger­many’s cul­ture of ex­cel­lence and merit from the an­cient time of Fred­er­ick the Great’s em­pires that ruled Prus­sia long be­fore in­te­gra­tion.

In Prus­sia we find two char­ac­ters, Baron Karl vom und zum Stein (1757– 1831) and Prince Karl Au­gust von Har­den­berg (1750–1822). They pushed for ground-break­ing re­forms in the pub­lic sec­tor, which saw Prus­sia break away from a pat­ri­mo­nial to a mer­it­based sys­tem of em­ploy­ment.

While many at­tempts were made be­fore, the Edict of October 1807 marked a turn­ing point. It abol­ished the priv­i­leges of the no­bil­ity in the civil ser­vice and opened up bu­reau­cratic posts to com­mon­ers. A new prin­ci­ple was en­shrined – “Ca­reer open to tal­ent” – as the guid­ing spirit for gov­ern­ment ap­point­ments. In the process “pat­ri­mo­nial dead­wood was purged” and it was no longer one’s birth, but one’s ed­u­ca­tion that de­ter­mined suc­cess in a ca­reer in the pub­lic ser­vice. As early as 1817, reg­u­la­tions were passed set­ting sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion as a min­i­mum re­quire­ment for em­ploy­ment in the Prus­sian gov­ern­ment.

A per­son like Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng would not even have been el­i­gi­ble for the most ju­nior of cler­i­cal po­si­tions in Prus­sia two hun­dred years ago. That’s how far be­hind we are as a coun­try! Mean­while, a de­gree in law was needed for em­ploy­ment into higher po­si­tions such as chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer and di­rec­tor-gen­eral in paras­tatals and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. Par­al­lel to this was a re­form of the univer­sity sec­tor, to pre­pare th­ese in­sti­tu­tions to pro­duce grad­u­ates for em­ploy­ment in the civil ser­vice; only the best and bright­est would be re­cruited. Civil ser­vice in Ger­many is to­day highly pro­fes­sion­alised and is the envy of the world, and to be em­ployed there is a mark of pres­tige, a source of pride and hon­our. The fa­mous Ger­man word ‘bil­dung’, loosely trans­lated to mean ed­u­ca­tion, em­bod­ies merit. The idea of bil­dung was pro­moted dur­ing the growth of the En­light­en­ment move­ment in Ger­many in the 18th cen­tury. The world has come to know and ap­pre­ci­ate re­mark­able thinkers like Goethe, Fichte, Hum­boldt, Kant and oth­ers associated with the En­light­en­ment move­ment, all be­cause of Ger­many’s recog­ni­tion of ex­cel­lence. It can­not be de­nied that the re­forms that started with the Edict of October 1807 have rubbed off across spheres of Ger­man so­ci­ety. To­day, many among us en­joy the com­fort of Volk­swa­gen, Audi, BMW, MercedesBenz and so on – all prod­ucts of Ger­many’s ex­cel­lence. The po­si­tion of the coun­try as the an­chor of Europe’s econ­omy to­day, de­spite its hor­ren­dous past, should be cred­ited for the qual­ity of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion. The world is re­plete with ex­am­ples from which we can learn. We may be where Ger­many was in 1807, or where China was in 1978, but we must never be de­spon­dent. Our jour­ney must be­gin with valu­ing ed­u­ca­tion, and pro­mot­ing ex­cel­lence and merit. This is what any party that is ready to gov­ern must pri­ori­tise. The big ques­tions, though, are: Who will be our Deng Xiaop­ing, and will the equiv­a­lent of Baron Karl vom und zum Stein please stand up? Mal­ada is a mem­ber of the Midrand Group

TALK TO US Do you agree that valu­ing ed­u­ca­tion, and pro­mot­ing ex­cel­lence and merit, will se­cure SA’s fu­ture?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word FU­TURE and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

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