Supervising the bosses
Poor culture of performance evaluation
PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI SAYS that stepping up performance is central to reducing crime and poverty. It’s therefore key for Government’s credibility – as the violent protests over deficient government services in North West Province have shown.
But, chances of ratcheting up service delivery, according to the Public Service Commission (PSC), are being seriously limited.
Why? Cabinet ministers and their provincial counterparts (MECs) are getting steadily worse at keeping the administrative drivers of Government programmes (directors general and deputy directors general) firmly on track through what are supposed to be obligatory annual performance assessments.
Furthermore, Parliament isn’t calling ministers to account for this as it should.
The PSC has warned that many other Government departments will soon be in the same chaotic position that Home Affairs is now trying to dig its way out of if something isn’t done.
“Heads of Department (HoDs) shoulder the most crucial responsibility to ensure achievement of service delivery objectives of their departments,” states a PSC report.
There was much fanfare in November 2000 when the Framework for Evaluation of HoDs – billed as a key tool to improve Government services – was adopted. But, since then, national and provincial ministers have got progressively more slack about evaluating their chief workhorses.
For example, 80% of HoDs (DGs at national level and deputy DGs at provincial level) who qualified (had been in their posts for a full financial year) for assessment in 2001/2 went through performance assessments with their relevant executive authority boss. But, by 2004/5 this had dropped to 59%.
The PSC’s report to Parliament on this matter describes the decline as “very concerning” because “HoDs shoulder the most crucial responsibility to ensure the achievement of service delivery objectives”. But, the PSC’s concern is also that if there’s a decline in performance evaluation at HoD level, it’s probably also got worse at lower levels.
DG of the PSC, Odette Ramsingh, who headed the task team that spent six months trying to get to the bottom of the incompetence of Home Affairs, warns: “If this continues, problems like Home Affairs will start recurring.”
Ramsingh is emphatic that if performance evaluation is done properly, Government “will see results”.
But she’s also worried about some of the performance assessments that are done. Many of them are incomplete (without critical score sheets or signatures) without proper bearing on the department in question’s accomplishments or lack thereof.
But the problem extends beyond actual assessments. Top civil servants, according to the PSC, are also operating without performance agreements (PA) and many only get their PAs long after they’re appointed. For example, only 96 out of 126 PAs (for the HoD level) were finalised for 2005/06. By 29 January this year, only 89 of the 124 expected for the new financial year had been submitted.
“The PA is the basis for the evaluation and creates a common point of reference for the HoD and the executive authority (Cabinet minister or MEC) in the entire performance management cycle,” says Ramsingh.
The worst performance assessment culprits – departments where the HoDs have not been evaluated since the new evaluation framework was adopted in 2000 – are the departments of Health, Home Affairs, Public Works, Justice and Constitutional Development and Arts and Culture. In some cases, the DGs or DDGs don’t stick around long enough to qualify for an assessment, which points to another problem entirely.
But this isn’t the first time the PSC has cautioned Parliament about the poor culture of performance evaluation in the public service, which begs questions of why this has been allowed to continue. Where have Parliament and the relevant provincial legislatures been? Their primary role is one of oversight – to keep the Cabinet in check.
Chairperson of Parliament’s public service and administration committee, Pumzile John Gomomo (ANC), says: “Let’s change the way we do things in Parliament.” Indeed, this warning is going to test Parliament’s new resolve to use its teeth instead of being the ultimate rubber stamp.
Will the committees call ministers (their political bosses) to account for their lack of management and inability to drive the performance assessment culture? And, if so, how far will MPs go if ministers fail to improve?
While Parliament’s Office of the Speaker is investigating ways of strengthening Parliament’s oversight role, especially the support and research available to MPs, this debate goes hand in hand with calls for a change in the electoral system so that MPs can be more outspoken and independent-minded instead of toeing party lines.
Idasa analyst Perran Hanhdiek refers to the British political system, saying constituency-based systems don’t necessarily mean a less “executive-driven” Parliament. Legislative oversight and executive accountability are, although clearly prescribed in the Constitution, developing practices and not yet fully understood. In this regard, attracting and retaining experienced MPs who can (and often do) get the most out of the present system, he says, is more important.
“Let’s change the way we do things in Parliament.” Pumzile John Gomomo