Su­per­vis­ing the bosses

Poor cul­ture of per­for­mance eval­u­a­tion

Finweek English Edition - - Economic trends & analysis - TROYE LUND

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

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