More bang for the buck
Getting the basics right is Baloyi’s top priority
HE OFFERS A TEDDY BEAR chuckle, laced with a hint of suspicion, at the question about whether the renovators’ racket and rubble unsettling his Cape Town offices are perhaps symbolic of what he has in store for the ministry he currently presides over in Cabinet.
“No, no – this is Public Works doing this job, not us,” says Public Service & Administration Minister Richard Baloyi, explaining that this work was not his doing but part of Parliament’s plans to upgrade 90 Plein Street where his ministry sits in the parliamentary precinct.
However, when it comes to the public service – now under pressure to give more substance to ruling party guarantees of speeding up service delivery and, ultimately, giving more bang for the taxpayer’s buck – he adds: “My mission is indeed to make my corner brighter. If every public servant does the same then we’ll go a long way to accelerate delivery.”
Getting that right requires getting the basics right, such as making sure performance management is up to scratch. As a fulltime member of Parliament’s portfolio committee on public service and administration since 1999, and latterly as its forthright chairman, Baloyi is all too aware the Public Service Commission comes before the committee every year to make the same points about how senior managers and ministers aren’t adhering to critical performance management criteria and how the lack of skills in financial management is a timebomb.
While the basics in a bureaucracy are never simple, Baloyi doesn’t mince his words about what has to be done. What’s he done so far? He’s appointed new Government representatives to the public service Seta and is overhauling the way it’s managed and monitored so it starts doing what it’s supposed to do: building capacity for the public service. That includes finding unemployed graduates and retraining them for what Government needs.
He’s also given the team of experts (in business, law, IT and corporate governance) until this week to report back to him about what needs to be done to stop the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) from “chasing its tail”.
The politician from Limpopo says he’s unfazed by the tough decisions he’s going to have to take to brighten his corner. He has high hopes for the single public service. Even though he withdrew the legislation aimed at creating a single public service from Parliament, Baloyi believes its plan for a corps of professionals that will guide, advise and coordinate the entire system has huge potential to increase efficiency. Withdrawal of his predecessor’s (Geraldine Fraser Moleketi’s) Bill was based on complaints about insufficient consultation and the fact the Bill was introduced to Parliament too late last year. It’s his priority for sitting of this year.
And what of corruption? The former United Democratic Front activist turned Cabinet minister concedes a more concerted effort needs to be made to implement Government’s zero tolerance policy on graft. But he softens that by arguing the public service suffers from a significant perception problem. All in it aren’t crooked. That’s something he intends working on, especially because the kind of professionals the public service needs to attract aren’t going to want to work for something considered to be a “brand of bad people”.
But this begs questions about Baloyi’s brokering of a deal to redeploy Correctional Services Commissioner Vernie Petersen to the Department of Sport & Recreation after he’d taken a strong stand against corruption in prisons and especially after he’d flagged specific concerns about the catering contracts issued to Bosasa (it has close ties to Minister of Correctional Services Ngconde Balfour). Doesn’t that reinforce the very public perception that Baloyi wants to counter? While the minister is adamant that there was nothing sinister in this, he says it’s a subject he wants a dedicated interview on.
“Swapping the two directors-general (Petersen to Sport and Xoliswa Sibeko from Sport to Correctional Services) had absolutely nothing to do with the perceptions created around it. This is something I started working on the first day I got into office,” insists Baloyi. He doesn’t volunteer the reasons for the swap. He hopes Correctional Services is looking into the Bosasa allegations.
Why is there a tendency by Cabinet to publicly dismiss press reports detailing corruption? Surely a show of concern and a promise of an investigation would go a long way in fostering more confidence in the political commitment to clean up Government?
“We do that (take note and investigate),” says Baloyi. “We just don’t go around issuing statements that would alert the corrupt officials anyway.”