Dis­in­te­grat­ing state ca­pac­ity is a be­trayal of democ­racy

South Africa is re­peat­edly fail­ing to live up to its de­clared poli­cies be­cause of cor­rup­tion, in­ep­ti­tude and po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age

Mail & Guardian - - Comment Analysis - Wil­liam Gumede

State ca­pac­ity — the abil­ity of the South African state to im­ple­ment its de­clared poli­cies, pub­lic ser­vices and pro­grammes — has been un­der­mined by sys­temic cor­rup­tion, poor skills at crit­i­cal lev­els and not hold­ing of­fi­cials ac­count­able for wrong­do­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank’s World De­vel­op­ment In­di­ca­tors, South Africa is one of the coun­tries in the world where state ca­pac­ity has gone back­wards.

There are glar­ing ex­am­ples of a lack of state ca­pac­ity, where the ac­tual de­liv­ery of pub­lic ser­vices is in­creas­ingly not in line with state pol­icy ob­jec­tives, laws and govern­ment state­ments.

The govern­ment in­tro­duced the Pub­lic Fi­nance Man­age­ment Act to en­sure fi­nan­cial pru­dence, yet wide­spread cor­rup­tion, mis­man­age­ment and waste have mounted.

The govern­ment has promised to im­prove school ed­u­ca­tion, but South Africa reg­u­larly scores at the bot­tom in in­ter­na­tional math­e­mat­ics tests. The govern­ment says it will pay sup­pli­ers in 30 days, yet many com­pa­nies are go­ing out of busi­ness be­cause the govern­ment can take months to pay.

State ca­pac­ity in South Africa has failed at mul­ti­ple lev­els. To im­prove the ca­pac­ity of the state, mul­ti­pronged in­ter­ven­tions are nec­es­sary.

For starters, no amount of new tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions, more mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion pro­grammes and man­age­ment-style con­sult­ing ses­sions will re­verse the slide in state ca­pac­ity. There has to be a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the cru­cial el­e­ments that make up state ca­pac­ity in or­der to come up with ap­pro­pri­ate so­lu­tions to strengthen the ca­pac­ity of the state.

The ANC as the gov­ern­ing party makes pol­icy and is a cru­cial el­e­ment of state ca­pac­ity it­self. This means that, al­though the ANC is the gov­ern­ing party, im­prov­ing the pol­icy ca­pa­bil­ity of the ANC it­self is cru­cial to over­all state ca­pac­ity. In­creas­ingly the ANC has be­come a party-state, where the party has be­come in­ter­change­able with the state. This means that lack of ca­pac­ity in the ANC will trans­late into plung­ing ca­pac­ity in the state.

Elected and pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives are cru­cial el­e­ments of state ca­pac­ity. Elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives come up with poli­cies, hold pub­lic of­fi­cials ac­count­able for de­liv­ery and play an over­sight role over the ef­fec­tive­ness of pol­icy im­ple­men­ta­tion. If elected of­fi­cials are in­com­pe­tent, cor­rupt or lack the nec­es­sary over­sight skills, they can­not ef­fec­tively scru­ti­nise poli­cies, pub­lic ser­vice de­liv­ery and govern­ment ac­tions, which un­der­mines the ca­pac­ity of the state.

Pub­lic ser­vants are cru­cial as coal­face im­ple­menters of poli­cies, ser­vices and govern­ment de­ci­sions. In­creas­ingly, se­nior pub­lic ser­vants, with­out the req­ui­site knowl­edge, com­pe­tency and man­age­ment skills, are “de­ployed” on the ba­sis of pa­tron­age, po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions and cor­rup­tion to cru­cial pub­lic ser­vice posts.

Com­pe­tent, hon­est and dili­gent per­son­nel not aligned to cor­rupt clien­tal­ist net­works are in­creas­ingly marginalised, vil­i­fied and forced out. This has also eroded the in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory in the state, mean­ing ob­tain­ing qual­ity govern­ment data and sta­tis­tics — the ba­sis for qual­ity pol­icy — is in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult.

A cru­cial el­e­ment of state ca­pac­ity is the abil­ity of the state to align and co-or­di­nate govern­ment de­ci­sions and ac­tiv­i­ties across de­part­ments. But govern­ment sur­veys reg­u­larly re­port “si­los” within the state.

Be­cause of the ero­sion of com­pe­tence within the pub­lic ser­vice, the abil­ity of the state to an­a­lyse prob­lems and gen­er­ate rel­e­vant, ev­i­dence-based poli­cies has also been un­der­mined. Th­ese fac­tors have com­bined to un­der­mine the oper­a­tional ca­pac­ity of the state, with the state un­able to de­liver ser­vices ef­fi­ciently, on time and at rea­son­able lev­els of qual­ity.

An im­por­tant pil­lar of state ca­pac­ity is the level of per­ceived hon­esty of the state, and the abil­ity to hold of­fi­cials ac­count­able for their ac­tions. High lev­els of dis­hon­esty erode state ca­pac­ity.

Be­cause of sys­temic cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment, and the per­cep­tion that it only ap­plies laws to or­di­nary cit­i­zens and low-level pub­lic ser­vants and of­ten ex­empts er­rant po­lit­i­cally con­nected lead­ers and pub­lic ser­vants, the state is in­creas­ingly los­ing its au­thor­ity.

Fur­ther­more, the of­fi­cial pol­icy, laws and rules re­flected in con­sti­tu­tional doc­u­ments and state­ments by lead­ers are in­creas­ingly di­verg­ing from prac­tice. For ex­am­ple, the South African Rev­enue Ser­vice is­sues state­ments that or­di­nary peo­ple who do not pay taxes will be se­verely pun­ished, but the po­lit­i­cally con­nected get away with­out pay­ing due taxes.

In­for­mal rules, be­hav­iour and de­ci­sions in­creas­ingly su­per­sede for­mal laws, poli­cies and be­hav­iour. The state has lost its abil­ity to as­sert the “rules of the game”, to reg­u­late, mon­i­tor and en­force po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cial be­hav­iour. This cru­cial com­po­nent of state ca­pac­ity is of­ten miss­ing in poorly per­form­ing African and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

The abil­ity to man­age di­ver­gent so­cial de­mands ef­fec­tively is a cru­cial el­e­ment of state ca­pac­ity. When the state loses its au­thor­ity, it also loses its ca­pac­ity to man­age so­ci­ety-wide di­ver­gent con­flicts and in­ter­ests.

The views of or­di­nary cit­i­zens, cus­tomers and users of the qual­ity of pub­lic ser­vices and the state’s re­sponse to them is a cru­cial as­pect of state ca­pac­ity. But th­ese views are in­creas­ingly ig­nored by the state.

Demo­cratic over­sight in­sti­tu­tions such as the chap­ter nine in­sti­tu­tions, the pub­lic pro­tec­tor and courts hold govern­ment de­part­ments ac­count­able for pub­lic ser­vices. But, if th­ese in­sti­tu­tions are packed with in­com­pe­tent and po­lit­i­cally con­nected staff, they are also un­able to play their con­sti­tu­tional role and there­fore un­der­mine state ca­pac­ity.

Fi­nally, civil so­ci­ety — the pri­vate sec­tor, busi­ness and so­cial move­ments and non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions — are cru­cial part­ners in help­ing the state to de­liver pub­lic ser­vices. But the state is of­ten hos­tile to civil so­ci­ety, which also erodes the ca­pac­ity of the state to de­liver pub­lic ser­vices.

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