Exit Lungisa Fuzile, a model public servant
After 19 years of state service, National Treasury Director-General Lungisa Fuzile is retiring. Treasury Minister Malusi Gigaba has described him as “a model public servant”.
“He leaves a legacy of a strong National Treasury that has a formidable team and a strong institutional framework that will carry forward the mandate of the department.”
Fuzile's exit from the public service has significant markers for all public servants to observe.
Let us reflect on a few.
First, in recent times, few DGs have left the state without a cloud, either real or manufactured. Once you leave under a cloud, nobody touches you. Fuzile leaves with the comfort that no one will remove him from speed dial.
Second, Fuzile leaves a department intact, an institution that will outlive him. National Treasury is a respected department (feared by the wicked) because they have proven themselves with their technical expertise, excellence and ability to manage transitions and policy realignments. One recent project comes to mind.
When we were delegated to explore reduced e-Tolls tariffs as recommended by the Gauteng Panel on e-Tolls, the Treasury team ensured that the outcomes would not collapse the user-pay principle. With a combination of scientific rigour, skilful negotiating and political awareness, we emerged with a R220 monthly cap, down from frequent users' R2 000+ bills.
Third, Fuzile committed 19 years to the public service, moving through the ranks to head National Treasury. This tells us a story of persistence and selflessness. For skilled bureaucrats who can easily join the private sector and triple their salaries, it says a lot of a man who remains within the state.
In Treasury, it is clear that the ruling party has done well to train public servants who are well on their way to lead the bureaucracy in the future. Many are highly educated, assertive and politically conscious. Fuzile spoke his mind to authorities on whatever he felt strongly about.
Fourth, Fuzile commanded respect from his peers. In the Forum of Directors-General, everyone knew that you wouldn't take chances with him, given his knowledge. Men of conviction lead by ideas, as he did.
Fifth, Fuzile was politically aware and appreciated the electoral mandate of the ruling party. Bureaucracy is a political institution, not a social movement. Political consciousness does not equal political meddling. Democratic developmental states are political constructs whose realisation depends on the resilience of the bureaucracy that outlives electoral terms.
He leaves with cheers, but with some regret: “We need more businesses ... to create jobs for our youth. I wish I was leaving at a time when the education and training sector was functioning well … it would have been heartwarming to leave at a time when inequality was falling.” These statements are evidently political, markers of conviction.
Fuzile is not dead. This is not a eulogy. These lines are meant for those who remain in the bureaucracy. This is to remind us of long road ahead towards mastering statecraft, a necessary feature of the democratic developmental state that must steer South Africa into a national democratic society.