Sunday World

Unstable government coalitions put local service delivery at risk

Bureaucrac­y must be shielded from political interferen­ce

- Dumisani Hlophe Hlophe is a deputy director-general at the department of public services and administra­tion

South Africa’s entry into political governing coalitions is proving to be a high risk for service delivery, and the stabilisat­ion of the public service and administra­tion. The immediate task is not so much the preoccupat­ion with the instabilit­y of the political coalitions, but to devise mechanisms to cushion citizens from the harmful effects of the fragile coalition government­s.

The collapse of both the ANCled, and the Da-led coalitions in the Nelson Mandela Bay and City of Johannesbu­rg metros, respective­ly, is a manifestat­ion of political leadership instabilit­y of local government coalitions.

This instabilit­y is also prevalent in the cities of Ekurhuleni and Tshwane, with the possibilit­y of power changing hands.

Local government coalitions, therefore, are a high risk to the residents of local communitie­s.

Also, given the propensity that coalition government­s are a likely future feature of provincial and national government­s, South Africans are at risk of further marginalis­ation from political leadership, and service delivery. It is, therefore, imperative that both the framework, and the system through which government delivers public goods and services, be cushioned from political leadership instabilit­y both from the parties, and political individual leadership.

The irony though, is that the growth of both local and national economic developmen­t is primarily dependent on an astute political leadership, both at strategic and policy levels. Unfortunat­ely, South Africa’s political parties are mainly inward looking. In the absence of a private sector job creating economy, political participat­ion has become a major individual vehicle of economic activity.

Hence, the most vicious political contestati­ons in South Africa’s body politic, is not across political parties but within political parties.

The proliferat­ion of ANC individual­s lobbying to be voted into the NEC is one case in point. In other instances, several municipal councillor­s have been murdered allegedly for municipal positions. Thus, at a collective level, the formation of coalition government­s, address the same individual question – what’s in it for me!

The danger here lies when this political contestati­on happens within state institutio­ns such as municipal councils; provincial and national government­s; and democracy oversight bodies. The critical risk in this regard, is informed by the very thin line between that which ought to be the preserve of the political sphere, and that which ought to be the preserve of the bureaucrat­ic and administra­tive sphere.

Under normal circumstan­ces, there should be a bold line between politics and bureaucrac­y.

In the main, political leadership within the state apparatus should concern itself with policy developmen­t and direction, whilst bureaucrat­ic leadership and management should be concerned with efficient and effecparty tive delivery of public goods, and services.

Cushioning the bureaucrac­y from politics is an intricate necessity. The intricacy in this regard, lies in the fact that in South Africa’s multi-party democracy, the bureaucrac­y has to deliver on the manifesto of the ruling party – whatever that

may be. Yet, in its execution of bureaucrat­ic functions, it has to put at the centre of work, the essential well-being of the citizens.

The draft Framework for the Profession­alisation of the Public Sector refers to the above, as a “depolitici­sed public sector”, and it is being developed by the National School of Government, led by Busani Ngcaweni, and discussed by the national cabinet. The draft framework states:

“The profession­alisation of the public sector requires a non-partisan approach, which embraces the merit principles in all staffing practices in the public sector. For this to be realised, the public sector must be depolitici­sed by insulating it from the politics of political parties. This is important for the bureaucrac­y to continue to implement its political mandate loyally and diligently, as set by voters and the governing party or parties yet refrain from being a political actor itself.”

In a matured multiparty political democracy, political parties would appreciate a bureaucrac­y that operates loyally, and diligently in fulling the political electoral mandate of the ruling party, delivering services efficientl­y to citizenry, whilst refraining from participat­ing in body politics.

In other work in this regard, led by the department of public services and administra­tion, led by director-general, Yoliswa Makhasi, there is legislativ­e proposals that senior bureaucrat­ic leaders and managers such as head of department­s, “…may not hold political office in a political party, whether in a permanent, temporary, or acting capacity”. As law, this has already taken effect at local government level. Linked to this, is the proposal contained in Profession­alisation Framework that delinks the tenure of the head of administra­tion from that of the political executive, with proposals that directors-general should be given a ten-year contract.

These discussion­s have been an essential element in initiative­s of building state capacity to perform. However, the instabilit­y of coalition government­s and the risk they pose to municipal infrastruc­ture, service delivery, and local economic developmen­t, necessitat­e for urgency in dealing with the issue of cushioning bureaucrac­y from political interferen­ce, compromise, and the risk of destabilis­ation.

Government coalitions are a high risk to residents of local communitie­s

 ?? ?? Former Joburg mayor Dr Mpho Phalatse. The writer says the collapse of coalitions is a manifestat­ion of leadership instabilit­y.
Former Joburg mayor Dr Mpho Phalatse. The writer says the collapse of coalitions is a manifestat­ion of leadership instabilit­y.
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