By Lorraine Louw
Ethics was a topical point at the centenary conference of the Public Service Commission (PSC), where the twin issues of good governance and corruption were discussed by a variety of speakers.
The PSC was originally formed by the colonial government on 1 August 1912; it has had a number of permutations since then, growing into the monitoring body of a democratic government it is today.
The end of its centenary year was celebrated with the conference, held at the Cape Sun hotel in Cape Town on 1 August, with the theme, “Celebrating 100 years of public service: evolution and transformation”.
Much of the morning was given over to unpacking the history of the organisation, as it was pointed out that “we do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past”. Given its mandate to promote an effective, efficient and professional public service, ethics and good governance were key to discussions.
In opening the conference, Michael Seloane, the PSC Gauteng commissioner, said the question at the heart of the commission was: “How do we ensure citizens get value for money for the cash they pay the state in taxes?”
Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, in her keynote address, reiterated that the government would open a school of good governance on 21 October, where leadership would be taught. “The establishment of the National School of Government provides an opportunity for the PSC as a knowledge-management centre of excellence for public administration, to impart its research findings and inform curriculum development. The PSC should therefore strategise on how to collaborate with the school to enhance the quality of public service leadership.”
Another key state initiative to deal with corruption in the public service, the minister pointed out, was the Anti-Corruption Bureau. It sought “to provide the executive with a dedicated anti-corruption investigative capacity. I believe there will be opportunity for collaboration with the PSC in terms of its anti-corruption initiatives and that the bureau will play a significant role in strengthening capacity to investigate National Anti-Corruption Hotline cases to conclusion. It will also make an important contribution towards ensuring that disciplinary processes in the public service are concluded expeditiously.”
The bureau, it must be said, has no criminal jurisdiction and cannot investigate in provincial and local government spheres without being invited by them to do so. It will monitor compliance and undertake disciplinary procedures. Essentially, it is a centralised disciplinary system, which is a human resources rather than a law enforcement function. It will refer cases to the police.
Ben Mthembu, the chairman of the PSC, spoke about the challenges facing the commission, one of the most critical of which was government procurement and supply chain management. Putting a figure to it, he said R25-billion a year of government procurement spend was lost to corruption – “that is 20 percent of the government budget”. “Abuse of procurement is a serious problem, and all of us must work to make it transparent.”
One intervention was the Bill to ban public servants from doing business with the state, which was already in progress, and which was welcomed. “This way, we will ensure that the money budgeted for services is actually used for delivery,” Mthembu said.
“The PSC must use its constitutional mandate to monitor the government and its social and economic programmes. This way, we will realise the values of a democratic society.”
Code of Conduct
Sisulu spoke about the various interventions in place, as well as those that were in the pipeline. After the 1994 democratic elections and as the custodian of good governance, it immediately “focused its energy on creating a framework for a public service characterised by ethics and integrity”. It developed a Code of Conduct for public servants, implemented a Financial Disclosure Framework for senior managers in the public service with a view to manage potential conflicts of interest and introduced the National Anti-Corruption Hotline.
“The PSC was also instrumental in establishing the National Anti-Corruption Forum comprising government, civil society and business and has, since its inception, acted as the secretariat, thereby playing a leading role in driving the National Anti-Corruption Programme on behalf of the forum.”
It had also developed and refined its monitoring and evaluation system, and each year provided Parliament, provincial legislatures, the executive and heads of department with reports on the state of the public service.
It was busy refining its monitoring and evaluation methodology and had developed a Public Service Barometer, “which in future will enable the PSC to provide State of the Public Service reports for both the national and provincial spheres of government, and if my requests are worth anything, these reports will cover local government as well”.
About non-compliance, she said the Office of Standards and Compliance would focus on non-compliance with the Public Service Regulations and prescripts. It would also carry out compliance audits, “a much-needed intervention” given the state of the public service in certain departments and provinces.
She concluded by calling for more active intervention. “I wish for a tomorrow where every public servant would know of your work,” she told the PSC. “Be in their face, so that they know every day that you are there, monitoring their adherence with the principles of the Constitution. Be there so that they know when they are unhappy or aggrieved, they can turn to someone who will promptly respond to their grievance. Be there so that when they do good, it is recognised.”
In a presentation in a breakaway session, “The fight against corruption”, Phelele Tengeni also spoke of PSC initiatives in the pipeline. “One way of intensifying the promotion of integrity is to conduct lifestyle audits,” she said.
Tengeni is the KwaZulu-Natal commissioner and the deputy chairperson of the PSC. A lifestyle audit, she explained, was an investigation of a person’s life. The PSC would scrutinise government officials, checking things like their properties, cars and credit histories. For its financial disclosure forms, it was already checking with the Deeds Registration Office and the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission whether senior managers in the public service had disclosed everything.
It was also developing an integrity barometer. “This ranges from evaluating the implementation of the Code of Conduct, assessing the implementation of the Financial Disclosure Framework for senior managers, determining the state of professional ethics in selected provinces [and] measuring the effectiveness of the National Anti-Corruption Hotline, to monitoring financial misconduct.”
It would measure levels of integrity. It would draw information of the state of integrity in the public service based on selected indicators and instruments designed to measure performance against these indicators.