By Kavisha Pillay
First published on News24

South Africa’s public service and institutions are in disarray. If we are to avoid any further breakdown of our institutions, we need to focus on who is appointed and scrutinise the appointment processes. 

Transparent, merit-based and public participatory appointment proceedings are the minimum requirements to ensure the appointment of skilled, ethical and independent individuals to public institutions. This has been Corruption Watch’s (CW) mantra for the last six years, based on our experience of monitoring parliamentary, ministerial and presidential appointment processes. 

In 2019 CW, with the Institute for Security Studies, submitted a document to the Zondo commission detailing our concerns around the apparent manipulation of criminal justice agencies for personal gain, and importantly, making several recommendations to address the current situation, strengthen the leadership of these agencies, and prevent such deterioration from happening again.

Zondo Commission recommendations 

In a second submission to the Zondo commission, we recommend improving parliamentary appointment processes. These recommendations are not, however, limited to parliamentary appointments only, but should be implemented in ministerial and presidential appointments and potentially at a local government level in the selection of municipal managers.  

Our written and oral arguments were well received and considered, to the extent that in the final report of the Zondo commission, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo recommended that Parliament “consider whether it is desirable to amend its rules to give effect to the proposals by Corruption Watch on appointments by Parliament.”

The commission also made detailed recommendations on the appointments of board members and senior officials to the country’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) – CW believes these are crucial steps towards ensuring that our SOEs are stacked with ethical and skilled individuals whose integrity is beyond reproach. 

These recommendations, if implemented, will go a long way in safeguarding public bodies from further collapse and capture, given the compelling evidence that the appointments of compromised individuals led to the crippling of some of the country’s top criminal justice agencies, SOEs, and governmental departments and agencies. 

Transparent, fair, and objective appointment processes

Our insights into the various appointment processes revealed the ease with which compromised individuals were able to obtain leadership positions. We attribute this to a lack of fair and proper selection, flawed interviewing and deliberation proceedings, and political manoeuvring and cadre deployment. 

Accordingly, our Zondo submission proposes the following: 

  • Amend the necessary legislation to ensure that it provides guidance on fair and objective appointment processes. Strengthened legislation can protect institutions from political interference if requirements for impartial, merit-based and transparent processes are set in law.
  • Establish multi-stakeholder panels to oversee appointment proceedings. These would follow the model of the Zondo commission, or emulate the selection committees that were established to appoint the commissioner of the South African Revenue Services, and the National Director of Public Prosecutions. Such multi-stakeholder panels would provide expert recommendations and assessments on candidates for consideration.
  • In addition to criminal and financial vetting, there must be rigorous standard testing for ethics and integrity, skills, and expertise for all candidates, using merit-based and objective criteria. Proper screening would prevent the shortlisting of dubious candidates, and would reduce the likelihood of appointing a scandal-prone leader.
  • Ensure that selection processes are transparent and open to the public for participation and engagement. This should involve widely publishing the advertisement for the available position, publishing both the long- and shortlist of candidates who applied/were nominated for the position, providing a window that allows the public to comment/object to shortlisted candidates, and ensuring that interviews and deliberation processes are open and accessible to the public. 

If we are to avoid any further destruction and destabilisation of our institutions, we must urgently fix our appointment processes to ensure that they eliminate any form of political interference and view all candidates equally and objectively in a publicly accessible forum.

The recommendations from the Zondo commission provide us with the chance to pressure those in positions of political power to end cadre deployment and compromised processes and instead introduce measures that will lead to the appointment of capable and ethical individuals to critical positions. 

It is in the interest of the constitutional democracy that there is demonstrated will to correct the steps that allowed for the destabilisation of our criminal justice agencies, SOEs and oversight bodies and to develop sufficient checks and balances that will end impunity and reinforce principles of accountability in South Africa.