by Dr Leon Gabriel
Senior HR Network Consultant: Public and Legislative Sectors
The recent National and Provincial elections on 7 May 2014, not only ushered in our fifth Parliament, but also marked 20 years of democracy in South Africa. The 2014 general election is also significant in that it was the first election following the passing of Nelson Mandela and also the first election in which South Africans born after the end of apartheid, the so-called “born-frees”, were eligible to vote. The political mindset, historical experience and sentiment of the electorate is therefore significantly different. As the political landscape is reshuffled and indeed re-painted, with new political parties garnering considerable support, what remains constant is the fact that the public sector is tasked with giving material expression to political mandates expressed in government policies, laws and regulations. This article explores some of the human resources and organisational development challenges in the public and legislative sectors as we enter our third decade of democracy.
“The quality of human resources is a critical factor in the capacity of the Government to deliver on its mandate”
Dr R Mgijima
Chairperson: Public Service Commission (2010)
Transformation, Legislative Reform & Service Delivery
Since the advent of democratic rule in 1994, numerous and wide ranging policies and laws were advanced in order to transform the public sector to reflect the new democratic dispensation and the principles, values and rights enshrined in the Constitution. Most notable amongst these include:
- Occupational Health and Safety Act No 85 of 1993
- Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 and Labour Relations Amendment Act No 127 of 1998
- South African Qualifications Act No 58 of 1995
- Basic Conditions of Employment Act No 104 of 1997
- Employment Equity Act No. 55 of 1998
- Skills Development Act No 97 of 1998
- Skills Development Levies Act No. 9 of 1999
- Promotion of Equality and the Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000
- White Paper on Human Resource Management in the Public Service, 2000
Furthermore, The Constitution sets out nine principles which should govern the Public Service. These are:
- Promoting and maintaining a high standard of professional ethics
- Efficient, economic and effective use of resources
- A development oriented public administration
- Impartial, fair, equitable, and unbiased provision of services
- Responding to people’s needs & public participation in policy-making
- Accountability in public administration
- Fostering transparency by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information
- Cultivating good human resource management and career-development practices to maximise human potential
- A Public Administration that is broadly representative of the South African people, with employment and personnel practices based on ability, objectivity, fairness, and the need to redress the imbalances of the past to achieve broad representation.
Collectively, these policies underscore, amongst others, the importance of representivity of race, gender equality and disability. The Public Service developed comprehensive programmes and frameworks to operationalise such policies and laws.
Of equal, or arguably, greater importance is the transformation of the Public Service from one of administration and bureaucracy to a service-delivery ethos placing the people of South Africa at the centre of decision-making regarding allocation and utilisation of resources.
The transformation processes are ongoing and dynamic. As our democracy matures and with 20 years of democratic government, it is important that the Public Service becomes more confident in critically assessing the successes and challenges in implementing these policies, laws and frameworks. This includes assessment of the appropriateness and alignment of structures, systems, processes, HR capacity and performance for successful implementation.
It is safe to say that the Public Service continues to face considerable challenges, both in terms of its own transformation, and in terms of the transformation of the services which it provides to the people of South Africa.
While there have been significant improvements across the public sector, human resource management appears to be a permeating reason for many of the challenges that still exist. Key to this is that HR planning continues to be a contested space in the strategic vision and business planning of many departments.
Leveraging The Value Of Human Capital
Human capital remains the most valuable asset at the disposal of the public service. The Government White Paper on Human Resource Management in the Public Service (2000) notes that national departments and provincial administrations employ approximately 1,2 million people, accounting for more than 50% of all public expenditure. It stands to reason that the strategic and efficient management of human resources is central to the transformation processes of the Public Service. The strategic management of human resources becomes invaluable to the achievement of individual, organisational, community, national and international goals and objectives set by government, as mandated by the electorate. This crucial value of human resources must be the cornerstone of human resource planning from recruitment, appropriate placement, performance contracting, performance assessment, capacity building and skills development, employee well-being and labour relations.
Notwithstanding public expenditure on human resources, many public service institutions are still plagued with high vacancy and turnover rates. Skills recruitment, talent management and skills retention strategies therefore appear to be key challenges. It is important for mechanisms to be put in place to determine why public servants leave departments whether transferring to other public sector organisations or leaving the public service altogether. The value of exit interviews, if conducted consistently, objectively and timely, cannot be over-stated.
Akin to the retention of staff and amongst the key challenges in leveraging the value of human resources are the so-called “soft skills” of human resource management. These include staff motivation and re-kindling a public service/servant ethos where staff are motivated by the impact that their jobs have on improving the quality of life of the people of South Africa.
Failure to plan strategically for human resources acquisition and utilisation can lead to significant cost to the public sector. Overstaffing or inappropriately placed staff can lead to demotivation, decreased productivity, poor work ethic – all of which have a direct negative impact on service delivery. This influences the public perception not only of the public sector but also of the government.
From Human Resource Administration to Human Resource Management
The management of people in the Public Service has traditionally been constructed as an administrative task informed by centrally devised regulations, policies and procedures. The White Paper on Human Resource Management (2000) set out a policy framework to accomplish a shift from personnel administration to human resource management. This was part of realising Government’s vision for human resource management in the Public Service as one that will “result in a diverse, competent and well-managed workforce capable of and committed to delivering high quality services to the people of South Africa. This vision was further supported by a set of values including fairness, transparency, accountability and professionalism, derived from the Constitution, as elaborated above.
The Public Service Commission “Assessment of the State of Human Resource Management in the Public Service” (2010) stated that “the Public Service is not at a point today where it can confidently say that most of its managers are adequately competent in HRM.” Understanding why this remains a key challenge is important, especially in light of the fact that personnel expenditure represents the bulk of Government spending.
Various initiatives were undertaken during the 20 years of democracy to achieve a radical managerial shift from the centrally controlled, process-driven Public Service to one that is integral to the institutional strategic planning for the realisation of political mandates. One of the fundamental changes was a focus on service delivery outcomes. This shift from human resource administration to human resource management, introduced the challenge of building the capacity and upskilling human resource personnel to ensure the strategic positioning of human resources within the Public Service. This included the re-training and/or re-orientation of employees to fulfil their new roles. This remains an ongoing challenge, exacerbated by the high staff turnovers. Furthermore, in-keeping with the service delivery ethos, the development of performance standards and improvement plans on individual and organisational levels, that evaluate service delivery outcomes, remains a key challenge in the Public Service.
Changing the management culture to give material expression to the core management principles is an ongoing challenge. These principles include:
- Increased delegation of managerial responsibility and authority to national departments and provincial administrations and, within departments, the delegation of day-to-day management decisions to line managers.
- The development of a service delivery-oriented, multi-skilled and multi-cultural workforce.
- The continuing drive for efficiency and effectiveness.
- Creating a flexible environment that takes into account both the operational needs of the organisation and the needs of the employees.
The Public Finance Management Act 1 of 1999 and Section 7(3)(b) of the Public Service Act 103 of 1994 stipulate that strategic planning (including HR planning) is central to the effective, efficient, economic and transparent use of resources. To ensure appropriate human resource acquisition, capacity building, performance management, skills retention and service delivery and therefore the effective and efficient use of resources requires the inclusion of human resource management within the strategic planning processes of public service institutions.
This article reflects on some of the high level, key human resources challenges facing the Public Service following the 2014 general election. It is evident that the challenges are not novel. This gives impetus to the enormity and value of the tasks at hand in transforming the South African Public Service. As our democracy matures, it is important that we critically evaluate whether these challenges (which can translate into service delivery failures/challenges) have become chronic? More importantly is to determine how building human resource capacity, in all its aspects, can be a strategic and crucial component of the remedy or recovery.
Efficient and effective human resource management should be regarded as a strategic “partner” in service delivery and hence the realisation of political mandates.
Assessment of the State of Human Resource Management in the Public Service, Public Service Commission (2010), www.psc.gov.za
The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, www.justice.gov.za
White Paper of HRM in SA Public Service (2000), www.dsd.gov.za