Having identified the need in the public sector to ‘change the narrative’, we now consider the role-players who bear this responsibility.
If we cast back to the first article in the series and the scenario posed − we identified an individual floundering within a body of water, unable to swim, in full view of several individuals flanking the shore. What this scenario served to depict is the circumstances in the public sector. In this article, each role-player will be identified.
In my first article, ‘The onus to change the narrative’, the critical role-players who bear the onus to change the narrative were identified as government, professional service firms (consultants or service providers), and oversight and monitoring structures. In the scenario the individual in the body of water serves to represent government itself. Undoubtedly forming the most integral of role-players, government plays a pivotal role in addressing the government predicament and driving the professionalisation of public service. However, there are a number of issues to be considered and addressed before calling this role-player forward.
In order for government to take responsibility as a role-player, there is a need for government officials to recognise the inefficiencies that exist and identify corrective measures that can be driven internally. As it currently stands, government across all spheres is plagued by accountability challenges, capacity constraints and capability deficits … with current initiatives for redress lacking in sustainability and often requiring the assistance of consultants. With a reactive approach to developing solutions, underscored by the use of consultants at a point where there is no other alternative, government continues to place itself in a precarious position in driving sustainability. In order for government to realise its full potential as an integral role-player, there is a need to shift focus and drive sustainable reform in the approach followed.
Where this begins, vests in recognition at an internal level. To put this into perspective, let us consider the use of consultants in the financial services space … It is only when a poor audit outcome is attained that the use of consultants is typically sought out. What this signifies is a reactive approach to inefficiencies identified and reported by the relevant oversight structures, with recognition thus occurring externally.
Across all spheres of government there are varying levels of institutional maturity, with many interventions in play but being isolated and not scalable in effect. With success realised in silos, government as a whole is unable to realise the desired level of maturity. In calling this role-player forward, there is a need for government to solidify necessary presence and assume their pivotal role within the public sector arena. What this requires is a shift in focus and for government to reposition themselves toward a proactive standpoint, whilst simultaneously driving current interventions toward attaining synchronicity and scalability in effect. Proactive initiatives that are focused at targeting the current challenges that persist, such as developing and implementing necessary training, as well as structures such as internal audit facilitating a greater role across a given value chain, would undoubtedly drive holistic success.
In expanding upon the contextual scenario above, we now consider the next role-player. Standing ashore, surveying the drowning individual, is a critical role-player in addressing the government predicament and the professionalisation of public service, namely professional service firms, which include both consultants and service providers. As a role-player, professional service firms have the necessary maturity and resources at their disposal to aid government in developing and implementing the solutions necessary to drive sustainable reform in the case of consultants, as well as the ability to aid optimal service delivery in the case of service providers. However, the current perception around the use of professional service firms held by government and oversight structures, as well as the view held by professional service firms concerning association with government and the perceived reputational risk, continues to impede the role that could be facilitated.
In calling forward professional service firms to assume their role, there is a need to break through current perceptions. In order to achieve this, government needs to utilise professional service firms at a point where sustainability can still be achieved through leveraging off the skill possessed by the consultants and embracing a transfer of knowledge and capabilities as far as possible, as well utilising service providers where optimal value for money is realised. This will in turn potentially allow for a mind shift, as professional service firms could embrace a working relationship with government where solutions developed or services provided yield results that are transformative and sustainable in nature – with all South Africans deriving benefit.
Bringing us to our final role-player, we consider the oversight and monitoring structures that designate the funds and associated accountability mechanisms upon government. As is the case with the aforementioned role-players, in calling forward these structures to assume their role there is a need for certain matters to be addressed. Currently these structures maintain a certain distance, providing government with a clear understanding of what is required … yet negating to provide the guidance and means to realise necessary achievement.
In consideration of the National Development Plan: 2030, there has been a rise in the discourse around the need for the professionalisation of the public service. Yet, similar to the multitude of oversight reports circulated within public administration, the focus primarily vests on causation and corrective measures rather than the means to implement necessary redress. This evidences the distance between the monitoring and oversight structures in relation to government, as what is required is clearly articulated. Yet the guidance on how to achieve this remains lacking.
In the previous article in the series, it was concluded that ultimately the government predicament has been diagnosed. However, what is needed remains to be seen and the solution in this regard is two-fold. While simultaneously determining the manner in which we implement the treatment plan, it is necessary to drive alignment across each role-player and for a singular vision to be adopted.
It is now necessary for each role-player to recognise their responsibility in driving the necessary reform and to address the current challenges that impede their ability to step forward into the public sector arena. There is a need for recognition of the collective ethical responsibility to enable a developmental state such as South Africa to ascend to its desired maturity. No matter the role-player, there is a single commonality that can be drawn … and that is ultimately that we are all South Africans who have a vested interest in the success of our country. Thus, as we call forward the role-players to pioneer change, we ask for this single vision of South Africa’s success to be adopted as collectively we undertake to better the lives of all South Africans … to better our lives.
In my next article, ‘Navigating the new normal’, we will unpack the impact of COVID-19 on government and consider how a global pandemic may have served as a catalyst for internal recognition to drive much-needed reform within government.