One of the notable changes in governance brought by the South African democratic constitution is the provision for the establishment an oversight organ for public service and administration. The Public Service Commission (PSC) is established in Chapter 10 section 196 of the 1996 constitution as an independent institution specifically focusing on public service and public administration. The prominence specified in Chapter 10 of the Constitution, illustrates the importance of PSC as an institution in supporting democracy and also in providing oversight over public service and administration. PSC’s sole mission is to promote constitutionally enshrined democratic values and principles of public administration in public service. The commission achieves this, through investigation, monitoring, evaluation, communication and reporting on public administration including organisation, administration and personnel practices in the public service. PSC then is expected to propose measures that ensures efficient and effective performance in public service; provide guidelines that ensure personnel procedures related to recruitment, promotions, transfers and dismissals comply with constitutional values and principles. Additionally, PSC has the task of reporting to relevant executive authority and legislature its own activities and functions; and the extent of compliance on constitutional values and principles either of its own accord or through receipt, analysis and reporting of complaints, The commission also investigates public service employees’ grievances the acts or omission by officials and make recommendations on appropriate course of action. Moreover, PSC is responsible with monitoring and investigating adherence to applicable procedures in the public service; and advise both national and provincial state organs on issues relating to personnel practices in the public service, such as recruitment, appointments, promotions, discharges, transfers and other aspects of employees career in public service. In executing these functions, PSC has the mandate to summon someone to give evidence to an inquiry. The PSC Act of 1997, in section 10 read with section 11 as well as section 196 subsection 3 of the constitution provide the powers to conduct an inquiry into any matter authorized by the constitution and for that purpose gives the mandate to summon anyone for inquiry. Failure to comply with the summons whose provisions are contained in Section 10(4)(a) and (c) of the PSC Act of 1997, is deemed guilty of an offence which is liable on conviction to imprisonment or a fine.
Accountability in general reflects the answerability, responsibility and liability to ones actions or absence thereof. Accountability in governance is thus enshrined around four pillars: –
Responsibility: a duty that binds to the course of action
Answerability: being called to account
Trustworthiness: a trait of being worthy of trust and confidence
Liability: being legally bound to a debt or obligation
Political accountability refers to the answerability of the government, civil servants and politicians to the public and to legislative bodies such as the congress or the parliament. Therefore, political accountability represents the vertical-downward variation of external accountability. In light of the stipulated functions and powers to “promote”, “investigate”, “recommend” and in some instance “punish”, PSC has an instrumental role to play in promoting political accountability in South Africa. For instance, the Constitution in section 196(5), requires the PSC to be accountable to the National Assembly in terms of the constitutional provisions. Consequently, in section 196(6)(a) the PSC is thus expected to at least once a year report on its activities and the performance, including any finding, directions and advice it has made as well as an evaluation of the extent to which the values and principles set out in section 195 are complied with in the public service. Generally, the PSC is performing well in terms of its reporting obligation through the numerous reports presented and published regarding its activities and its performance. This enhances political accountability of the public service to the National Assembly and to the general public.
Despite articulation of a number of functions geared towards political accountability, the PSC still lags behind on this vein. For instance in reporting and accountability, the key challenge to PSC lies on its lack of authority to enforce its recommendations but rather relies in other organs like the police force and the parliament to execute its recommendations. Equally, the PSC reporting arrangements lacks provisions for mechanisms to enforce recommendations. PSC is severely constraint in accounting to Parliament on actual impact that it makes in promoting constitutional values, principles of public service administration and other aspects of its mandate. Generally, the PSC plays an advisory role that is an expression of opinion and provision of guidance in general on improving public administration or service delivery without any obligation on the recipient to follow or execute the advice provided. In instance of directives, PSC offers directives regarding personnel procedures relating to recruitment, transfers, promotions and dismissals. The directives aims at advising on the implementation of the direction to promote sound public administration. Consequently, major complaints are mounting year after on public service provisions, public administration with allegations of gross corruptions. A series of serious corruption allegations against top government officials and public office holders are mounting year after year example the state capture. The state capture while it is a milestone in promoting transparency and accountability in public administration and public service, it further illuminates a lengthy process and the limited powers of the PSC. Moreover, the poor public service delivery has been connected with a number public vices and the decline in social cohesion among South Africans themselves and also with foreigners. The poor condition of public services provided have been largely associated with that the year after year eruption of the chronic xenophobic attacks against other African nationals residing in South Africa.
PSC plays a pivotal role in promoting political accountability, however, it needs some adjustments to ensure it is effecting in this role. To rescue the situation, PSC as a whole especially in terms of its functions and powers needs revising to ensure streamline strategies that guarantee accountability in public administration and public service. To begin with, the PSC needs to ensure it establishes relationships with other stakeholders both within the government and with other non-state actors like non-governmental organisations and faith based organisations. These relationships among other things should aim at advocating for social cohesion and restoration of good moral values within the society. Likewise the PSC should set clear expectations of the public administration and the public service in general that should be communicated across all relevant stakeholders. PSC and the relevant stakeholders should work collaboratively to achieve these expectations. In as much as the PSC should work collaboratively with other stakeholders, it needs to take ownership of the process and provide tools for successful implementation of various plans and programs geared towards improving political accountability in the nation. To facilitate PSC to take ownership, its powers must be revised such that it is possible to enforce some critical recommendations to the relevant public administration organs. Lastly, PSC needs to provide continuous feedback on execution of its functions and the general status of the public administration and public service in upholding constitutional values and principles. The current practice of only providing feedback in terms of report to the national assembly of once a year has proven not to be effective. The annual reporting practices if rather ineffective especially when considering introduction of interventions to immediately address challenges in public administration and public service before ignition of destructive strikes and xenophobic attacks.
Maria Lauda Goyayi is an academician and a researcher. She writes in her personal capacity.