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What Ordinary People Want And Why They Aren’t Getting It

The appointment of an ad hoc Committee of the National Assembly to inquire into progress with service delivery and to make recommendations and an implementable action plan to improve the situation in the country is an opportunity for reflection and action.

The Committee will tour all provinces for hearings starting on 22 February and taking the next two months. It will take oral and written representations from interested parties around the country. Three essential questions need to be addressed by the ordinary people of South Africa in this exercise in participatory democracy offered to them by Parliament. What do they want, why aren’t they getting it, and how best can they get what they want?

It is likely that the various issues concerning what people want will boil down to desires in three basis categories: peace, progress and prosperity. All of the rights guaranteed to the inhabitants of the country in the Bill of Rights are, in their various ways, aimed at the achievement of these goals. Dignity and freedom from violence will feature high on the list of complaints of those who feel insecure. Equality and education will be sought by those who seek progress. Houses, health care and the full gamut of socio economic rights, from food and water to roads and sanitation, will often be seen as the keys to prosperity by those who tax the Committee with their complaints, ideas and suggestions. Most of the rights promised to the people in the Constitution will feature in the litany of woes that the Committee will hear. Although the state is supposed to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights on offer in the Bill of Rights, the failure to make them part of the lived reality of ordinary people is at the root of much of the protest action encountered around the townships of the country in recent times. The rate of service delivery protests has roughly quadrupled in the last year. The violence and destruction that all too often accompanies the protests is cause for concern. The rising levels of lawlessness and frustration appear to be reaching boiling point with exponentially increasing frequency. The uncontrollability of protests is itself a failure of effective service delivery by the police and the local authorities where violent protests with concomitant destruction of property (usually a useful library, clinic, school or municipal office) occur.

The “Why?” aspect of the failures to find peace, progress and prosperity for all will no doubt occupy a large part of the deliberations of the Committee as it tries to get to grips with the reasons for the failure of proper service delivery on so many levels and in so many ways that it has become necessary to turn the attention of the National Assembly, in its oversight role, to the causes of the problems.

Submissions already made by government departments and leading civil society role players suggest that three areas of concern to the Committee should be corruption, cadre deployment in the public administration and lack of capacity to deliver services. In the State of the Nation address President Zuma revealed that in recent weeks over 32,000 cases of fraudulent social grant payments totalling in excess of R180 million have been uncovered. Our prisons will burst at the seams if all of the miscreants involved are brought to justice and given custodial sentences. The widespread incidence of corruption in our public administration has to be pro-actively addressed. While the criminal justice system is dysfunctional in so many ways it will be impossible to deter those who involve themselves in the crime of corruption simply because they don’t think that they will be caught, and that if they are caught the consequences will not be dire because the system itself is so corrupted that there are many means of making charges disappear. Conquering corruption takes a change of mindset on the part of all players in society from the leadership to the lowliest. Setting up provincial commissions of inquiry into policing inefficiencies and working out solutions tailor-made to the conditions and circumstances of each diverse province is a constitutionally available mechanism that ought to be tried. When criminals and the corrupt know that they will be caught and that there will be consequences because the criminal justice system is functioning optimally, the rate of corruption will dramatically decline.

The practice of cadre deployment in the public administration, a process by which safe and loyal party hands are placed on all of the levers of power in society, is neither legal nor constitutional. It is however a requirement of the national democratic revolution which still motivates the cadre deployment committees of the governing alliance at local, provincial and national level. Cadre deployment in the public service has been struck down by the courts as it does not accord with the principals and values which govern our public administration at every level. Of course this does not mean that cadre deployment of politicians in politics can not take place. It is in the public administration that good human resource management practices and the maximizing of human potential through career development practices are required. Too many municipal managers have been in their jobs for less than 2 years. This is not evidence of the building of institutional memory or of compliance with the constitutionally prescribed requirements for an efficient and effective professional and ethical public administration conducted accountably, impartially, fairly, equitably and without bias. Those who suggest that the protests are evidence of faction fighting within the ANC led alliance should ask themselves whether any of the values of the constitution mentioned in the previous sentence have anything to do with the underlying causes of the faction fighting/protests.

The lack of capacity in the public administration is, in part, a result of the inability of the education system to turn out junior personnel who can adequately read, write and reason. The recent matric results and the outcome of functional literacy testing of recently matriculated young people shows, for example, that of the 278,000 black matriculants in 2007 only 42,000 were able to pass a functional literacy test. Too many of those who did not pass have found their way into public service jobs. There is nothing to suggest any improvement since 2007, quite the contrary.

The parliamentary Committee is going to have its work cut out in trying to formulate a means of improving service delivery in order to bring that peace, progress and prosperity that ordinary folk desire. Tackling corruption head on and from the head down, banning cadre deployment and devising means of testing the capacity of civil servants, offering opportunities to correct weaknesses and creating means of efficiently jettisoning those who do not respond well to corrective measures are all ways of dealing with the problems we have with progress toward ideal levels of delivery of services.

It is vital that there be a high degree of public participation in the work of the Committee. This is a rare opportunity to feed back to concerned parliamentarians the experiences, complaints, ideas and suggestions of ordinary people. Seize it.

Paul Hoffman SC
17 February, 2010.

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