A culture should be developed where it is frowned upon for a minister or proxy of a minister to call a director general or a CEO of a state entity enquiring about employment or procurement opportunities for comrades,writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela
In his closing remarks to the 2020 ANC’s annual lekgotla, President Cyril Ramaphosa called for an end to political interference in the operations of state-owned enterprises.
Only company failures or changes in strategic direction of a company should invite a political intervention, he said.
In his weekly online letter to the nation, Ramaphasa said state entities should appoint only competent and qualified people.
After the ANC lekgotla, the party’s secretary general Ace Magashule released a statement which suggested, among other things, qualifications for candidate councillors.
These were good, if not common sense, promises.
What is lacking, however, is the clear admission that it’s the ANC’s politics that has allowed for political interference and the appointment of incompetent people in different spheres of government.
Taken together, these undertakings mean the ANC could move towards meritocracy.
But “meritocracy” as a concept is not discussed in the parts official documents.
Yet, it could help the ANC revive its dwindling fortunes if it were to be implemented ruthlessly first within the party itself and in the state regardless of the mass causalities.
What are the chances? It would be impossible to conceive of a meritocratic ideal in the state unless it is entrenched within the governing party itself.
This would require the ANC to completely reconfigure the way it runs its processes to balance popularity of individuals with capability.
For some time now popularity in the form of personality cults has trumped capability in ANC politics.
The consequence is that people spend time and ill-gotten resources cultivating their popularity instead of improving their capabilities.
The culture of popular mobilisation has taken precedence over the need to build competencies.
Many in the ANC worry more about filling up a stadium for a rally than making sure municipal sanitation systems work. The point they are missing, however, is that a competent government that delivers is more likely to be popular over a long time.
If the ANC is serious in becoming a meritocratic party that deploys only the best, it must change its deployment policy. The deployment policy should not extend to bureaucratic functionaries and must be limited to only political office bearers.
The appointment of bureaucratic functionaries must be guided by state policy which, in turn, must be based on the provisions of the Constitution.
The Constitution stipulates various mechanism for appointments – from judges to public service officials.
More importantly, the ANC must develop and implement carrot-and-stick mechanisms for the implementation of a meritocratic programme.
A culture should be developed where it is frowned upon for a minister or proxy of a minister to call a director general or a CEO of a state entity enquiring about employment or procurement opportunities for comrades.
Jobs for pals must be strictly criminalised, as should tender for cronies.
If political office bearers in municipalities, provinces and national departments refrain from corrupt activities, they will have the moral high ground to be intolerant of corruption in the entities that fall under their supervision.
What might appear to be the smallest grievance must lead to an arrest and a jail term. The cost of corruption must be higher on the corrupt and not on the state (tax payers).
The South African state was captured at many levels because there were no immediate costs to the corrupt. State capture was allowed to expand until it almost devoured the very soul of the nation, where the distinction between wrong and right was on the verge of being collapsed.
We are not out of the woods yet.
The Gupta state capture was not the last. There will be attempts in future – if there aren’t already some underway – to capture the state.
Ironically, the capture of the state was at is height around about the time when the National Development Plan was adopted as the official long-term plan for the country.
The NDP advocates for a “capable state”.
But the reigning ANC leadership implemented a programme for a limping and “captured state” that could not prosecute wrongdoers.
In part, this is the reason society has become highly skeptical of ANC promises.
As the ANC now speaks the language that seems to suggest meritocracy will be a key consideration in state affairs, one can understand if no one believes it until it is implemented.
– Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.
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