Public Service Commission: candidate interviews

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report



22 July 1998



This meeting was a continuation of the interviews for candidates to be appointed to the Public Service Commission. At this meeting interviews were held with Mr Ernstzen, Dr Rheeder, Prof. Barrie and Dr. Bodlani-Ramorobi


Interview with Mr Ernstzen

The Chairperson, Mr Sikakane, pointed out that Mr Ernstzen has been a member of the Public Service Commission since 1994 and as such has encountered many problems. What, he asked, would Mr Ernstzen's priorities be in this Public Service Commission.

Mr Ernstzen responded by saying that he had in fact been a member of the Public Service Commission in 1996, not 1994. In 1994, he reminded the committee, he had been an advisor to the Minister of Public Service. For 35 years previous to that he had been involved with labour. He felt therefore that he had a good grasp of public service problems. The new Public Service Commission, Mr Ernstzen said, will focus on service delivery because there has been a general disregard for the public service in Parliament. This Public Service Commission will also examine levels of skills on a theoretical and practical level. Furthermore, he said, it is important to ensure that there is a common understanding between government and the public service. Employment equity will be put in place, with a focus on training, monitoring, evaluation and guidance.

Asked whether he thinks that the civil service is presently lacking in terms of delivery; whether there are enough resources for delivery and what he can do to ensure delivery occurs, Mr Ernstzen responded that systems have been developed, to be used by all Provincial Governments to speed up delivery. A team from the Public Service Commission is also looking into the question and awaiting responses from the various government departments.

It was then suggested by the committee that a problem with the shaping up of the administration appears to be that the anti-corruption campaign has not yet started. Transformation does not appear to be happening in certain departments. The members asked are there elements in the administration and who are against this?

Mr Ernstzen replied that corruption is like an octopus, with which one cannot deal in one go. One has to use as many devices as possible to deal with it. For example, the Public Service Commission has designed a method for dealing with it under the supervision of the ministries of Justice, Constitutional Affairs and Public Service & the Public Service Commission is involved with various departments in fact-finding. There are also external factors, he said, like the "ghosts", ex-public servants in the Eastern Cape, who are taking money from government which is not due to them. Dismissals need to be made, he said.

Asked how the perception that the public service is bureaucratic could be changed, Mr Ernstzen responded that the public service is bureaucratic in many respects. As an advisor to the Minister, he said, he believes the answer is rationalisation. From a political perspective, mind-sets need to change - this can be done through training. The Public Service Commission needs to be energetic and pro-active in this respect.

Mr Ernstzen was then asked about the international conference he is to attend and who had initiated it. He replied that it had been initiated by the Ministers of Justice, Constitutional Affairs and Public Service, acting on a cabinet decision. There will be about 200 foreign and local guests. The conference, he said, would not be talkshop; resolutions will be addressed at a practical level.

To the question of what he would do were he not to be reappointed, Mr Ernstzen responded that he would be happy as an ordinary citizen. He pointed out that he could return to labour or the Minister might consider having him back. He told the committee that he had turned down offers abroad because he believed that there was so much that needed to be done in South Africa.

Asked how he would deal with a situation where for example he was a Director in a position where the government was for the privatisation of parastatals and unions against, Mr Ernstzen said that he would follow administrative procedures. He declined to comment further on the question on grounds that an answer amounted to no more than his personal views. This was also his response to the question of how he views the Presidential Review Commission (as a serving member).

Finally, Mr Ernstzen was asked how he would promote affirmative action. He answered that it was the Public Service Commission’s duty to report to the public. It should serve as watchdog for the public service and other departments. The Public Service Commission’s independence, he said, should act as its shield.

The committee went on to interview the second candidate, Dr Rheeder.

Interview with Dr Rheeder

Dr Rheeder was asked, given his knowledge of the Constitution and the various white and green papers, what he felt his contribution could be.

He responded by pointing to a programme for implementation of affirmative action, enhanced service provision and empowerment.

The suggestion was then put to him for comment that the Public Service sees itself as merely carrying out orders from above.

Dr Rheeder responded by saying that it was difficult for employees who had come from NGOs and were used to having the initiative all the time to adjust. It was important that these people knew what was expected of them.

Dr Rheeder was asked whether in his opinion affirmative action appointments were being made in respect of unqualified people.

His response was that the Public Service Commission has a role to play in pressurising the South African Civil Service to improve learning. Each department, he said, should have its own training section to offer such support.

To the question of why he should be considered for the position, Dr Rheeder responded that he has the academic qualifications, would focus on training the public service and increasing its understanding of government budgets to provide quality service and has no political affiliations.

Asked what he would do to promote women’s equality, Dr Rheeder said that it was important for employers to look at what women could do in a certain job. His position had been to protect women and he would certainly support a women candidate where she was competing with a man for a job.

The question was then asked how Dr Rheeder understood the notions of independence and impartiality in respect of the Public Service Commission and how these should be exercised.

His response was that, as an academic, the independence of the Public Service Commission was something that he had fought for. Many mistakes have been made, he said, because many of the members were politically aligned. The Public Service Commission cannot be player and referee. The Public Service Commission should report to the President via the Portfolio Committee.

Responding to the question of why he was resigning from active public service and whether this was merely to chase a package, he answered that he no longer wished to be a Director in Safety and Security and that this had been a wrong move. He was resigning, he said, and did not want a package.

It was suggested by the committee that affirmative action needs supportive programmes. Which staff, they asked, was Dr Rheeder referring to when he said that they have to have performed some similar duty?

Dr Rheeder answered that a performance based managerial system was good, in that people did not sit around waiting to be automatically promoted after two years. Rather call it upward mobility than affirmative action, he said, because you are moving people from junior to senior positions.

The final question to Dr Rheeder was how he saw the role of the Public Service Commission in a transformation process which people are saying is slow.

His response was that transformation has been an unfortunate term. Many people expected to see themselves moving or growing. That is why support programmes are needed. The Public Service Commission should submit proposals to government , he said, but without losing sight of the problem of excessive expectations.

The committee went on to interview Professor Barrie.

Interview with Professor Barrie

The first question put to Prof. Barrie was what expertise he could bring to the Commission.

He responded by saying that he has a passion for administrative law. Basic human rights has it that administrative law should be reasonable and practical. Every administrator is aware, he said of the rights enshrined in ss32 and 33 of the Constitution.

It was then put to Prof. Barrie that while politicians come and go civil servants form the backbone of every government. Politicians are planners, while civil servants are doers. How, it was asked, did he see this distinction in practical terms.

Civil servants, he suggested, should see themselves as totally impartial and independent. They should also, as his research and earlier proposals suggested, be given training in order to qualify for opportunities.

He was asked whether he meant in-service or prior training. Prof. Barrie’s response was that each department should have a training section where they could go to enhance their knowledge.

Prof. Barrie was then asked how he planned to implement affirmative action. He answered that affirmative action, as s29 of the Interim Constitution had suggested, was not debatable. There should however be mechanisms to facilitate it.

Asked whether he was aware that mechanisms of affirmative action had been taken beyond the Constitution to White Paper and how he saw himself monitoring assisting government in its implementation, Prof. Barrie responded that the Public Service Commission should be independent. In America the quota system had been declared unconstitutional and this is a view with which he said he agreed. The commissioners have to travel to inform citizens that a watchdog existed to assure accountability.

Asked then whether the training he spoke of was relevant and what could be expected from him as commissioner, Prof. Barrie replied that because commissioners represent a broad spectrum of people they should retain their independence. Regarding training, not everyone has had an equal opportunity and it is important to look at the learning capacity of the affirmative action appointee. He again emphasised the need for in-house training within departments.

Interview with Dr Bodlani-Ramorobi

In the first instance Dr Bodlani-Ramorobi was asked what contribution he believed he could make to the Commission. He answered that it was a responsible position in an organisation which was necessary to monitor the public service. He continued to point out that he was a professional person who had served on many commissions of enquiry involving corruption in the Eastern Cape during the transitional period.

He was then asked how he saw his role in facilitating change in the various government departments. Dr Bodlani-Ramorobi responded that he had recently been in a similar debate at UNITRA. He does not believe that Heads of Department are doing enough to satisfy civil servants in this case - every department should therefore have a strategy which is monitored and audited.

Asked how he would improve the image of affirmative action in this country, Dr Bodlani-Ramorobi told the committee that government has to redress the imbalances of the past, but first there is a need for strong top-level management. There have to be leaders who understand affirmative action. Gender, he said, was a thorny issue because people who seemed to understand it, often did not. The Public Service Commission should also be gender sensitive and include women in the quota system, which Dr Bodlani-Ramorobi supports. As far as disabilities, we need to cater for disabled people - many of our buildings, he said are not suitable for people with disabilities and this needs to change.

To the question of how he would use his experience to combat corruption, Dr Bodlani-Ramorobi replied that if a person was found to have committed fraud or theft of government funds, they should not continue to work for the government. This was how such matters were dealt with in the private sector. As far as nepotism is concerned, he said that it was unacceptable to employ relatives.

The question was then put to Dr Bodlani-Ramorobi whether his agricultural skills could help him as a commissioner. He responded by saying that the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has provided financing for development of water projects in the Eastern Cape. He has been involved with the social upliftment and development of the rural areas training facilitators; as well as working with government development policy. This has now been handed over to Rhodes University and UNITRA. Dr Bodlani-Ramorobi also pointed out that the government parastatal, through which farming and agriculture had been channelled in the Eastern Cape, had been liquidated and destroyed as a result of lack of government support. This has had a negative effect on agriculture in the area.


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