Home Moral guidelines NOTICE | Maria Goyayi and Paul Kariuki: The Role of the Public Service Commission in Political Accountability

NOTICE | Maria Goyayi and Paul Kariuki: The Role of the Public Service Commission in Political Accountability

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The The Civil Service Commission plays a central role in promoting political accountability, but it needs some tweaking to ensure it plays that role, writes Maria Goyayi and Paul Kariuki.


One of the notable governance changes brought about by the South African Democratic Constitution is the provision for the establishment of an oversight body for the civil service and administration.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) is established in Chapter 10, Section 196 of the 1996 Constitution as an independent institution focusing specifically on public service and public administration.

The importance specified in Chapter 10 of the Constitution illustrates the importance of the PSC as an institution supporting democracy and also overseeing the civil service and administration.

Its sole mission is to promote democratic values ​​and the principles of public administration enshrined in the Constitution in the public service.

The commission achieves this through investigation, monitoring, evaluation, communication and reporting on public administration, including organization, administration and personnel practices in the public service.

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The PSC is then expected to propose measures that ensure effective and efficient performance in the public service; provide guidelines to ensure that personnel procedures related to recruitment, promotions, transfers and dismissals are consistent with constitutional values ​​and principles.

In addition, the PSC is responsible for reporting to the relevant executive authority and legislature on its own activities and functions; and the degree of compliance with constitutional values ​​and principles, either on its own initiative or through the receipt, analysis and reporting of complaints.

The commission also investigates grievances of public service employees, acts or omissions of civil servants and makes recommendations on the appropriate course of action.

In addition, it is responsible for monitoring and investigating compliance with applicable procedures in the public service; and advise national and provincial state bodies on matters relating to personnel practices in the public service, such as recruitment, appointments, promotions, dismissals, transfers and other aspects of employees’ careers in the public service.

power to invoke

In carrying out these functions, the PSC has the mandate to call someone to testify in the context of an investigation. The PSC Act 1997, in Section 10 read with Section 11 together with Section 196(3) of the Constitution, confers the power to conduct an inquiry into any matter authorized by the Constitution and, for this purpose , gives the mandate to summon anyone for an investigation.

Failure to comply with the summons, the provisions of which are contained in section 10(4)(a) and (c) of the PSC Act 1997, shall be deemed to be an offense punishable, on conviction, with imprisonment or a fine.

Accountability in general reflects accountability, responsibility and obligation for one’s actions or lack thereof. Accountability in terms of governance is thus based on four pillars:

1. Responsibility: a duty linked to the course of action.

2. Responsibility: being called to account.

3. Reliability: A trait of being trustworthy and trustworthy.

4. Liability: being legally bound to a debt or obligation.

Political accountability refers to the accountability of government, officials, and politicians to the public and legislative bodies such as Congress or 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 cases, ‘punish’, the PSC has a key role to play in promoting political accountability in South Africa.

For example, Article 196(5) of the Constitution requires that the PSC be accountable to the National Assembly in terms of constitutional provisions. Therefore, under section 196(6)(a), the PSC is therefore required to report at least annually on its activities and performance, including any findings, guidance and advice it has formulated as well as an assessment of the extent to which the values ​​and principles set out in section 195 are respected in the public service.

Overall, the PSC fulfills its accountability well through the many reports presented and published on its activities and performance. This reinforces the political accountability of the civil service to the National Assembly and the general public.

Is behind

Despite the articulation of a number of functions focused on political accountability, the PSC still lags behind in this area.

For example, when it comes to reporting and accountability, the main challenge of the CPS is its lack of authority to enforce its recommendations, but instead relies on other bodies like the police and Parliament to carry out its recommendations.

Similarly, the PSC reporting provisions do not contain provisions on mechanisms for implementing recommendations. It is very difficult to report to Parliament on the real impact it has on the promotion of constitutional values, principles of public service administration and other aspects of its mandate.

Generally, the CSP plays an advisory role which consists of expressing an opinion and providing general advice on the improvement of public administration or service delivery without any obligation on the recipient to monitor or perform the advice provided.

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In the event of directives, the PSC proposes directives concerning personnel procedures relating to recruitment, transfers, promotions and dismissals.

The guidelines are intended to provide guidance on the implementation of direction to promote sound public administration. Consequently, major complaints accumulate year after year on public service delivery, public administration with allegations of blatant corruption.

A series of serious corruption allegations against senior government officials and public office holders are increasing year after year, such as state capture.

State capture while an important step in promoting transparency and accountability in public administration and the civil service, it sheds more light on a long process and the limited powers of the SPC.

Additionally, the poor delivery of public services has been linked to a number of public vices and declining social cohesion among South Africans themselves and also with outsiders.

The poor state of public services provided has been widely associated with the eruption of chronic xenophobic attacks against other African nationals residing in South Africa.

Pivotal role

The PSC plays a central role in promoting political accountability, but it needs some tweaking to ensure it plays this role.

To salvage the situation, the PSC as a whole, especially in terms of functions and powers, needs to be overhauled to ensure streamlined strategies that ensure accountability in public administration and public service.

To begin with, the PSC needs to ensure that it builds relationships with other stakeholders within government and other non-state actors like NGOs and faith-based organizations. These relationships, among others, should aim to promote social cohesion and the restoration of good moral values ​​within society.

Likewise, the PSC should define clear expectations of the public administration and the public service in general which should be communicated to all relevant stakeholders. It and relevant stakeholders must work together to meet these expectations.

As the PSC needs to work collaboratively with other stakeholders, it needs to own the process and provide tools for successful implementation of various plans and programs aimed at improving political accountability in the country.

To facilitate the ownership of the PSC, its powers should be revised so that it is possible to apply certain critical recommendations to the public administration bodies concerned.

Finally, the PSC must provide continuous feedback on the performance of its functions and on the general status of the public administration and the civil service in accordance with constitutional values ​​and principles.

The current practice of only providing feedback in terms of reporting to the National Assembly once a year has proven ineffective.

Annual reporting practices are rather ineffective, especially when considering the introduction of interventions to immediately address challenges in public administration and public service before the outbreak of destructive strikes and xenophobic attacks.

– Dr. Maria Lauda Goyayi is an academician and researcher. Dr. Paul Kariuki is the Executive Director of the Democracy Development Program. They wrote in a personal capacity.

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