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SEPTEMBER 12, 2013
Yesterday, the minister responsible for performance monitoring and evaluation, Collins Chabane, released the 2013 Management Performance Assessment Tool (MPAT 2013). This is a report which, in the minister’s words, “provides a detailed picture of the state of management practices of all 156 national and provincial departments for the 2012/13 financial year.”
The ‘detailed picture’ is a disturbing one. For example, 80% of departments were non-compliant with requirements for service-delivery improvements; 76% of departments were non-compliant with requirements relating to professional ethics, and 64% did not meet the requirements for fraud prevention. Sixty per cent of departments did not have adequate processes in place for detecting unauthorised expenditure; 88% of departments did not meet the legal requirements for human resource planning. And so on, and on, and on.1
What do we make of such a startlingly poor report? Four points come to mind.
Firstly, its mere existence is valuable. It provides a comprehensive insight into government performance; and it covers a wide range of government activity, allowing researchers and commentators, not to mention government officials themselves, to analyse the various areas of success and failure, and to suggest means of improvement. It is, thus, a very worthwhile introspective exercise; and for the first time, notably, every national and provincial department submitted an assessment.
Secondly, it is an exercise which government did not have to undertake; there is no explicit constitutional requirement that such a report be prepared. It is therefore to the great credit of government that it has done so, especially in the knowledge that (1) the level of achievement is generally poor and (2) an election is looming. It is probably fair to say that most governments would not have embarked upon such an exercise at all; and many would have found a way of sugar- coating the results, had they been this bad. The report is, therefore, an encouraging example of accountability and transparency, and must be acknowledged as such.
Thirdly, it is simply unacceptable that crucial aspects of government performance are this bad after nearly 20 years of the present incumbency. As much as one congratulates government on undertaking this assessment, and publishing the results, so much must one castigate it for the poor planning, unwise policies, mismanagement, maladministration and failures of implementation that have combined to deliver such a sub-standard performance. As always, it is the poor that suffer most from these failures, and it will be of little compensation to them to know that government has been brave enough to acknowledge its weaknesses; what they need – urgently – is a government that lives up to its promises.
Fourthly, in every area2 the Western Cape comes out ahead of all other provinces and ahead of the national departments. This is something that needs to be studied and understood. On the one hand, it will obviously be argued that the DA administration in the Western Cape is simply better than the ANC governments in the other eight provinces, and nationally. Perhaps it is the relative avoidance of ‘cadre deployment’ that accounts for it; or the greater retention of experience and skills in the civil service in this province; or the dynamic leadership of Helen Zille; or just that, as an opposition party, the DA uses its provincial foothold as a marketing opportunity to show what it might achieve if it ever wins national office. On the other hand, it could be argued that the Western Cape has certain historical advantages, a strong economic base, a skilled workforce, etc. Whatever the reason for its outstanding performance, let us hope that its achievements are soberly and objectively investigated, and that narrow political considerations do not obscure the lessons that are certainly there to be learnt.
It is a pity that this report tells a tale of such underperformance and failure. But it is good that an assessment of this kind is carried out and published, especially at a time when we are becoming more and more wary of a trend towards secrecy and the withholding of information.
1. The full report can be found at http://www.scribd.com/doc/167273865/Full-report-Management-Performance- Assessment-Tool
2. There were four basic areas of assessment: Strategic Management; Governance and Accountability; Human Resource Management; and Financial Management.