Terence Nombembe – Public Sector Governance concerns

The Auditor General Mr. Terence Nombembe has more recently raised his concerns around what he calls a weakening of the pillars of governance protecting South Africa’s democracy. Mr. Nombembe expressed particular concern with the deterioration of supply chain management, service delivery, government information security and accuracy of government reports within Public Sector Entities.

This is not the first time that these concerns have been raised and this, coupled with his growing apprehension around the competency of public servants warrants an investigation into exactly what the pillars of public sector governance are, and why are they so critical to the success of Public Entities?

Firstly, I think it is important to clarify why Public Sector Entities exist. Their existence is reflective of decisions made by government over a period of time, and duly legislated for by Parliament, where it has been deemed more advantageous for particular activities to be performed outside of a customary departmental structure. Public Sector Entities are normally established to fulfil a singular directive subject to varying degrees of ministerial oversight as specified in the relevant legislation.

The relationship between a Public Sector Entity and its Minister is governed by its legislative framework. This framework includes the Public Entity’s enabling legislation (entity specific), financial management legislation (PFMA) and, with some exceptions, the full scope of administrative law provisions (eg: Companies Act).

In the wake of a growing perception of excessive regulation within the corporate landscape of South Africa and given that the legislation is constantly evolving, Public Sector Entities should ensure that their understanding and ensuing application thereof it is fully up to date. This remains a foundational pillar in the house of public governance and Public Entities would do well to maintain regular communication with the departments and agencies responsible for developing and promulgating the legislation.

Secondly, as Public Sector Entities increasingly deliver services with and through third parties, the management of the supply chain as alluded to by Mr. Nombembe becomes critical. While the actual service delivery may be outsourced, the accountability and risk management associated with delivery cannot be outsourced— the ultimate responsibility therefore remains with the Public Sector Entity concerned.

Public Entities should additionally have systems in place that allow not only for the ongoing monitoring of performance with respect to the delivery of Government policy and programme objectives but also the internal management of the entity. This includes for internal audits and reviews of processes to ensure accurate information and quality assurance against agreed performance measures. The failure to establish, communicate and implement plans that monitor performance will result in poor prioritisation of work, unclear direction, business disruption, reduced service levels and the non-achievement of objectives.

Mr Nombembe’s concerns around government information security are addressed in the King Report on Corporate Governance for South Africa 2009 under the governance of information technology and as such there is a growing call for the Protocol on Corporate Governance to be updated accordingly. Lastly, it must be said in addition to being competent, employees of Public Sector Entities must have a clear understanding of their purpose, the interests they represent and the objectives and strategies of their respective entities. These pillars combine primarily to form the foundation for the house of public governance and serve to facilitate more effective service delivery.

For assistance in training and advice relating to Governance, Strategy and Leadership please go to www.sinkorswim.co.za or contact us on roger@sinkorswim.co.za.

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