Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cadres, a history lesson.

An interesting article I found on Politicsweb

Why cadre deployment must go
James Myburgh
14 October 2009

James Myburgh writes that, for its own sake, the ANC should scrap the practice.

Musa Xulu presented a defence yesterday of the ANC's policy of deploying cadres to key positions within the state (see
here). He stated that the ANC "deserves to appoint its own cadres in government, they have earned their stripes." And, argued that the ruling party's programme ran the risk of sabotage by disloyal officials. In order then to give effect to the mandate it received in April, the ANC must "choose cadres who understand its policies and above all have no hidden agendas."

The importance of this issue is only dimly understood, and as a result there is a basic lack of clarity about the key points of debate. The question, in this case, is not whether the opposition is trying to impose itself on the ANC, and thereby subvert the popular will, but whether the new government is actually going to be able to deliver on its electoral mandate.

It is by no means obvious that appointing "tried and tested cadres" will allow it to do so, given the ANC's own painful experiences over the past decade. The corruption, factionalism and decay in so many ANC controlled municipalities can be traced directly back to the party's decision in 1997 that "Political appointments at senior levels of the public service need to be extended to local government administration."

The alternative is also not well understood. The debate, such as it is, often gets sidetracked into a discussion of who should get appointed, not how appointments get made. The system which gradually diplaced the patronage or ‘spoils system' in Britain and America, from the mid-19th century onwards, was one of open competition for entry into the civil service, and selection and subsequent advancement
determined "solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills."

Crucially, power over appointments and promotions was (largely) taken out of the hands of politicians and placed in the care of a non-partisan civil service commission (see
article). This is known, at least in the United States, as the ‘merit system.'

The implementation of this system in the British and American civil services solved problems those countries (and their intellectuals) have forgotten they ever had. As a result it is rarely a point of reference in discussions on how to arrest South Africa's decline, or reverse Africa's state of apparent perpetual underdevelopment.

And yet, the pathologies described by the great civil service reformers in the United States and Britain should be familiar enough to South Africans, twelve years after the ANC formally got rid of merit as the overriding criterion in the appointment of public servants.

In 1868 Julius Bing, writing of the ‘spoils system' that prevailed in the United States at the time, stated that: "At present there is no organisation save that of corruption, no system save that of chaos; no test of integrity save that of partisanship; no test of qualification save that of intrigue."

It is a description that could be applied to many governmental organisations today and innumerable high level state and parastatal appointments over the past decade. One recent example that springs to mind is the decision by the Minister of Defence, Lindiwe Sisulu, to make Paul Ngobeni her legal advisor.

In 1924 the American academic Leonard White described the consequences of any imposition of political control over civil service appointments, and the subsequent outflow of technical expertise, as follows:

"[It is] reflected in poorly-built highways, which crumble under modern traffic conditions; in shoddy goods and worse than amateur service in state institutions, which should operate solely on the basis of public trustee for unfortunate or subnormal members of society; in high infant mortality rates and unnecessary suffering among those most dependent on the public service; in lax and fumbling enforcement of the law and in the sacrifice of the interests of the state or municipality. It is as unnecessary as it is impossible to translate these losses into dollars and cents; but it is as necessary now as ever before to insist that these losses are real and preventable."

This was at a time when patronage systems continued to prevail in many state and municipal governments in the U.S. As this passage illustrates, the consequences of that system then are strikingly similar to those which we are faced with now.
White quoted with approval a memorandum submitted by lower level civil servants to the British Royal Commission on the Civil Service in 1915. It stated:
"The civil service is becoming more and more the indispensible servant of the community, and it is the business of the community to ensure that all who serve it are appointed on the score of capacity and character alone, and that those who reach the highest posts in the service shall do so by virtue of ability and merit. The inevitable result of any shortcoming in these matters will be weakness and failure."

The ANC is quite free to ignore the lessons of history, but they do so at their own peril (and ours). Unless patronage is weeded out of the civil service, starting at the top, all it's grand plans for a developmental state able to provide decent services to the poor and marginalised will come to nought.

1 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

A fool never learns from his own mistakes. A smart man learns from his own mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others. Looks like these guys are determined to invent their own wheel when it comes to governance.