The director general of the public service department, Paseko Ncholo, believes South Africa’s R74-billion public sector wage bill is a political ” hot potato” that Cabinet needs to address through “political decisions”.
Speaking at a briefing in Parliament, Ncholo denied knowing anything about government plans to prune the country’s empire of 1,2-million public servants, hinted at mid-week by the Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel. However, he said the country could not afford its nine provincial administrations, which employ the bulk of the civil servants.
“From an administrative point of view the system is expensive, chaotic and unaffordable,” he said. His opinion was based on evidence discovered during investigations into provincial administration. His report, detailing flaws and failures in the public service - the so-called Ncholo report - is to go to Cabinet next week.
Manuel said this week that a plan to cut staff was in the offing. Such proposals would fly in the face of agreements struck between public sector unions in the bargaining chamber, but would help government contain its spending on wages, which is essential for the success of its growth, employment and redistribution strategy.
The government is only just containing disgruntlement about wages and public sector transformation among unions in the sector, while at the same time getting little administrative satisfaction from the public service in general.
“One can’t transform a public service of 1,2-million people if one can’t select who should be there,” said Ncholo. Government has acknowledged that voluntary retrenchment packages have failed, and not produced the necessary savings.
Ncholo skirted around this issue, preferring to speak of the need for training to regenerate skills in the public service.
“I think we made the very dangerous assumption that the new government could rely on the skills in the former bantustans and Pretoria central government. Now that the limited skills we have are spread around the provinces we have discovered the holes,” he said.
Ncholo was adamant that the skills needed for the public service could not be found in South Africa.
ANC MP Philip Dexter disagreed. “I think that’s an exaggeration. It’s not a case of us not finding the skills. They are located in a number of places - in the private sector, unions and in non-governmental organisations. I think the real issue is how we get the skilled people into the service, and those that are not performing, out.” It is expected that the Ncholo report will recommend greater co-ordination between Cabinet ministers on matters of public service funding, particularly when contradictions between Manuel and others impact negatively on provincial administrations.
* The planned national strike by about 400 000 public servants may be averted, writes Sechaba ka’Nkosi. A wage agreement was reached between the government and the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union this week. Acting education director general Roelf du Preez says the agreement will give teachers between 8,5% and 11% more pay and puts emphasis on performance- linked increases.
The two other unions involved in the dispute - National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the Police, Prisons and Civil Rights Union (Popcru) -have already indicated they are also likely to accept the offer.
Nehawu and Popcru say they will accept the offer if it is extended to their bargaining chambers. Both unions say the latest offer is attractive and better that the previous one.