Johannesburg - Trevor Manuel’s National Planning Commission
(NPC) has ruthlessly exposed problems in the public service in its “diagnostic”
report reflecting the commission’s first two years of work.
The NPC’s report also contains the first frank criticism of
affirmative action in the public service.
The report is also scathing about outcomes-based education
and South Africa’s high minimum wages and low productivity levels.
Too few people in South Africa are working, and those with
jobs are doing too little for the money they get paid.
These are among the main conclusions arrived at in the
probing analysis by Manuel and his team of commissioners in the NPC of the
state of the South African economy and why jobs are not being created.
Among the difficult decisions that South Africa will have to
take is to tone down managers and workers’ salary increases, according to a
diagnostic report on the economy.
Compared with other countries, the starting salaries of
South African workers are far too high in relation to productivity. Where a new
worker in developed countries earns about 37% of the salary average, a South
African novice earns 60% of the average. This discourages companies from taking
on new young workers.
In many manufacturing industries, productivity declined
between 2001 and last year. The average hourly factory wage in South Africa is
five times that in Sri Lanka, China, India and the Philippines. It's three
times that in Mexico and Malaysia, and also higher than that in Russia, Brazil,
Turkey and Hungary.
Further, collective bargaining is to the advantage of bigger
employers and undermines the competitiveness of smaller firms.
Continual change is advanced as the main reason for the
public service’s incapacity.
The transformation of the public service has not been
completed, yet continual change is extremely destabilising.
Some departments, such as the police service, are always in
a state of change. Time is usually not given to test the effectiveness of
change before new changes are introduced.
The most radical change to public policy that can
be introduced is to avoid the endless stream of new initiatives and rather focus
relentlessly on working methods to reduce the gap between policy and practice,
says the report.
The NPC is scathing about outcomes-based education. The
country’s education problems arise not from a lack of money, but from defective
Nevertheless, outcomes-based education – which would
challenge even the world’s best education systems – was introduced in 1998, the
NPC points out.
It says that some or other from of affirmative action was
required after 2004 to make the public service more representative of the
country in terms of race.
However, the difference between salary levels in the public service
and those of ordinary members of the public means that a public service
increasingly representative in terms of race is still distanced from the greater
portion of the population. It's a challenge that has to be considered
carefully, the report goes on.
Affirmative action demands thorough processes for selection,
mentorship and career development. When these are not in place, affirmative
action reduces incentives to work hard and improve service levels.
This affects everyone negatively, but the consequences are
worst for the poor black population that is the most dependent on public
services, says the report.