Public Administration and Politics

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During the apartheid era, the South African public service was isolated and out of touch with international developments in Public Sector Reform (PSR) (Thornhill, 2008). New Public Management (NPM) ideology based on generic management ideas and institutional economics had spread through the Anglophone world in the 1980s and 1990s (Hughes, 2003).

During the transition in the early 1990s, very little work done by the African National Congress (ANC) on the nature of the post-apartheid public service. It was understandably obsessed on the issue of political power.

It is often argued that NPM has been highly influential in shaping Public sector reform in post-apartheid South Africa.

To what extent has the South African public service been influenced by NPM reforms, as opposed to other reforms? What has been the effects of these reforms?

They are decentralization of authority and responsibility to managers, rightsizing which entails reducing the size of the public sector, corporatisation in the form of converting departments into free standing units, the creation of the Senior Management System (SMS), the use of the contract system for heads of departments, the creation of a more flexible human resources system, the introduction of Performance Management and attempts to improve service delivery.

With the exception of fully blown privatization and public-private partnerships, this focus probably straddles the entire spectrum of NPM. The method consisted of interviews with a number of senior government officials which included three current Director-Generals. An interview was also held with the previous Minister of Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi.

New Public Management: The Framework

In the 1980s, the traditional bureaucratic public administration model of Max Weber and Woodrow Wilson was challenged in Anglophone countries such as England, Australia and New Zealand. A new model of public sector management emerged in these countries which was called NPM. NPM is not a coherent theory but rather a discrete set of ideas that can be broadly divided into two categories. First, there is the use of private management ideas, such as the provision of more responsive and efficient services, performance agreements including service standards, greater independence and flexibility for managers and new financial techniques. Second, there is greater use of as privatisation and public-private partnerships in service provision. NPM is generally inspired by the values and concepts of the private sector. It was seen as a way of cutting through the red tape and rigidity associated with old-style public administration.

The Context of Public Sector Reform

Global economic influences have been an important background variable in considering administrative reform. One general reason for public sector reforms internationally is to restrain public spending, lighten the bureaucratic burden and to reshape social policies that cannot be afforded (Polity and Bouckaert (2004:28).South Africa was influenced by growing global competition, the failure of centralised state-dominated development strategies, the worsening economic crisis in the developing world and the impact of IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programmes. This involved a re-evaluation of the role of the state.

The Reconstruction and Development Programme was the major policy initiative of the ANC government after the 1994 elections. It was an integrated coherent socio-economic programme.It attempted to integrate development, reconstruction, redistribution and reconciliation into a unified programme. It was intended to be a vision for the fundamental transformation of South African society (RDP White Paper:1994:7). The RDP was intended to a social democratic vision for the country with an emphasis on welfare rights for the poor. The adoption of the government’s Macro-Economic Strategy for Growth and...
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