Modern society needs modern government

Jack Bloom MPL

DA Gauteng Caucus Leader

Can business run things better than the government?

Most people would say yes to this simple question.

There is no reason why government has to actually run many of the services that it funds.

The bureaucratic approach of government had much to recommend it when it first emerged historically.

At its best, it gave certainty and order, ensuring that government treated all citizens equally according to fair rules.

Appointments were according to merit, not aristocratic privilege or political favour.

There wasn’t the innovation of private business, but this model could deliver basic services well.

But South Africa has never had a truly professional civil service.

When the National Party came to power in 1948, its Afrikaner supporters were given preference in state employment.

The Broederbond made sure that key positions were in the hands of its members.

It was a secretive and systematic form of what is today called cadre deployment.

The civil service was over-staffed and slow, but generally there was a level of service.

When the ANC took over, many skilled civil servants left when they were offered attractive retirement packages.

Efficiency also went down when under-qualified people were appointed for political reasons.

This is why spending on consultants has soared to do work that could have been done internally.

A recent Auditor-General’s report found eight government departments spent R24.6-billion on consultants over a three-year period.

Because of corruption and lack of controls, many of these consultants did not deliver.

We need to rethink the whole role of government in providing services.

The Reinventing Government movement in America in the 1990s said that “Government should steer, not row, the boat”.

A hospital, for instance, does not need to be run as part of the civil service.

In most National Health Systems, the hospitals are non-profits contracted by government.

New Zealand has pioneered the most impressive civil service reform that has increased performance admirably.

Their chief executives in charge of departments can change regulations in order to achieve performance targets.

The only similar South African department is the SA Revenue Service which has attracted high-calibre staff with better pay and conditions.

Ideally, a slimmed-down government should do core functions only, and effectively manage the contracts of private organisations to deliver a wide range of services.

In Ghana, gold mining company AngloGold Ashanti ran an anti-malaria programme because their workforce was hit by the disease.

It was so successful that Ghana’s Health Ministry asked the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to fund them to do the same for the entire country.

American political consultant Alex Castellanos observes that factories have given way to dynamic high-technology organisations, but government is still stuck in the industrial age.

Society has changed in many ways, but government has not kept up.

In the fast-changing communications era, one-size-fits-all and top-down government increasingly fails.

A bottom-up, people-centred approach provides more choices for citizens.

A modern society needs a modern government that embraces technology and the private sector to achieve aims that benefit everyone.