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The Public Service

    What is in this guide?

    Government delivers services like education, health, safety, transport, water, electricity, welfare and housing, on a massive scale. The Public Service is the implementing arm of government. Everything that has to be done to develop our country and to deliver services to the people, depends on the work of public servants. Public Servants have an enormous task and play an important role to make service delivery work for the people.

      1. The Public Service
      2. Relationship between the Public Service Management and the Executive

  1. The Public Service

Our Constitution commits public servants to serving all the people of South Africa by:

The Public Service has to be developmental, transparent and must consult the people whenever necessary.

The Constitution demands that the Public Service has to be broadly representative of the people and should use personnel practices that develop the potential of public servants.

Every department plays a different role in government’s service delivery. There are over 30 national government departments. Each is headed by a Director General (DG). The rest of the management are called:

The senior management service (SMS) refers to the DGs, DDGs, Chief Directors and Directors.

Provincial government has fewer departments since some departments only fall under national government, for example Defence, Communications and Foreign Affairs. Provincial departments are usually headed by a Head of Department at DG or DDG level. Under them are also Chief Directors, Directors, deputy and assistant Directors.

Within each department different units do the actual work. Each unit is headed by a manager – usually a Director, Deputy or Assistant Director. Some departments and provinces set up special purpose vehicles outside of the public service to do specialised tasks – for example economic or tourism development.  Each department has its own finance and human resource units. The person responsible for the financial accounting is usually called the Chief Financial Officer or CFO.

At present the Public Service consists of national and provincial government staff and municipal staff fall directly under their municipalities, but are also public servants. Over the next few years government will try to place employees of all three spheres of government in one public service.
At municipal level, the number of departments depends on the size of the municipality. Usually, there are departments that deal with finance, planning, service delivery, communication and community liaison. The Municipal Manager heads the municipality and each department has a Head of Department.

  1. Relationship between Public Service Management and the Executive

The Minister, MEC or Mayor is the member of the Executive who has the political role to oversee implementation of government policies and programmes in each sphere of government. They are political heads of government programmes and are accountable to the voters as well as the legislatures for the work done by government. They present departmental plans and budgets as well as annual reports to Parliament, their Legislature or Council.

They have to have a close relationship with head of departments and will give overall direction to the work of a department especially at a strategic level. They have to account for performance of the department and will want details of implementation plans, regular progress reports and briefings on problems.

It is important to understand the distinction between this political role and the managerial role of heads of departments who are legally accountable for things like spending, procurement, contracts, staff employment, etc. Politicians should never micro-manage the work of units within the department or get involved in things like awarding of contracts, employing junior staff, etc.

At the senior management level politicians tend to be more involved in appointments since they are held accountable for the performance of the managers. Checks and balances exist to safeguard against nepotism and corruption and proper and fair processes have to be followed to employ capable managers. Appointments at the level of national Director General and Deputy Directors General have to be approved by the President and Cabinet.  Heads of provincial departments are approved by the Premier and provincial Cabinet. All other provincial SMS appointments are generally done with the approval of the relevant political head and ratified by Cabinet.

Whilst policy development is the responsibility of the legislature and executive, senior public service managers play an important advisory role.

The relationship between managers and politicians is guided by the Code of Conduct for the Public Service.

All employees of the Public Service, including managers are expected to be faithful and honour the Constitution in the execution of her or his daily tasks. The Public Service must put the public interest first and loyally execute the policies of the Government of the day, irrespective of which party is in power.

This requires the Public Service to be familiar with and abide by all statutory and other instructions in the execution of their duties and to cooperate with public institutions established under legislation and the Constitution to promote the public interest.


Government and the Constitution  |   The three spheres of government   |  Elections in South Africa   |  Local government elections  |   Party agent’s guide for national elections  |   Intergovernmental relations and planning | Policy and law making process | Vision and key programmes of government | Government spending and Income | Economic development and AsgiSA | The developmental state | Government accountability and public participation | SA and the world | The Public Service | Batho Pele | Combating corruption in government

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