The Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA) has welcomed the news that government officials will have to attend online ethics training as part of a concerted effort to professionalise the public service. However, says Parmi Natesan, CEO of the IoDSA, it must be recognised that ethics is only part of what is needed.
“The Department of Public Service and Administration is to be congratulated on this initiative, but one also needs to be aware that ethics training is not a silver bullet, as the true test will be the resultant practice and enforcement thereof. Ethics has to also be seen as part of a broader governance framework and this kind of training will only yield results if it is complemented by compulsory training in other governance areas,” Ms Natesan explains.
Aside from recommending a broader training approach to include other important governance topics, thought needs to be given to what it takes to create a professional public service. Professional organisations around the globe have certain things in common, two of the most important of which are continuous professional development and a code of conduct to which their members can be held accountable.
“Professionals have to keep up with developments in governance and their area of expertise—nothing stands still. A true professional thus need to commit to continuous professional development provided by the relevant professional body,” she says. “As important, true professionals need to be accountable for their actions, and that’s arguably especially true for public servants. It’s thus important that they sign up for a code of conduct to which they can be held accountable.
“For all these reasons, we would urge the Minister to take an integrated approach in order to build a professional public service successfully.”
She goes on to argue that special attention needs to be paid to the training of leaders within the public service—there is clear evidence that the “tone at the top” influences the culture and attitude of the entire organisation quite profoundly. As the IoDSA has pointed out on numerous occasions, the nomination process for public officials, particularly those within state-owned enterprises, should follow a transparent and rigorous process as outlined in King IV in order to ensure that leaders not only have the right skills and experience but also understand their duties to the organisation.
The IoDSA’s recent paper, “Challenges facing Public Sector Boards”, advocates that leadership appointments should be subject to an objective due diligence process conducted by a competent third party. This is vital because, as King IV emphasises, ethical and effective leadership go together.
“It’s common cause that the public service has a critical role to play in ensuring a capable state that can deliver on its commitments to the citizenry. The move to professionalise the public service is welcomed, but a multi-faceted approach is essential,” Ms Natesan concludes.
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