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Change the world

21/12/2023

Abuse, self-enrichment and shady practices are devastating consequences of the ANC’s flawed cadre deployment policy – only urgent reform can stop the rot that should never have taken root in the first place, a Nelson Mandela University PhD graduate has revealed.

 

Lazola Vabaza, director of supply chain management (SCM) client support at the National Treasury’s chief procurement office, made alarming discoveries about the impact government’s corruption-riddled policy has had on public procurement practices in post-1994 South Africa.

He conducted a qualitative research study for his PhD at Nelson Mandela University and  graduated on 13 December 2023, following acceptance of a thesis titled “Complexities of cadre deployment and government procurement: Analysis of the African National Congress’s cadre deployment policy between 1997-2017”.

A key finding was that crude implementation of cadre deployment diluted the merit-based system of appointments in the public service. This has had severe knock-on effects for both government and citizens.

Tellingly, though, this was not the ANC’s original intention, he argues.

Vabaza, born in Kwazulu-Natal and raised in Gqeberha, has worked in government for several years, and knows the systems well. His PhD journey started when he resigned from his full-time job as a national government department senior manager.

“This decision was a difficult one, as my family was negatively affected and everyone had to make sacrifices as a result. However, with the support of my mother, wife Ncumisa and children, I completed my PhD studies,” says Vabaza, who also holds a BA degree and a master’s degree in management of public policy.

He is responsible for driving his office’s SCM professionalisation project – an ambitious attempt to drive public sector procurement reforms to rapidly improve the transformation and modernisation of the SCM system in the public sector.

“My role is to create engagement platforms between the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer (OCPO) and state institutions across the three spheres of government, educating role players about SCM.”

A sorry state of affairs
Vabaza’s research examines the implications of political interference in government procurement processes, focusing on post-1994.

“One of the objectives of the research is to draw lessons and formulate recommendations that may assist the ANC, as a governing party, to adapt its cadre deployment policy and so avoid the unintended consequences of the conflation of party interests with those of the state,” he says. “This is especially relevant when it comes to allocation of state tenders and contracts.”

His study also examined the Zondo Commission’s findings on South Africa’s public procurement system.

The commission, headed by then Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, called for urgent reform of the public procurement process, flagging abuse and corruption, and citing myriad weaknesses in a convoluted system through which government channels around R800-billion annually.

A failed system
A chance interview with an ANC veteran catapulted Vabaza into diving deeply into the public procurement maelstrom.

“This veteran stated that the ANC’s cadre deployment policy was not responsible for the escalation of corruption in government procurement practices, but rather that the crude implementation of that policy was the challenge.”

The concept of cadre deployment in the public sector is not a new phenomenon, especially within the context of party-state relations, says Vabaza.

“This happens when a governing party - in this instance, the ANC - places party loyalists at state institutions to ensure that its political policies and programmes are implemented by the executive arm of the state.

“The aim is to limit the sabotage of the implementation of government programmes. However, the latter argument has been criticised by some scholars, who argue that the deployment of cadres to state institutions has resulted in increased opportunities to access government deals that have benefited those close to the political elites.”

When good policies turn bad
What happens when cadre deployment goes wrong? Vabaza set out to investigate and found that the policy had powerfully influenced the traditional ‘spoils vs merit’ system.

“The ‘spoils’ system, which is mainly embedded in American public administration philosophy, is a form of deploying party loyalists to state institutions, which serves as a system of political patronage and corruption.

“Juxtaposed with the spoils system, the merit-based system is based on the recruitment of capable individuals in the public administration following an independent and objective process of candidate selection as laid out in the rules and regulations governing public administration.

“The prevailing view is that cadre deployment practice is more aligned to the spoils system than the merit-based system.”

Some key findings highlight the shaky ground on which government’s cadre deployment policy currently stands, says Vabaza.

Firstly, the policy has negative implications for public administration when implemented incorrectly, particularly when the merit-based system of recruitment and selection in the public service is not followed.

Secondly, due to lack of capacity within the ANC’s Integrity Commission, resulting in decreased consequence management, some ANC state institution deployees have abused their positions and enriched themselves.

In addition, says Vabaza, the noble intention of transforming public procurement policy to promote historically disadvantaged individuals has been abused by some deployees for self-enrichment.

Global spotlight

To understand the concept of cadre deployment in totality, Vabaza applied his research globally, conducting an analysis of international experiences of party-state relations.

“China is one of the countries that deploys its cadres to state institutions and is well-known for harshly dealing with corruption within its ranks, even though it does not believe in the separation between the party and the state.

“In France, Germany and Italy, the non-separation of the party and the state is referred to as party-state entanglement, which has bolstered democracy in those countries, according to some scholars.

“In Zimbabwe, the application of the party-state relations theory meant that the deployment of cadres was aimed at transforming the post-colonial state institutions. Similarly, in countries such as Tanzania and Kenya, the application of this theory was used to transform state institutions through the deployment of party loyalists.”

However, the results from the lessons learnt from international experiences show that it was a mixed bag of successes and failures, he says. For example, in Zimbabwe, the land expropriation programme, which was based on good intentions to reverse the imbalances of the past in terms of wealth accumulation, resulted in the unintended consequences of benefiting only those aligned to the political elites in that country.

“Even here, in South Africa, the issue is crude implementation of the cadre deployment policy, not the concept of cadre deployment itself, that is the problem.”

Where to now, South Africa?

Fortunately, says Vabaza, South Africa has a solid legal framework governing the public service’s human resources management, as well as the public procurement space.

“The real issue is: how do we deploy societal cadres to state institutions instead of ANC cadres, so that we don’t underplay the need to transform state institutions to better serve our society, instead of the ANC?

“The merit-based system of appointing public servants remains critical in this instance. The crux is that, during its conceptualisation by our political forebears, the ANC’s cadre deployment policy was based on merit, until some decided to implement it differently for nefarious reasons.”

Vabaza’s research offers some concrete solutions, including introducing a monitoring and performance evaluation system for ANC deployees, appointing professionals to deliver public services effectively and to run supply chain management systems in the public sector.

He believes that much good can come out of blunt evaluation of the problems. “I do foresee the ANC adapting its cadre deployment policy in the future. The current developments within the government, for example, which aim to professionalise the public service, is a case in point.”