When suspended national police commissioner admitted to the board of inquiry into the allegations of misconduct against him that he did, on occasions, sign off on official documents from his deputies without scrutinising them, a gasp escaped my throat. “Was he for real!!?” Cele’s unfortunate disclosure confirmed my long held suspicion that many of the improprieties and allegations of corruption that have gripped our headlines over the years, have been as a result of omission as much as commission. Omission in that the appointed leaders failed to do the basic, but critical things in performing their duties as required by their positions and not always because they were acting with malicious dishonesty and with the intent to mislead. At times, it is also as result of not wanting to rock the boat by “calling out” their comrades and colleagues on glaring misconduct and conflicts of interest even when their own consciences tell them otherwise.
The ethical muscle, trust and legitimacy of the government are undermined if the deployed civil servants fail to conform to governance principles. Appointed civil servants should observe the codes of conduct of public service and the rule of law in the performance of their functions. Qualifications, skills and experience are not the overriding factors that influence which individuals get deployed into leadership positions in government. Deployed leaders emerge from a political process and their appointments are influenced by political ties with no guarantee of the relevant skills and experience to perform their leadership functions. Minister Thulas Nxesi’s turnaround strategy for Public Works should be applauded and his stance on corruption lauded. “We have to re-engineer the processes in the department, whether we like it or not. We must start with the basics.” And here, Minister Nxesi has hit the nail on the head, in starting with the basics because it is my assertion that this is where part of the root cause of corruption lies.
Effective leadership requires self-knowledge and awareness of the systems in which they operate. Leaders will and cannot master every competency and therefore they need to know their own shortcomings and to find ways to compensate for their weaknesses. Even when a leader delegates administrative responsibilities to his or her employees, he or she cannot abdicate accountability. It is evident that not all leaders will readily admit their knowledge and skills deficiencies and many seem not to have a clue that they gone astray until their ethical transgressions are publicly announced. Therefore as individuals who have ascended to these leadership positions have shown a pattern of making similar mistakes around the handling of paperwork and performing other administrative tasks, it is important that the government takes this role upon itself to ensure the highest principles of integrity and competence are upheld. To bridge the gap, induction and training of deployed leaders should form the core of “doing the basics”.