President Cyril Ramaphosa says the size and form of government should be guided by the country’s needs in order to build a capable and developmental state.
In his weekly newsletter to the nation on Monday, the President said that in considering the size of the executive, the question people should be asking is how best should government be organised to meet the country’s needs.
This comes after the President announced changes to his Cabinet last week, adding two new Ministries. Since then, the President said that he has noted that there has been much discussion about the size of the executive, which is an important discussion and he welcomes it. However, much of the commentary misses the point.
He said that the discussion has unfortunately been reduced to a head counting exercise.
“It is argued by some that any decrease in the number of Ministers is good and any increase is bad … When it comes to building a capable and developmental state, the foremost consideration is how to organise every part of government, including the executive, to effectively implement the electoral mandate.
“The country’s needs will change over time and we will learn from our lived experience. Therefore, government has to adapt and be responsive.
“By way of example, at the start of this administration we combined the ministry of human settlements with the ministry of water and sanitation. This made sense. The provision of water is closely tied to developing human settlements,” President Ramaphosa said.
However, as the burden on the country’s scarce water resources continued to increase, with competing demands from a growing population, agriculture, industry and other economic sectors, government decided in 2021 to once again separate the ministries.
He said this is because water is a service and commodity that cuts across all sectors of our economy and goes beyond only human settlements.
While this increased the number of ministries, the President said that it has had a beneficial effect on the work of both departments, with improved policy alignment and focused implementation.
At the start of this administration in 2019, the President recalled that he reduced the number of ministries from 34 to 28.
“There was therefore much criticism when, last week, we increased the number of ministries for the remainder of this administration to 30. Yet there has been little analysis of why we made these changes and whether they were necessary. The new ministries I announced last week respond to our current specific needs,” he said.
President Ramaphosa reiterated that the country needs the Minister in the Presidency for Electricity to coordinate and drive our response to the electricity crisis.
He explained that this is a temporary position and the Minister will remain in office only for as long as it is necessary to resolve the
He further explained that the second new ministry, for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, arises from an appreciation that there is a need for a dedicated focus on ensuring that government effectively implements the programmes that underpin its priorities and is able to fix problems as they arise.
“At this moment in our country’s history, when we have vast urgent and pressing developmental needs, when we have to undo the devastating and enduring legacy of apartheid, we need an active and capable, developmental state. It needs to have the resources and ability to tackle challenges like poverty, joblessness, homelessness, illiteracy, lack of social infrastructure and a significant burden of disease.
“Countries with developed economies that do not face these problems may well not need such an active state. The size and design of their governments may be very different to ours,” the President said.
President Ramaphosa said that while the state needs to be configured to meet the country’s needs, account needs to be taken of available resources.
“Where it is possible to rationalise ministries, departments and other state entities without affecting outcomes, we should do so,” he
The President highlighted that in 2019, a number of ministries were combined. For example, Trade and Industry with Economic Development, Higher Education and Training with Science and Technology, Environmental Affairs with Forestry and Fisheries, Agriculture with Land Reform and Rural Development, among others.
“Now we want to go further, to take a deeper look into where there are opportunities to rationalise, merge or separate government departments, entities and programmes. In the State of the Nation Address, I announced that the Presidency and National Treasury would work with other departments to develop a proposal that could be implemented over the next three years,” he said.
He noted that the Presidential State-Owned Enterprises Council is also undertaking a similar exercise. It is conducting an in-depth review of all key SOEs. The Council is guided by the needs of the country and the efficient use of available resources.
“We are forging ahead with the process we embarked upon at the start of this administration to build a capable state with entities that add value to government’s programme of action.
“In all this work, we are informed by evidence, experience and the availability of resources. We agree that we need an efficient and lean government, but if we become fixated by head counts, we may lose sight of the point of having a capable state in the first place,” the President said.