Competency frameworks in the South African public service: the wrong magic bullets?

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South African Association of Public Administration and Management (SAAPAM)
Debates around how to transform the public service to contribute to a professional, ethical, and capable developmental state have intensified around the world. There are a range of interventions that seek to manage and improve the public service employees' performance and ensure that they have the competencies required. A key mechanism to assess competency is through Competency Frameworks (CFs), which were introduced in many public services in the 1990s.This article argues that the ways CFs are defined and implemented in the South African public service have severe limitations in dealing with the relatively poor performance of the public service. It shows how and why CFs are not being implemented as intended. After a desktop review of how and why CFs developed and are used by various public services, interviews were con-ducted on the basis of a purposive sampling with twelve key public service stakeholders to investigate the nature and use of competencies and CFs in the South African public service (Senior Management Services (SMS), Middle Management Services (MMS), Financial Management (FM)). A two hour-long seminar discussion was also conducted with about 150 national and provincial department officials on the nature, purpose and conditions under which CFs could work and add value. Finally, more supporting documents were consulted as they were recommended by the participants. The research findings point to the fact that, while CFs are supposed to help develop the human resource value chain, what is happening in reality is something different. The reason for this lies partly in the frameworks themselves but also more importantly in the context and environment in which they are supposed to be implemented. Ultimately, the CFs will not achieve their intended purpose if there is a lack of departmental ownership of them and if they are not located in an enabling and conducive environment. This article notes that the existing institutional arrangements and context of the state administration restrict the use and potential of CFs. It concludes with the argument that, with specific enabling and conducive arrangements and environment, slightly differently formulated, CFs could contribute to their intended purpose
Competency, Knowledge, Lack of ownership, Performing public service, Human Resources