Why Cabinet Ministers have secret KPIs
Given the social and economic challenges inherited by the democratic government in 1994, it is only fair that the many government plans and policies such as the ASGISA, GEAR and the National Development Plan would be backed up by clear key performance indicators (KPIs) for cabinet ministers and premiers, who can cascade these down to their subordinates. It is obvious that the instrumentation and catalysation of these plans has to start there. All of the foregoing programmes have been flops of note. The reason why they have failed is because no one has been held accountable for their success in any manner, shape or form.
Given that nearly all of government income is from taxing the people, and the bulk of the balance from services to the people, you would imagine that the people would have more of a say on what the government should do and how it should be measured. Minister KPIs are a secret because they are never published or available to inspect. Should the minister of police not be measured according to the number of criminals rightfully arrested? Should the minister of small business not be measured by GDP contribution to economy of small businesses? Should premiers not be measured by economic growth of their province? Should the minister of labour not be measured by the size of the labour force? IF not them, who will be measured by these criteria?
Technically, the people are investors in government, and more than that, its customers. That may be the reason governments are appointed (elected) by the people, so that these investors and customers can choose who is going to spend their money. This is particularly so given the generosity of the South African people. We pay cabinet ministers R2.4 million a year. This amount is not, as you would imagine, for all of them combined. It is each. If anyone is interested, it is a whopping R200000 a month. Not to be left out, deputy ministers are not too far behind at about R2 million a year, each. Provincial premiers are slightly above deputy ministers and just below cabinet ministers.
These are diabolical and astronomical salaries in an economy that has been stagnant for years, has incurred junk status, and one where unemployment is at an all time high. These salaries would be fair if the people knew the value that these public servants were adding, and if government employees were not getting paid more than private sector employees, from which sector their salaries are largely funded. The majority of citizens would be at pains to draw up a list of what the various cabinet ministers and premiers have done for them to justify their salaries since 1994.
A key performance indicator is an output by which we can judge achievement of set goals. In South Africa, cabinet ministers would typically have the liberty to interpret the goals of government policy and come up with their own plans, which are not necessarily KPIs, as KPIs should be handed down from the boss, the president. The main argument in this piece is that our government cannot achieve anything without clear, measurable and transparent KPIs for each ministry, provincial and local government. We all know that if you aim at nothing you will hit it every time. The zero that is being added to the economy by ministers is in line with their opaque KPIs.
In the past we have seen prominent recalls of cabinet ministers such as those of Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan from the finance ministry. How is the public to understand the justification of such recalls without knowing what the KPIs of the ministers were and by how much they were missed?
Here are the real reasons why ministers’ KPIs are a secret. First, they are not being paid for performing the job they are hired to do. The position is a smokescreen. They are being paid for loyalty to the political party that got elected into power. In order to remain in power the political party needs them and their constituency to be happy in order to assure re-election. It would therefore be belittling to then insult them with a working class chore called a KPI. Their position is an accolade for achievements elsewhere. It is in the same ilk as knighthood. It is not really a job, as everyone thinks of a job with a boss and mandatory targets.
The second reason why ministers’ KPIs are a secret is obvious and is linked to the ceremonial nature of the position and its pomposity. They are by and large not the best people to deliver on pinpoint precision type of targets. They simply lack the skills and orientation. There could be a few exceptions but, by and large, government ministers in South Africa are not necessarily a parade of the cream their field has to offer. Having stringent and published KPIs would be setting them up to fail.
Finally, the KPIs have no meaningful importance because revenues and salaries are not directly proportional to performance. It is only through persistent under-performance by government that there would eventually be a direct impact on GDP. Unlike their private sector counterparts, government leaders have a revenue stream that is, in the short term, immune to performance effects. With one or two exceptions, our ministers exist in an ideal world where they are not bothered by time and revenue anxieties. To all intents and purposes strict KPIs would be an affront to their prestige, apart from being inertly superfluous. That is why their KPIs, if they have them, are a closely guarded secret.
25 July 2020
Comrade Controversy writes in his personal capacity. Post comments below.