Managing joint programmes for public service reform

ANTHONY BUTLER: Joint rollout of tranceformation set to blur departments together

According to rumours, President Cyril Ramaphosa has given the green light to the use of marijuana in the affairs of state

First published in BL PREMIUM

13 MAY 2021


There has been a big global shift in attitudes towards marijuana consumption over the past decade. Incoming US president Joe Biden even pledged to support federal decriminalisation.

Rumours now circulating in Pretoria suggest President Cyril Ramaphosa has likewise given the green light to the use of marijuana to advance intragovernmental organisational change.

Public service & administration minister Senzo Mchunu will reportedly unveil an initiative at the 20th Annual Conference of the SA Association of Public Administration and Management in Sun City later this year.

Widely accepted benefits of cannabis consumption include the management of epileptic seizures, lowered blood pressure and relief from posttraumatic stress disorder. In Switzerland — a pioneer in the use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes — the drug has been shown to reduce suicide in prisons by up to 10%. Little wonder, then, that Mchunu believes marijuana could assist in the reform of SA’s troubled public service.

Three potential benefits have been isolated by a team at the Public Service Commission. First, a senior researcher has revealed that heavy marijuana use is effective for inducting new recruits. “We take bright young people from the best universities in SA”, she observed. “It takes years to break down their moral intuitions and intellectual capabilities so they can function effectively in national government departments.”

Studies show daily cannabis use as part of the National School of Government’s “inboarding and induction programme”, could dramatically reduce “acclimatisation” times.

A second benefit of routine cannabis ingestion concerns stalled wage negotiations. Journalists detected the first signs of the new approach towards the end of April, when Mchunu called on citizens in general to provide suggested solutions to the impasse. Lying on a yoga mat, he observed that “there can be no government without citizens … They are an important component and we have to get them on board.” The Public Servants Association reportedly conceded “that’s fine with us, bru”.

A third advantage of mandatory cannabis consumption concerns Ramaphosa’s promise to remove incompetent cabinet ministers and unnecessary bureaucracy. “This poses a threat to the very existence of government”, one expert paper under peer review has said.

Building on research from scientists at the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, a presidency team has finalised a confidential “protocol for the systematic application of marijuana in national strategic planning”.

“We discovered that PowerPoint presentations delivered by officials from the department of public service & administration induce a trance-like state in those watching them,” a management consultant revealed. “It is suboptimal to engage with the department without a prior pharmacological modality.”

An organigram of the government machine, reportedly kept under wraps in the basement of the Union Buildings, has been used to try out the new approach. “The president couldn’t make any sense of it to start with,” an intern said, “but once he had a smoke he decided to blur the presidency and Treasury together.”

Meanwhile, appropriate medication has enabled senior strategy advisers to understand for the first time what the “cabinet cluster system” means.

“The department of public service & administration, the department of co-operative governance, and department of public enterprises are just co-ordinating departments”, they said. “After a few nice cookies, we realised the whole governance cluster is just lots of people trying to co-ordinate each other.”

Sceptics believe the government may find it hard to push through a reform agenda while under the influence of marijuana. But a senior government adviser pointed to a policy document pushed through the cabinet in 2005: “It is called the framework for managing joint programmes in the public service. This is exactly what we all need right now. We will try to find it tomorrow.”

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

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