SA should use a more scientific approach to appoint its public protector

South Africa is in the process of selecting a new public protector to replace the incumbent, Thuli Madonsela. The country’s National Assembly is responsible for recruiting her replacement. But the way it goes about doing this is deeply flawed. By Sandiso Bazana

Firstly, the recruitment and selection ad hoc committee assembled to make the decision consists entirely of politicians. It has 11 members – six from the governing African National Congress, two from the main opposition Democratic Alliance, one from the Economic Freedom Fighters and two from smaller parties. All represent their party interests. This hugely compromises the professional ethics of recruitment and selection.

The second problem is that a mere interview process is inadequate if the aim is to identify behavioural characteristics like integrity, honesty and reliability. These are characteristics the public protector needs to have.

These problems could be addressed if a more competency based assessment selection method was used. A more professional approach would be appropriate since the key post should be occupied by an apolitical, professional person. He or she is not an elected political office bearer.

The public protector’s job is to promote clean governance in public administration. It has the power to investigate improper conduct in any sphere of government. Its goal is to strengthen South Africa’s constitutional democracy.

A proper job analysis

The public protector is required to be “fit and proper”. That means he or she must be honest, have integrity and be reliable. A proper job analysis would provide a more specific and detailed account of these key behavioural competencies. Because the current process relies on interviews, it opens the door for personal judgement and biases. Interview questions are not informed by a proper job analysis exercise.

A job analysis is a technical process. It is a systematic review of a job that culminates in identifying and determining in detail the particular duties of a job (job description) and its requirements (job specification). The process also provides details about the relative importance of the identified duties and requirements of a given job.

The private sector is often viewed as being more efficient and effective than the public sector. This is partly because, for the most part, it recruits the candidates who are best qualified. This is possible because of a thorough job analysis to determine a particular job’s inherent requirements. These include the right personality, which is often determined through instruments or exercises that assess behavioural attributes.

Psychologist Alwyn Moerdyk defines assessment as “the process of determining the presence of, and/or the extent to which, an object, person, group or system possesses a particular property, characteristic or attribute.

This is only possible through professionally managed job analysis process. This shouldn’t be difficult given that Madonsela has provided a benchmark in terms of the required properties, characteristics and attributes to seek in her successor. Her courage and integrity brought prestige to the office and made it one of South Africa’s most trusted public governance institutions.

The process of a competency-based assessment is predicated on the job specification and description. It eliminates biases and subjectivity. It is also the basis on which interviews are done. Good interview questions would be aimed at identifying a “fit and proper” candidate by interrogating their character. Only competency based interviews can achieve this.

The basis of competency-based assessment rests on the underlying principle that past behaviour predicts future performance. It directly measures skills and abilities specifically relating to, in this case, the job of a public protector. It is important to balance these skills and facets of the job with personal attributes so that allowance is made for the individual to use their discretion and creativity in achieving the job outcomes.

Competency-based assessment is highly valuable. It is related directly to the job, rather than assessing broader behavioural and past events that are not related to the job. Many of the recent interviews done by the ad hoc committee were disrespectful and demeaning of some candidates’ characters and professional statures. Some were subjected to unwarranted personal attacks. And some were subjected to inquisitions about their ideological positions with no relevance to the requirements of the job.

Competency-based assessments are in line with the requirements of the current South African labour legislation – the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Equity Act – in that applicants and employees are screened and evaluated only in terms of the inherent and critical job-related competencies.
Competency-based assessment allows for flexibility to accommodate the different candidates. It has been shown to cut across biases based on attributes such as gender, culture and race. It also obviates stereotyping and has a higher level of predictive and face validity. This is particularly important given South Africa’s transformation and affirmative action imperatives.

This is why professionals need to manage the process. The recruitment of the country’s public protector would be done better if scientific recruitment methods were followed. Parliament would do well to involve recruitment professionals to ensure that its choice of a suitable candidate is both professional and fair.

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