n Journal of Public Administration - New Public Management reforms in the South African public service : 1999-2009

Special issue 1
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



The main research question of this paper is: to what extent has the South African public service been influenced by New Public Management (NPM) reforms from 1999 to 2009. This article looks at key areas which are generally considered to be part of the NPM range of ideas.

One of the tenets of NPM reform is decentralisation. While a framework has been put in place, in practice there has not been as much decentralisation as is normally presumed. Instead, there have been moves towards a stronger central state in recent years. For example, there has been the strengthening of the core centre of government, the growth of the stronger developmental state and greater Treasury control. Public service staff were cut in the 1990s. This was not a particularly successful strategy because it led to the exodus of skilled staff. Since 2000 there has been targeted growth to create a more professional public service.
Corporatisation is another widely used NPM reform that has been adopted in the form of public entities. Again, the growth of public entities is perhaps not as widespread as sometimes presumed. The Senior Management Service (SMS) has been created to promote greater efficiency in the state. The evidence on the SMS is mixed. While there have been some good managers, there was concern about the quality of a number of others. Contract appointments are a major feature of NPM. The government has employed directors-general mostly on three year contracts. While this has had its advantages, such as performance-based contracts, it has led to the premature departure of skilled staff from the public service. Performance management has been a major component of public service reform. However, it has only been erratically and inconsistently applied. Lastly, improved service delivery is at the heart of NPM. There have been a number of measures undertaken to improve service delivery. The evidence suggests there have been mixed results. There is still perhaps not a systematic service culture in the public service.
The article concludes that, while there are elements of NPM in the reform programme, it has not taken off in the way that has commonly been presumed.

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