Transforming South Africa’s Racial Bureaucracy: New Public Management and public sector reform in contemporary South Africa

Monday, 18 June, 2012 - 15:00

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The old school or ‘traditional’ model of public administration is under siege. For almost a century, it seemed to epitomize the summum of modern public management, bolstering the capacity and ability to impose order, grow and deliver services on a large scale for those states that came to adopt its precepts. Yet, with the waning of the twentieth century, traditional public management (OPM) has come under fire from both left and right, in advanced economies and in the developing contexts of the glibly stated ‘global South’. Too cumbersome and inflexible to address the increasingly diverse and fast-changing needs of modern economic and social systems, prone to stagnation, inefficiency or, even worse, corruption – OPM has been branded in need of serious reform and subjected to various processes of restructuring and change. This article provides an illustration of the complex and fraught work of public sector reform in practice. After briefly retracing some of the achievements of OPM and the range of criticisms it has been subject to since the early 1980s, we focus on the unexpected consequences of incorporating elements of New Public Management (NPM) thinking in the design of the Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (CIPRO) in South Africa. The case’s interest lies not only in its sensationalist qualities, or as an illustration of the sorry state of the public sector in a transition economy, but in its stark illustration of the political and institutional factors that make public sector reform such a difficult policy agenda generally.  


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