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Proposals for State Reform

A collaborative series of position papers on how to make the state work better



Three position papers, to be released by the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) in August 2019, collectively argue for reforms in key regulatory and administrative institutions to realise a rigorous reduction in corruption and in the influence of patronage in South African politics. These reforms aim to improve the political accountability, efficiency, and the developmental effectiveness of South Africa’s public administration.


In his 2019 State of the Nation Address, the President recognised that “our greatest efforts to end poverty, unemployment and inequality will achieve little unless we tackle state capture and corruption in all its manifestations and in all areas of public life.” The President further committed government to working with South African society in the fight against these threats and in strengthening the state’s ability to promote its democratic mandate and address the needs of the people. These are significant commitments. They are indicative of a widely evidenced momentum in government, and in the broader society, in favour of reversing the erosion of state institutions and reaffirming the values and aspirations of the post-apartheid project.


It has been suggested that in order to address the phenomenon of ‘state capture’, to stabilise and improve our governmental institutions, the country simply needs more ethical leaders and a citizenry mobilised around accountability. This idea places an unwise degree of faith in the morality of future political leaders and citizens. The current challenge is more structural in nature and therefore crucial reforms in the South African state are required. These reforms would allow South Africa to insulate its public administration from illicit political interference at the same time that it progressively opens channels of upward mobility and tackles poverty and inequality.


The Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI), in collaboration with civil society actors, is poised to release three position papers in August 2019 on the following themes:


  1. State procurement

The state procurement system is the major site of corruption in the state, but reforms to the procurement system itself should, we suggest, focus on enabling the state to play its intended role in supporting economic and social development. This is a vital ingredient in reducing pressure to use state resources to build political factions. Here we propose a focus on loosening the rules to facilitate good purchasing practice and black economic empowerment, but strengthening mechanisms of contract management, including through an innovative mechanism incentivising private enforcement, to ensure that goods and services purchases are delivered, and private sector capacities are built.


  1. Public service recruitment

We outline proposals that focus on ensuring that the executive retains control over the policy direction of government, but that recruitment below a certain level in the public service (national and provincial government), and in local government, is depoliticised. Reforms in this area of state legislation are fundamental to stabilising government institutions, and in limiting the space for graft in the public procurement system.



  1. Appointments in criminal justice institutions

The legal framework that governs the appointment to and removal of senior personnel from key institutions of the criminal justice system has contributed to a blurring of the political-administrative divide and has severely constrained efforts to contain corrupt practices. We focus on proposals for increasing the independence of key institutions through changes in the selection and removal processes – in particular we focus on the National Director of Public Prosecutions, the National Commissioner of the South African Police Service, the head of the Directorate of Priority Crimes, and of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.



These position papers aim to

  1. a) Support public debate on the reform of key regulatory and administrative institutions;
  2. b) Support the work of policy makers and reformers within political parties and the state; and
  3. Develop a strategy for civil society actors that have an interest in reducing corruption and patronage: the papers provide information which can help civil society target the right pressure points for state reform.


These position papers are informed by engagements and research on the subject of state reform over the past 8 years. In 2018, PARI organised a series of roundtable discussions on various facets of state capture and how to respond to this. The roundtables were followed by an international conference, which enabled academics, civil society organisations, government officials, media and the public at large to engage at both theoretical and practical levels with issues of institutional reform in South Africa and more broadly in the global South.


The Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) is a Johannesburg-based organisation that studies the effectiveness of state institutions. We generate high-quality research to better understand the drivers of institutional performance in the public sector and improve implementation of policies in relevant fields.


PARI would like to partner with you, as a media platform, to enliven public debate on issues of state reform and accountability, to engage with other institutions working on state reform and publicise the position papers as concrete proposals for policy makers and civil society.


For more information on campaign events or interviews, please contact:


Vishanthi Arumugam –, 0828906365

Baaitse Nethononda ­–, 0832559695