Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: REUTERS
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: REUTERS

The forward-looking exercise of generating innovative models for a “Government 4.0” structure — and the transformative benefits it promises — falls to Senzo Mchunu, the new public service & administration minister. For this he will have to lean heavily on the brains trust at the presidential commission on the fourth industrial revolution.       

What had been expected to be the result of painstaking government design work over many months seems to have unravelled at the last minute, sacrificed at the altar of realpolitik. President Cyril Ramaphosa has to make do with this negotiated government structure as he gets on with the task of righting ship RSA. 

Faced with this mammoth salvage operation it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, particularly the urgent task of moving beyond rhetoric on the fourth industrial revolution and to start exploring suitable government structures to cater for this inevitability.

The benefits are numerous: improved analytics, planning and decision-making, and cross-sectoral co-ordination within and outside of government.

One aspect of the government’s structure that is ripe for a 4.0 upgrade is the broad area of child services, which includes education, early childhood development, health, welfare, and sport — all under separate departments. 

The digital tools of the fourth industrial revolution provide the ability to consolidate all the metrics for these child-related functions into a single view of the child’s success factors — the quantified child. This vantage point and the unique insights it brings throw into stark relief the disjointed view of the child that stems from the archaic practice of child services siloed in separate state departments. 

It brings into question the absence of a central management and co-ordinating governance structure for children — alluding to the need for a suprastructure to house and manage these cross-sectoral functions. Perhaps an all-encompassing superministry for children. 

Basic education and early childhood development are obvious candidates to anchor such a structure, while sports and child welfare may not be as obvious. But if we consider that 78% of the department of social development’s customers are children, and that government-provided sport is overwhelmingly child oriented, the idea of a children’s superministry starts to make sense. 

DA leader Mmusi Maimane seems to have caught on, recently proposing a merger of the sports ministry with basic education “to achieve bottom-up transformation in sport”. Broadening this bisectoral integration to include functions beyond sports and education — such as child safety, early childhood development, health and welfare — points us decidedly towards a multisectoral children’s superministry. Nonchild-related components can handily be absorbed into other ministries. 

The benefits are numerous: improved analytics, planning and decision-making, and cross-sectoral co-ordination within and outside of government. Just as important is the ability of parents to monitor their children’s progress in areas beyond scholastic performance. 

One example (of many) is the twin scourges of pupil pregnancies and the youth drug problem, where the departments of education, health, police and social development scramble for solutions in an unco-ordinated fashion. The children’s superministry is the best vehicle for co-ordinating these and other cross-sectoral interventions.

Another area that is due for a 4.0 upgrade is the design of a digitally driven smart government. This would include transforming home affairs into a smart affairs department — by moving security-related functions such as border management to the security cluster and consolidating all ICT-related departments and state-owned enterprises such as the State Information Technology Agency into the redesigned smart ministry. 

To craft an innovative 4.0 design that is unique to SA, the government will need to forego preconceived outcomes and eschew the tyranny of “best practice”. Given that it takes three to five years to entrench a new government structure, and the high costs associated with reorganisation, it is only prudent to initiate the process at the advent of this new administration. 

A transparent process with extensive consultation across all stakeholders will ensure a robust nonpartisan outcome that supports the country’s long-term policy and developmental goals, and hopefully one that is acceptable to any future government. 

• Phala is a management consultant in the areas of strategic change, digital innovation and organisation.