President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of the multiparty cabinet of the Government of National Unity (GNU) has been broadly welcomed as a move towards a more inclusive government that could make progress in addressing the multiple challenges the country faces.

There’s no denying that this is a historic moment, says Professor Parmi Natesan, CEO of the Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA), but the right choices need to be made.

“It’s very heartening that the President has committed the GNU to professionalising the public service based on ‘integrity and good governance’ and that they intend appointing people who are ‘committed, capable, hard-working and also have integrity’,” she says.

These criteria outlined by the President align well with the qualities of ethical and effective leadership outlined in King IV: integrity, competence, responsibility, accountability, fairness, and transparency.

“These are noble intentions, but time will tell whether the right people have been appointed and whether the results truly benefit South Africa Inc and its citizens,” Prof Natesan adds.

Principle 1 of King IV states: “The governing body should lead ethically and effectively.” King IV’s linking of ethics and effectiveness is an important connection that is all too often forgotten, she notes. Such an approach is also consistent with Section 195 of the South African Constitution which states, amongst other things, that “a high standard of professional ethics must be promoted and maintained.”

It is thus critical to have the right people in leadership positions of our country and of our public sector entities.

Principle 7 of King IV spells it out: The governing body must possess the “appropriate balance of knowledge, skills, experience, diversity and independence”, and its practices provide recommendations for how to achieve this.

It’s equally important that the executive team is also appointed based on their competence and moral compass; and with the needs of the organisation and its strategic goals in mind.

For many years, the IoDSA has been urging the public sector to adopt the principles of good governance as outlined in the King Reports.

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) have experienced challenges because appointments to both their boards and executives have been made largely on political grounds rather than merit. By exploiting its position as the single and thus most powerful shareholder – and the inadequacies of some of the founding legislation – government has been able to side-step the principles of good governance as outlined in King IV.

“Only if the new government commits itself to good governance and professionalising the public service will it be able to deliver on its mandate of, amongst other things, much-needed improvements in service delivery,” says Prof Natesan. “The IoDSA has long argued that professionalising directorship is a key step in the journey towards better governance and thus better-performing organisations.

“I strongly urge the newly appointed ministers, their deputies, and the leadership of SOEs and other public-sector entities to reaffirm their commitment to King IV’s principles – they are the key to turning the optimism of the current moment into reality.”