3 June 2021

Driving the professionalisation of the public service - Garth Pretorius

Garth grew up in an area called Elsies River and was raised by his grandmother. Although she has sadly passed away, her influence continues to mould Garth today.

‘For those familiar with the area, I’m sure you can surmise that I grew up in less fortunate circumstances. Yet despite seemingly limited opportunities, I was supported by a community that pulled together to secure my academic future and ultimately who I am today,’ says Garth.

Crediting not only his family but his community for his success in life, Garth strives to continuously give back and make a difference where he can. Community involvement and family are thus two incredibly important and interlinked aspects of his life. Teaching has become one of his greatest passions and he firmly believes in the power of the compounding effect in driving the professionalisation of the public service.

Throughout his time at AGSA and EY Garth cultivated a holistic understanding of the challenges in the public sector.

‘As a result of the exposure to the inherent issues that exist within government, I was able to identify the solutions necessary in order to make a sustainable impact. I believe that my entire career in the public sector space afforded me invaluable insight into the inner workings of government and helped me realise the difference that can be made.’

As a partner at EY, Garth led the Government and Public Sector for the Cape Region, which comprises both the Western and Eastern Cape. This portfolio had a regional focus across financial accounting and advisory services (FAAS), forensic investigations and dispute resolution, people advisory, and performance improvements. In addition to this, he was subject matter expert for the FAAS service line.

During his years in the public sector, it became increasingly apparent that there is a need for sustainable reform and adequate training across all tiers of government. This is needed to professionalise the public service in order to build a capable and developmental public sector for our country. With this in mind, Garth launched GPA Consulting and Training (GPA) in response to a duty to serve the citizens of South Africa in driving much-needed transformation.

‘At its core, GPA is distinguished by two key characteristics. The first concerns the current challenge that exists across the sector as a whole, which is the perception around the use of consultants and the associated fees. Through GPA’s unique operating model, we aim to directly correlate fees with the skills deployed. Thus, excluding the exorbitant overhead costs associated with professional services firms, GPA seeks to dispel the negative perception that exists through our unique approach.’

The second distinguishing characteristic that Garth believes to be fundamental to driving the transformation agenda is the establishment of what calls the ‘GPA network’. The GPA network comprises a diverse array of individuals with unique skill sets and experience in the public sector who all share a passion to pioneer necessary change. ‘I believe that through this network we have the ability to drive the transformation agenda and deliver fit-for-purpose solutions,’ says Garth. ‘Overall GPA aims to take up space within the sector in a positive and transformative way. However, this is a mere glimpse into what GPA has to offer.’

Garth is also involved in advocacy projects at SAICA.

Throughout Garth’s career he has realised that people have a negative perception of the public sector. ‘Whether it is the fear of the unknown or the lack of appeal when compared to the glamour of its private sector counterpart, those within the public sector are an elite few. I do not believe that it is necessarily a need for encouragement, but rather a need to realise that greater exposure is required within the learning and workspace. The private and the public sector are not mutually exclusive and there is a glaring need for the public sector to be brought into the academic and training curriculum. Bridging this gap will only be achieved through a collective movement within the profession and until such time, the public sector will predominantly remain unchartered waters. Through GPA we aim to demonstrate the attraction of this workspace and the appeal of fulfilling work, knowing that you are making change, no matter how small.’

Being a Top 35 finalist was truly a defining moment for Garth, not only in his career but in life in general. ‘Throughout my childhood self-worth was something that I continuously grappled with … and this moment finally helped me make peace with my insecurities. I realised that no matter who you are or where you may come from, you have the ability to take up space.’

Lastly, Garth shares some serious food for thought: ‘As South Africans, we are aware that there are inherent issues that exist within our country − yet when it comes to a sense of duty in addressing these issues there is blatant lack of ownership. What we all, as South Africans, need to realise is that essentially, it is up to us to collectively drive change. An article I have written for this issue of ASA, “The onus to change the narrative”, expands upon this notion and provides context to the related public sector predicament.’

Making a difference

Garth has five suggestions on how we can make a difference in the public sector:

  • Advocate the collective recognition of responsibility by those individuals or entities that can affect change.
  • When engaging with government, be it for the delivery of goods or to render a service, we should ensure that the value allocated to the contract commensurate the offering so as to not further burden the fiscus.
  • Through every engagement with government, ensure that the solution offered incorporates a training element that is sustainable and fit for purpose.
  • In developing solutions for government, it is essential that the overarching compliance requirements do not negate from the efficacy of the solution.
  • With both solution offerings and the delivery of goods the client’s needs, as well as the greater needs of the public, have to be considered.