Carol Coetzee is the Head of Department of Provisional Treasury for KwaZulu-Natal. She has been a public servant for 30 years and has had many accomplishments that have been at a policy and strategic programmes level.
Many people won’t necessarily know what the implications of these policies have been. However, one of them was the development of Operation Sukuma Sakhe, which then became a policy directive for the entire country. The goal of this directive was to bring government departments together at community level. If a family, for example, needed to access a grant but did not have identity documents, the relevant documents would be brought together to provide a holistic solution to the household rather than having to go to 3-4 different government buildings, which is unaffordable for many rural communities. “That was a great initiative and we have seen the impact in terms of addressing some of the societal issues at a ward level including improved integrated planning across the different spheres of government” says Carol.
The Provincial Treasury, as it needs to be accountable for public funding, has also implemented several initiatives to ensure that there is good governance. Carol added, “With our support initiatives, we’ve seen an improvement in the audit outcomes of the provincial departments and the public entities that we guide and support which reflects an enhancement of governance in the public sector.”
Carol commented that she most enjoys socio-economic development achievements, where they reach out to communities and measurable impact can be seen.
“During FIFA 2010 World Cup, we made sure we had public viewing areas, so people out in the far-flung areas were able to enjoy the hype and watch the soccer on big screens and all come together. The other achievements are the creches that we have been able to help. They were in shocking conditions, they had pit latrines, and we are talking about little ones from 0 – 5 years old, without educational toys to play with. I thoroughly enjoyed going into those communities and seeing the change in terms of giving those little ones a head-start with proper facilities and providing teachers with a formal setting to build a good foundation for these future generations.”
Reflecting on who has inspired her, Carol said that she was privileged to meet Grant Oosthuizen who is an incredible young man. He is severely handicapped (though he would not like me saying that) and can only manage to control the movement of one organ of his body and that’s a toe. However, he charges around in his wheelchair, is a graphic designer, plays bowles for South Africa, and does ballroom dancing and anything his heart desires.
“There is nothing that stops Grant,” explains Carol. “He is the most happy, respectful person I have ever meet. He does not let anyone stop him; he is amazing. He started an NGO called Get Inspired, where other disabled people are taught to make arts and crafts so they can earn an income and lead dignified lives. Whenever, I have a bad day, I think of him, this is someone that is truly inspirational as he has overcome substantial hurdles in this life with a smile on his face.”
A Bumpy Road
Carol said that over the last 30 years she has had a bumpy road including both personal and work challenges. “On a personal side, I had major back surgery, which required me to be out of the office for two – three months. That really humbled me as well. It made me realise that mental health is important because at the time I was in hospital, they couldn’t diagnose the underlying cause of my health challenges post the major operation of fusing 9 vertebra. I was frustrated and humiliated by the way I had to be washed in bed, and I was in a very dark space. I was visited by a psychiatrist to talk to me, which was the first time I realised how crucial mental health is for anyone. I still to this day if I am facing a challenge seek professional help. Making sure I stay healthy and fit is important given my pressurised job.”
When it comes to her career, Carol has had to make tough decisions while working with hard-core leaders. She says, “I think what is important is to be able to say no at the right time and to give alternative solutions rather than being viewed as obstructing. There have been a lot of difficult decisions to be made. I think as long as you ensure your integrity is intact, and you and your values and ethics, even difficult people will see that what you are saying is correct and they will respect you for it.”
Carol says that she probably has about ten years left in the public sector before she retires. In this time, she would really like to change the way that government is perceived. She says that she wants to change this perception by tackling the issue of corruption through putting proper systems in place, holding people accountable through empowerment, and ensuring that there is consequence management.
She added that she wants to professionalise the public sector. “I try and encourage young graduates to join the public sector and to change how government is perceived. It’s a privilege to be a government official and we are here to serve the public. It’s not only the right thing to do, but we have a mammoth responsibility to change the lives of our communities.
Being a female still has several challenges, says Carol, irrespective of what sector you enter. Young women must seize opportunities, don’t be afraid to take on something you have never done before. In advising others she says that each challenge is different, you need to understand that you will be learning every day. “I went into the film industry as a CEO of a brand new entity, with no knowledge of the sector, it was an amazing experience, so be open to new experiences.”
“You need to be passionate and have empathy for your team. That’s what I have learnt over the years, spend time and create a better relationship with your staff. You need to be respectful of who you are working with and be professional because you will not and cannot succeed on your own. I always say, don’t be on time, be early. Being a chartered accountant, sets that foundation, you have certain ethics and values that you will always have in place by the nature of the training and the profession.
Carol says that when she does have time to relax, she loves the outdoors, going for a hike in the berg, or a long walk along the beach. She added, “I love game parks, I read quite a bit, I love photography and I go to Splashy Fen every year, which is my time to thoroughly unwind and enjoy local music.”