State of public service ‘a disgrace’

2010-10-24 10:00

The quality of government services rendered to the people is a ­national disgrace, according to thousands of complaints ­addressed to the Office of the ­Public Protector.

The 16?136 complaints received by the watchdog this year cover a wide spectrum, ranging from the ­inappropriate conduct of officials to corruption, abuse of power and wastage of public funds.

In an interview with City Press, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said: “We are bleeding billions through corruption in the tender system and through contracts that don’t go on tender.”

She also deplored the indifference of public servants to the needs of citizens they are paid to serve.

Public servants, she said, treated citizens as nuisances ­instead of ­fellow human beings in need of help.

“Empathy with ­people is not one of the public service’s ­institutional values,” she said.

Madonsela’s office has finalised 12?316 of the complaints received in the 2009/10 financial year.

The department most complained about was justice (1?918 complaints) followed by municipalities (1?543), home ­affairs (1?501), social development and the SA Social Security Agency (1?333), the Government Employees Pension Fund (684) and the police (602).

Her office, she said, had in the course of the year managed to ­“unblock a lot of government ­service delivery bottlenecks” ­related to pensions, child and ­disability grants, government ­pension ­payouts, workers’ ­compensation, IDs, municipal service failures and unpaid fees for small ­enterprises in business with ­government.

Areas of great concern, ­according to Madonsela, were:

»?The shocking abuse of power in government departments and the way departments managed labour relations.

»?The treatment meted out to whistle-blowers. It was an issue she had taken up with justice minister Jeff Radebe, to whom she had ­proposed a national indaba on their position.

Whistle-blowers, she said, were vulnerable to ­disciplinary hearings unrelated to their reporting on fraud and corruption.

»?The “billions of rands” lost in ­issuing closed tenders was ­behind the “systemic investigation” her office will conduct to pinpoint Treasury regulations that allowed people to exploit loopholes.

Government had to revisit the permissible tender process ­deviations, she said, because they were a source of massive waste.

“Our investigations will help government claw back a whole lot of money that is just being ­looted and bring it back into the system to fund development.”

Madonsela elaborated on ­government’s “enormous responsibility” to retrain and change the ­values of front line government department service providers.

Many complaints she received concerned an attitude of “you are here to bother me”, not “you are here to collect on a promise that government made”.

People were sent from pillar to post for years and when the public watchdog ­became involved, state ­departments made excuses, like they had not received a form that should have been filed, she said.

Some political heads of ­departments had justified the ­conduct of their officials by ­pointing out that they worked ­under ­tremendous pressure and suffered rudeness from the public.

“I don’t think the rudeness of someone looking for service is ­justification to deny service.

“For me that is abuse of power,” she said.

Madonsela said she had, however, experienced ­increased understanding and cooperation from government ­departments.

“There has, for example, been speedy delivery from home affairs.

“We get IDs out within a week or two,” she said.

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