The new sheriff in town

2010-05-31 00:00

CALL him the “new sheriff” in town or even the “transformer”, Dr Vusumuzi Wela is wearing his badge as the complaints officer for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education (DoE) with pride.

He has been appointed to make the department more accessible and as his name suggests, he has been tasked to build up the house of the KZN DoE by ensuring that the Batho Pele principles are being adhered to.

This can only mean good news for a department with a reputation as one of the worst in the province for its poor and tardy services.

The appointment of public liaison ­officers in all government departments around the country was the idea of President Jacob Zuma. This decision was based on the White Paper published in 1997 on Transforming Public Service Delivery and the fact that a new approach to the delivery of services would be necessary for the new ­government.

“The idea of Batho Pele really revolves around eight principles which must be followed by all public servants, one of those being that the public must have access to service,” said Wela.

“For President Zuma, it was not enough for us to be happy that the public had a platform to complain. When he came to power, he started a public liaison unit in all departments to run concurrently with the launching of the presidential hotline to ensure a speedy resolution to problems, which the president is very serious about,” he added.

Since the implementation of this programme in October last year, Wela said they have received substantial complaints from members of the public.

He said the more serious complaints ranged from fraud and misappropriation of funds, to questionable appointments. But generally, the dominant ­issues on a day-to-day basis are those of salaries, complaints of overcrowding and lack of infrastructure from schools, and parents complaining about school fees.

“I think it is going well. When we started we were getting on average about 45 complaints each month, ­although it used to fluctuate. But now it is getting less. But I think the disadvantage would be that sometimes people don’t know exactly what we do here. They will call you for something small that could have been handled at the school or district level.”

Wela has a total of 45 complaints ­officers operating under him. These include those placed within the 12 district offices, as well as a complaints officer in each of the four service centres and those in the different divisions within the department.

He added that the prescribed turn­around strategy for any lodged complaint is three days. This means you must have received feedback within this time once you’ve raised a problem.

However, to prevent his team being sometimes sent on a wild goose chase, Wela said they do require something tangible before looking into a matter.

“We need a little more information to go on than the fact that a school principal is corrupt because he is building a nice house for his family, as it is sometimes the case.”

Service providers not being remunerated for services rendered and department employees being wrongfully dismissed are examples of the wrongs that have been corrected through this service.

“We are not a crime-busting unit nor are we fraud or corruption specialists. But we do our best to make sure that situations are dealt with.”

“What we do is call the relevant departments. We sit around the table with colleagues who have the right expertise for the problem until we come up with a solution. I would say that is working perfectly.”

What makes Wela so right for this job is his history as a language teacher.

“My whole teaching life from 1971 to 2000 was as a language teacher,” he says.

He is fluent in Zulu, English and Afrikaans. His major for both his Honours and Masters degrees was Afrikaans. Wela also has training in public relations, while his doctorate focused on negotiating conflict management, which he is now able to apply to his new job.

“I love every minute of it. I wake up looking forward to it. I’m learning a lot about human nature.”

While the nature of his job involves angry and frustrated complainants, Wela admitted that getting a thank-you after a job well done makes all the difference.

On the perception of the department being one of the worst in service delivery, Wela believes this is changing.

He said this was because of the ­Provincial Service Delivery Transformation Committee which has been “criss-crossing” the province, teaching school and district office employees how to be polite and accessible.

“I must say since the training started I have seen a big improvement. ­Obviously there will be expectations but in the main, I think we are catching up.”

He added that people needed to ­understand that the department has 160 000 employees and while it might seem as though people are being pushed from pillar to post, sometimes people are trying to direct them as best they can.

 

Pull-out

You can call Wela on 033 392 1087; Fax your complaints on 033 392 1225 or email vusumuzi.wela@kzndoe.gov.za. You can also phone the call centre line on 086 059 6363. Should you fail to get through to the call centre number, Wela said you can leave a message and someone will get back to you. He said they are in the process of upgrading the KZN Education website where complaints could also be logged. But until then, people can leave messages by logging on the website, choosing the complaints box and leaving a short message. Thereafter a call center agent will get back to them.

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