Will the School of Government work?

2013-11-05 10:00

The School of Government is the state’s third attempt at training a new cadre of public servants Government’s ambitious plan to train 1.6 million civil servants by 2017 into diligent and devoted professionals is a step in the right direction.

Training will take place at the new National School of Government, which was launched last week.

But the biggest challenge facing the initiative would be government’s ability to implement the plan at local, provincial and national departments.

Few people, especially those in government, will deny that the lack of policy implementation is one of this government’s biggest challenge and this is why similar training projects, and other progressive policies, have failed to achieve their objectives.

Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu also acknowledged this public scepticism during the launch, but promised that government had learnt from past failures.

The first post-apartheid training and development initiative for civil servants dates back to 1995. This was at a time when the white paper on the transformation of the public service highlighted the need for the development of the “professional capabilities” of public servants.

The white paper also proposed that civil servants must be equipped with the “necessary knowledge, skills and competencies to carry out their jobs effectively”.

It led to the formation of the South African Management Development Institute in 1996, which had to suspend all its training courses two years later because of “unsatisfactory” performance.

The institute failed to train a minimum of 35 000 public servants that year.

In 2008, amid much fanfare and after numerous attempts to centralise training and improve performance in public administration, government opened the Public Administration Leadership and Management Academy with the same purpose of aligning the training of civil servants.

The academy didn’t live up to expectations and folded two weeks ago, making way for the National School of Government.

Despite these challenges, government is adamant that by the time all civil servants have gone through the new school in 2017, they will be moulded into polite, accessible, well-dressed public service cadres who are impartial in their work.

They should also know how to treat members of the public in every state office with the decorum expected of a civil servant.

This dedicated “cadre” will not only know how to do their job effectively, but will understand the history of SA and the importance of their roles as the face of the public service.

Reforming the public service from the apartheid-era government, which was authoritarian, wasteful, inefficient and only catered for a select minority prior to 1994, as well as the self-governing homeland administrations, was never going to be easy.

It was the same case with the chronic corruption of the self-governing homeland administrations, which lacked skills to fully cater for underdeveloped communities.

The fact that government identified the need for a public service that is responsive to the needs of the people, and persistently went back to the drawing board when it failed, should be commended because it will reinforce public servants’ commitment to service delivery.

One does not have to look any further than the state of the public service reports by the Public Service Commission, the Auditor-General and the ministry of performance monitoring and evaluation to know that the civil service is in a poor state and that a thriving National School of Government with customised training can turn things around.

In a democracy with 52 million people, the 1.6 million government employees should know that the majority of people live in poverty and rely on government for services at clinics and hospitals, Home Affairs, schools and police stations. The public seeks these services, sometimes at great travel costs.

Civil servants must know they are at the front line of service delivery and at most times, are the last resort for citizens seeking help.

If anything, government employees must ensure that the public service charter, which Sisulu introduced earlier this year, does not end up being just another piece of paper, but is a real commitment to serve the public in an unbiased and impartial manner with dignity and pride.

It is difficult to see how government will teach corrupt civil servants to do things above board because, as the saying goes, a leopard never changes its spots.

The levels of malfeasance in all spheres of government – such as the failure of senior managers to declare financial interests, failure to develop human resources plans, and to report accurately on how they spend their budgets – are high, but not all civil servants are corrupt.

Every day, many wake up to change the imbalances of the past and understand the central role they play in making a “better life for all”.

» Talk to us: What would your ideal public servant be like?

Lindiwe Sisulu’s ideal public servant

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