Public service is a call to serve people

2018-09-16 10:29
"Can't do much", says Home Affairs. (File)

"Can't do much", says Home Affairs. (File)

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Public service originates from the need to serve the people. The people choose a government to run public affairs on their behalf and for their benefit. For a country to maintain order and prosper, there must be a functioning government.

In modern democracies political formations are voted into power on a regular basis and, once in power, a government must deliver on the expectations of the populace.

In South Africa the majority of people who vote for the government are from poor and working class backgrounds. They vote hoping the government they elect will develop policies that are pro-them and will free them from poverty, in all its dehumanising forms.

They trust the public service and believe in its inherent nobleness.

The public service should be rooted in a people-centred and socialist ideological perspective; have a natural predisposition towards addressing the social and economic concerns of the people; and not robbing, harming or hurting them. The public service is underpinned by the values of ubuntu, respect for human dignity and equality. It is also guided by the belief – a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Ideally, people should join the public service because they genuinely believe in its tenets and fundamentals and have the welfare of people at heart – not because of the scarcity of the jobs they would otherwise have preferred. People should join the public service to lend a hand and help the country, especially the vulnerable masses, on behalf of government. They must join the public service because they want to serve, without reservations. They must be ideologically clear that joining the public service is not just a job, but an obligation towards human kind.

Unfortunately, some people join the public service for the wrong reasons.

Unlike those in the private sector, people join the public service knowing that the government does not make profits and therefore does not have the large sums of capital that the private sector has.

People join the private sector as business owners or employees to offer a service or product with the aim of making money. They expect to be rewarded.

Those who join the public service to make money are in the wrong business. Of course, the public service must be improved and become more professional, efficient and reliable. Government leaders must treat their employees fairly, fulfil the commitments and honour the agreements they reach.

In May a shocking incident happened at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital where staff deserted patients to protest against the non-payment of performance bonuses.

Unfortunately, the performance management system has been converted into a money-making scheme for certain employees. It is not compatible with how the government works because, although it is possible to measure an individual’s productivity in the private sector, it is difficult to objectively measure an individual’s productivity in government.

The government introduced the occupational special dispensation, which prescribes special and higher salaries for certain categories of professionals. This is evidence of the extent to which government values the contribution of public servants. It has assisted in keeping critical skills within government, thus maintaining the capacity of the state to provide quality services.

The public service is meant to be a morally upright and honourable profession. However, officials often complain about unlawful directives they receive from government leaders, including ministers, to perform illegal tasks. As much as we celebrate the public service, we should also expose these shenanigans and shield the public service from capture by thieves, who see it not as an opportunity to serve but as an opportunity to loot the resources of the state.

It is in this context that the Public Service Commission is promoting the constitutional values and principles and advocating professional ethics. However, promoting them is not enough.

The public service has, especially in the past 12 years or so, become a hub for crooks and professional thugs.

Fixing it will require more than just words and PowerPoint presentations. Professor Kwandiwe Kondlo spoke of this rot when he said recently: “Some government leaders and officials defiantly state that they do not eat ethics.” In practice, they are saying they will not adhere to professional ethics, because if they do, they would have nothing to eat.”

What is most demoralising is that government leaders stand on public platforms and preach professional ethics, but go back to their offices and engage in unethical conduct and/or allow unethical things to happen under their watch.

To correct these unethical behaviours going forward, proper values and hard truths about the public service must be forcefully infused into the new generation of public servants.

Younger public servants must be encouraged to participate robustly in the discussions about the public service and contribute towards building a proficient and caring public service.

- Mlisana is with the Office of the Public Service Commission

Read more on:    government  |  constitution  |  service delivery

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