In 2013, Tebogo Job Mokgoro was appointed to head up the national school of government, where his mandate was to crack the whip and teach the state how to clean up its act. City Press journalist Xolani Mbanjwa chatted to the man who has just been appointed to the job of North West premier.
Professor Tebogo Job Mokgoro was notorious in the corridors of his North West offices during the late 1990s – especially on Fridays.
Mokgoro, then the director-general of the North West government, would walk from office to office on Friday afternoons, checking that nobody was leaving early to start their weekend.
He was known for ordering people to return to their offices until 5pm, when work officially ended.
So the strict 65-year-old seems to be the right man for his new job as principal of the National School of Government, where civil servants and councillors will learn to work harder, smarter and more ethically.
Mokgoro is currently a visiting professor at Wits University’s Graduate School of Public & Development Management, where he teaches politicians the values and principles of providing services effectively, fairly, equitably and without bias.
Those close to Mokgoro describe him as a person with a passion for an accountable, honest, transparent and effective civil service. It’s been a lifelong passion.
Born in Kimberley, the father of five – he was married to former Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro – holds a master of public administration degree from the University of Toledo in the US.
He’s unequivocal: politicians, he says, are largely to blame for most of the things that have gone wrong in the civil service, including the decline in work ethic.
“When the fish is rotten, start checking the head – you will see that is where it started. So, similarly, a lot of times when things go wrong, check leadership,” he says.
“A lot of times when children in families go astray, check mummy and daddy. So politicians are absolutely to blame.”
He pulls no punches.
“If I, as the leader and manager, do not do the walkabouts to understand what is happening in my department, to impart a sense of (a good) attitude to my subordinates, I would not be able to kill (a bad) attitude.”
He believes the new school, which Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu launched this week, will change the face of the public service.
While Mokgoro admits that it will be almost impossible for a bad civil servant to unlearn corrupt practices, the onus is on government to appeal to the “good side” of all civil servants in order to beat corruption.
“If you sit me down and ask: ‘Do you understand that those billions are meant for that poor child in the rural area, in the informal settlement? That once the billions leave the department and you have so many millions of children, you actually determine, on average, how much you will spend per capita on primary school kids?’
“If you show me, through this analysis, that I am actually stealing from the poor, I am a human being, I think it will begin to knock.”
He’s also no stranger to teaching – Mokgoro lectured for 10 years at the University of Bophuthatswana (now part of North-West University).
He says interest in the new school’s curriculum has grown remarkably. Senior managers, such as heads of department, directors-general, ministers and MECs have approached him about wanting to teach and to offer their input.
“Part of the rationale, apart from filling our capacity gaps, is that you can actually maximise your effectiveness if you have facilitators or lecturers who have experience, because we are dealing with practical things.
“And if you are fresh from university, it is very difficult for you to really appreciate how things work in government, precisely because the public sector is such a complicated environment.”
The school’s curriculum is not yet finalised, but Mokgoro says its compulsory induction programme for employees in municipalities and in provincial and national government departments will provide thorough orientation for new civil servants.
He says the recruitment programme is designed to attract top talent into the civil service from among school leavers and university graduates.
But it won’t just be bright-eyed newcomers learning the ropes – those who are already in the civil service will have much to learn as well.
“When a senior manager takes a job in the public service and all they have done was learn management principles in an American textbook and it is private sector oriented, they don’t understand the public sector,” says Mokgoro.
“They start in the public service and the political principle tells them this and at the same time your training tells you something opposite.
“Suddenly you ask yourself, ‘Why did I let myself in here?’ because it is such a difficult and unpredictable environment, and that is the nature of it.
“We need to sensitise you in this generic sense, but when you go to that department we need to customise that sensitisation to say: ‘In the department of health, we have serious challenges and these are the dynamics. This is what we should look for and this is what you can expect.’”
President Jacob Zuma will officially open the National School of Government on December 9.