Striving to serve better and faster

17 April 2013

Any organisation that stands still, refusing to change, innovate and learn from the past, is doomed to fail in today's globally competitive world. Since 1994 the Public Service in South Africa has constantly adapted and changed in line with the needs of society. Some may argue that the pace of change has been too slow, or that it has not fully served the needs of the people.

Government too has been grappling with these questions. We continually review our progress and the impact and role of the Public Service, and where there are shortcomings we act.

Few people may be aware that many of Government's most notable achievements in the past few years have been built on the hard work of public servants. This picture may be at odds with those who perceive civil servants as unproductive. However, a deeper look reveals a Public Service hard at work to deliver better and faster.

In his recent message to public servants, President Jacob Zuma outlined the progress that has been made. He said that in the health sector, life expectancy is now firmly on an upward trend. Infant and under-5 mortality rates have improved significantly and the maternal mortality ratio has started to decrease.

"Mother-to-child transmission of HIV has declined sharply and there has been a huge increase in the number of people living with HIV/AIDS who are receiving anti-retroviral treatment. Similarly, there has been a significant decrease in overall serious crime, due to hard working police officials who risk their lives at times, to make our communities safer," he said.

President Zuma went on to highlight progress in education, he spoke of faster turnaround times in Government and improved monitoring of the services public servants deliver to the public.

Looking back at the road we have travelled since 1994 there has indeed been progress, but we are aware that more must still be done. President Zuma spelt out the challenge we face; his words are a clarion call. "Both the SoNA and the Budget emphasised our resolve to continue tackling poverty, unemployment and inequality. We have the resources. We have the time. We must now further improve the way we work and get better results," he said in his message to public servants.

Taking the public service to the next level is our ultimate goal. This vision is encapsulated in the National Development Plan (NDP), which is Government's 2030 Vision for the country. It calls for "well-run and effectively coordinated state institutions with skilled public servants who are committed to the public good and capable of delivering consistently high quality services, while prioritising the nation's developmental objectives".

To reach our 2030 Vision, we therefore need to ensure that the Public Service is professional and capable of delivering on the commitments of the State.

As the Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu aptly stated: "For the public service to lead in the fast tracked implementation of the NDP, we need a transformed, efficient and corrupt free public service led by public servants whose only preoccupation is meeting the expectations of the public and exceed them."

However, getting to the next level as espoused in the NDP will require a shift in attitude and thinking. Issues such as corrupt public servants and an over-reliance on consultants have to be addressed. We must also take a hard look at the practice of public servants doing business with the State. Minister Sisulu's stance on this is clear, and she is pushing hard for such practices to be outlawed: "The NDP and the Public Service Commission have recommended that we prohibit public servants from doing business with the State. We have accepted this recommendation and we are working on legislation to affect this and henceforth, no public servant will be allowed to do business with the State."

In October this year the National School of Government will be launched. It will train and develop new recruits in the public service and re-orientate and educate all currently employed public servants. The introduction of the National School of Government is one of the measures to institutionalise a culture of efficiency, effectiveness and professionalism within our ranks.

These sorts of interventions are at the core of what the NDP says about enhancing the capacity of the State. But the hard work must start now, the NDP is our roadmap, however it will require commitment and dedication from every public servant to get there.

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)