We aspire to a public service that puts people first

03 April 2013

At one time or the other we all have to visit a government office, and often we approach the trip with trepidation, fearing that it will be a time consuming experience. More often than not we are pleasantly surprised at the quick, friendly and efficient service.   

As government, we are adamant that every South African should receive world class treatment every time they make use of government services. President Jacob Zuma stated: “If citizens continue to complain about poor services it will mean we are not getting value for our money.”

The National Development Plan (NDP), which is Government’s 2030 vision for South Africa 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 the State made to its citizens.

The Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu 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.”

Achieving this vision requires innovative thinking and a new approach. The Public Management Bill is a mechanism geared towards creating a highly effective public service. It will create norms and standards around various issues, including human capacity development, anti-corruption measures and discipline management.

An additional measure the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) will introduce is the Presidential Remuneration Commission which will be tasked to investigate working conditions and review salaries in the public service.

Additionally, it will also ensure that the Government is able to attract, retain and motivate suitable, competent public servants.

During its first phase the Commission will focus on educators, because good teachers are critical for our country’s development. Minister Sisulu stated: “We want to make teaching an attractive profession.”

The Public Administration Bill is also well positioned to build a capable state through a uniform system of public administration. Contrary to misconceptions, the Bill does not promote the centralisation and concentration of public administration in the hands of national government.

It empowers the Minister to set norms and standards on a wide range of personnel and public administration practices, procedures and systems. As was recently explained by Minister Sisulu, “A norm and standard is intended to guide employers and employees in the public administration and to set parameters for important procedures.” She added: “It will include codes of good practice, default procedures, principles and factors to be taken into account in decision making”.

In an effort to positively influence the mindset of public servants, all new public servants will in future attend compulsory induction training to ensure that they fully understand expectations and the values they need to uphold. We want to make sure that all public servants embody the values of Batho Pele which means ‘People First’.

The final leg of our drive to transform the public service and to improve service delivery is the Public Service Charter. The Charter will regulate the partnership between the State, public servants and citizens to enhance productivity and fast track service delivery programmes.

Minister Sisulu stated: “The Charter is a statement of intent/pledge that enables service beneficiaries to understand what they can expect from the state and forms the basis of engagement between the government, citizens and organs of civil society.”

Furthermore, it will provide a feedback mechanism that will allow the public to compliment or raise complaints about the conduct and posture of public servants and the quality, and efficacy of the assistance they provided.

Each state institution will implement the feedback mechanism, take prompt steps to remedy any complaints, and maintain a record of grievances. It is expected of the Minister of Public Service and Administration to submit a quarterly report to Cabinet and Parliament on the state of compliance with the Charter.

Speaking at an economic summit in East London the Minister in The Presidency responsible for the National Planning Commission (NPC) Trevor Manuel, provided a clear message on the need to turn the public sector around. He stated: “If we don’t get these things right, if we don’t fix the public service … however many plans we have to build roads, the Industrial Policy Action Plan and everything else will not work. If we don’t get teachers to teach our children … we don’t get the skills set right, we will fail as a nation.”

These are not just mere words by Minister Manuel, they are a true reflection of the hard work that still needs to be done. All journeys begin with just one step; the DPSA has already taken several steps along the path to ensuring a more professional and committed public service. The journey could be a long one but it is one we are determined to complete.

We owe it to our citizens as we continually strive to truly ensure a better life for all. With all this said, these plans and intentions can only be effective with citizens actively participating in what government intends doing to fix the public service. Compliment the services that were provided satisfactorily, importantly also complain where you feel short changed by the public servants. This is what our Public Service Charter intends to achieve.

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