Address by President Jacob Zuma during the official launch of The Presidency Public Liaison and Hotline Service

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Programme Director;
Honourable Ministers,
Speaker of the National Assembly,
Chairperson of the NCOP,
Leaders of political parties,
Heads of Chapter 9 Institutions,
Directors-General and senior officials,
Esteemed Guests;
Members of the media,

In May this year, in the inauguration address, we invited the country to join us on a journey of renewal. We committed ourselves to the service of the nation with dedication, commitment, discipline, integrity, hard work and passion.

We called for faster service delivery, and said we have to implement the undertakings we made to our people, without delay. We emphasised that there was no place for complacency, cynicism or excuses in the service of the nation.

We made it clear that everything we do in government must contribute in a direct and meaningful way, to the improvement of the lives of our people.

That is the context in which we established the Presidential Hotline and a public liaison mechanism.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You would be aware that in the past, government has interacted with the people through izimbizo, sectoral meetings, the media, letters and various other tools. However it became clear that there was a certain type of service that was required. There was a need for an appeal mechanism for ordinary people who had been failed by the public service, who had no direct access to authority.
We realised that other than mass based problems such as access to basic services for communities, which require a holistic response by government, there are those problems that affect individuals or families directly.

We opened the service on a pilot basis on the 14th of September. We wish to emphasise that the Presidential Hotline and public liaison service does not replace the existing hotlines and public liaison facilities of departments, provinces or municipalities. It is intended to be used as a last resort where other systems have failed. Through the service, we want to introduce a culture of putting people first in all government departments as well as municipalities.
The pilot phase has allowed us to test our systems and to address whatever hitches have been experienced. The functioning of the call centre is continually being improved on the basis of the lessons learnt. One of the greatest challenges has been the high volume of calls, with the result that some people have not been able to get through.

We are working to address this challenge to ensure that we give every call the attention it deserves. We have instructed staff to treat each call as if it was the only one, and work with the caller until the problem is resolved. That on its own reduces the number of calls they can take each day. The agents spend 10 to 15 minutes on one call.

Our emphasis is on the ability to assist those who reach us rather than on the numbers. We received 27 000 calls on day one, having received almost 2500 calls in the first hour, hitting 7000 by the third hour. This showed that the service was long overdue.

Common queries and complaints across all provinces relate to housing, water and electricity. Housing matters range from unfinished RDP houses, the slow pace of housing delivery to alleged corruption in municipalities. The Department of Labour also receives many queries relating to alleged corruption, unfair dismissals and general unemployment challenges.

Labour is followed by Department of Social Development enquiries, which predominantly relate to alleged corruption in the social grants system and access to social grants. Home Affairs and Rural Development and Land Reform departments enquiries relate primarily to alleged inefficient and corrupt officials.
With regards to trends per province, 30% of enquiries received affect Gauteng. The province is followed by Limpopo, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape. Northern Cape and Mpumalanga have registered the lowest number of enquiries.

This could relate to levels of awareness about the service and access to infrastructure to phone or write to the Presidency. Many youth calls relate to failure to pay school or university feels, emphasising the challenges of access to higher education by the poor. There are also many cases relating to abuse of power by government officials at various levels and allegations of fraud and corruption.

The Presidency has also received suggestions and compliments. People also phone to state their appreciation of the work that government is doing, and appreciate the service.

It has been a challenging period for staff, given the nature of problems and the intensity of the engagement with callers. Many callers are people who have spent months or even years trying to get their problems resolved to no avail.
I experienced this first hand when the first caller broke down and cried due to the frustration she had to endure over a period of time. Fortunately her problem is being resolved to her satisfaction.

We had warned staff on the 14th to be prepared for the work as it would be emotionally draining. They have handled their work professionally as evidenced by the letters and emails of gratitude we receive from citizens who have obtained assistance. The excitement of it all is to see people's problems resolved and to see the frowns turn to smiles.

We are pressing ahead with the implementation of the service, coupled with service delivery improvement mechanisms internally in the public service. We have to continue with our efforts to re-orientate our public service towards putting people first. Well-crafted policies mean nothing if they do not change the lives of ordinary people.
Our Batho Pele principles require public servants to be courteous and responsive, and to offer good quality and value for money services. We must move faster and make our public service to begin to embody and practice these noble principles. If they do not do so, there should be consequences.

We mean business when we say we want to change the way government works. We have already begun intensive work with the public service, as part of our extensive internal communication programme.

You would have noticed that we have been holding unprecedented meetings with public servants. Our focus is on speaking directly with public servants to explain our vision, in order to improve implementation. As part of this inward looking programme, I have met with school principals and the police. I will meet with various other categories of public servants such as health professionals, social workers, local government practitioners and others. We want them to know that the people come first in everything we do, and we want excellence and faster service delivery.

We also intend to promote citizen assistance at local levels. The provinces have been requested to establish forums that include liaison officers for each municipality, so that queries and concerns are addressed at a local level. This means that if there is a water stoppage in Khayelitsha or Galeshewe, the problem should be resolved at a local level. There should be no need to call the Presidency.

Ladies and gentlemen, we invited Parliament, leaders of political parties and Chapter 9 institutions to join us today because we are partners in the task of strengthening democracy and in promoting human rights. Working together we can ensure that South Africans obtain the services they are entitled to. We urge political parties and civil society to partner with us, with the common goal of improving service delivery to the public. There is no way that one Hotline can reach all affected citizens.
Therefore, every party and every organisation that is able to assist should do so. We know that opposition parties see their role as that of monitoring what we do as government. But at some point, the monitoring can also include active assistance to those in need, in the service of the nation.

Esteemed guests;

We also acknowledge the important role played by the media in assisting many citizens in distress. Countless South Africans go to the media when they face hardships, when every knock on government doors does not elicit assistance, when some public servants become unhelpful.

We recall that during the apartheid years, some newspaper houses acted as advice centres and helped scores of people facing hardships. The contribution should be recognised and appreciated.

But there was no democratic government in place then. We now have a people's government, which should be people orientated. It should not be the work of journalists to assist citizens needing government assistance. Public servants must do their jobs.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The public liaison service and hotline is a significant step towards advancing accessibility, interaction, accountability and effectiveness in our service to the people. As we have already indicated, the main purpose of this service is to improve service delivery. It is definitely not a public relations exercise.

We urge all stakeholders to partner with us to make it a success. This includes political parties, community organizations, faith based organisations, Chapter 9 institutions and all spheres of government. We will continue with other public liaison mechanisms such as izimbizo to further promote community interaction and two way communication between the people and government.

However, our focus during this term is on ensuring faster service delivery, and on reporting back to our people. That will be the main focus of our mass public participation mechanisms as government.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have worked with various partners to establish the service. We thank Telkom, Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Neotel, for availing their technological capabilities. Also very important is the role played by SITA, the Department of Communications, GCIS, Premiers, national departments and the Presidency Public Liaison staff. Their enthusiastic work on this project has given it a good start.

We will continue to improve the service each day, until we reach a stage where each South African is able to obtain quality service with ease, as it should be.
Working together we can do more!

I thank you!

Issued by
The Presidency
Union Buildings