Building a better Public Service for a better South Africa

Monday, September 11, 2023

As South Africa marks Public Service Month, President Cyril Ramaphosa has placed a spotlight on the vital role of individuals, who work in the country’s administration, in improving the well-being of citizens. 

In his weekly newsletter to the nation on Monday, the President said the task of building a better South Africa is enabled by the diligence, care, ethical conduct and innovation of the country’s 1.2 million public servants.

The President highlighted that public servants are expected to observe Batho Pele principles such as courtesy, openness and transparency, maintaining service standards and giving best value, as they deliver on government’s mandate.
Public servants must uphold the standards expected of them, especially at points of service. The President said that they are expected to advance social and economic development through the services that they provide to citizens. 
“We often think that public servants are lacking in the provision of services to citizens and yet there are areas of distinction in the public service that don’t make the headlines.
“One speaks here about the committed civil servants behind frontline service counters, in our community clinics, at our border posts, in our foreign missions around the world, in our police stations and in our classrooms, and at the forefront of scientific endeavour in our various institutions.

“These public servants get on with their tasks in relative anonymity, serving the South African people with diligence. One hears about situations when things go wrong, but one doesn’t hear about the thousands of people who every day apply for ID cards and passports at Home Affairs offices around the country, and who receive their documents in less than two weeks. Little is reported about the improvements brought about by the new Branch Appointment Booking system and e-service,” he said. 

The President emphasised that work must continue because “we cannot build an accountable, professional civil service, as long as there are individuals who see public office as a vehicle for self-enrichment”.
At the same time, he said, credit must be given where it is due to the vast majority of civil servants who “rise each day to prepare to go to work, serving the South African people with honesty and integrity”.

“While many citizens daily experience the orderliness, professionalism and courtesy of frontline service officials, the headlines and online debates are often reserved for public servants involved in corruption or mismanagement. It is correct that these activities be exposed and action taken against those responsible.
“We also need to recognise where progress is being made,” the President said. 

Professionalising the public service

Last week, President Ramaphosa highlighted in Parliament the commendable work underway in departments to discourage corruption, including the completion of over 11 000 lifestyle audits of public servants in national government.

Later this year, government will gazette several regulations to guide the implementation of the framework for the professionalisation of the public service that was adopted by Cabinet last year.

The President said these regulations will contribute to greater stability in the leadership ranks of the public service, ensure that recruitment processes are more rigorous, and that prospective public servants undergo competency testing before taking up positions. 

“The implementation of the framework will improve the conditions of service for public servants and bring stability to departments that have undergone prolonged periods of uncertainty and flux. A better trained civil service, which attracts suitably qualified individuals, will engender greater public confidence,” he said. 
While recognising the critical work of the public service and commending the many public servants who diligently serve the nation, the President acknowledged that there is much room for improvement.
“It is for this reason that we have embarked on far-reaching public service reforms that will help build a State that is both capable and developmental; a State that both provides citizens with efficient frontline services and improves the quality of their lives,” the President said. –