Campaign to professionalise the public service

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Government has unveiled a Constitutional Values and Principles campaign to promote ethics, morale and pride among public servants.

The campaign, led by the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Department of Public Service and Administration, pushes public servants to be courteous when providing a service, deliver services that are cost-effective and efficient and to promote equal access - in line with the Constitution, Batho Pele Principles and the Public Service Charter.

In its preamble, the Constitution outlines the fundamental values on which nation building and social cohesion firmly rest. It also promotes values including human dignity, the achievement of equality, the advancement of human rights and freedoms, non-racialism and non-sexism, supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law, democracy, social justice, equity and respect.

These guiding initiatives aim to transform and professionalise the public service and improve service delivery by putting into operation the ideas towards building a capable state, as enunciated in the National Development Plan (NDP), Public Service and Administration Minister Ayanda Dlodlo said on Thursday.

Dlodlo said the campaign comes at an important time when there is a perception that public servants are lazy, unconcerned and corrupt and that most of them have a price on their heads which feeds the monster of corruption.

She said the campaign will help the country contemplate the kind of public service needed to achieve the country’s developmental goals.

“The public service is essentially about a service ethos – of serving my country and fellow citizens. The public service is not for rich people nor is it preserved for the elite but a vehicle to ensure the development of our people and to be responsive to their needs.

“As elected representatives of our people, we owe it to them to live by this ethos and strive relentlessly to better their lives,” Dlodlo told the delegates.

Delegates at the launch included Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Public Service Administration Planning Monitoring and Evaluation Joseph Maswanganyi, among others.

Dlodlo is of the belief that the behaviour of public servants cannot only be governed by rules but by adherence to values and a service ethos that is instilled from above.

There was a desire to build and nurture public servants who are focused on the achievement of developmental goals, who are responsible, who lead by example in upholding the legal prescripts.

However, in reality, public servants are prescribed in law and policy and somehow lack the culture and practice of inculcating values in their work. For instance – accountability tends to be defined by quarterly reporting against the Annual Performance Plan, ethics tend to be defined by the disclosure of financial interests, the prohibition to do business with the state or satisfying auditors, efficiency and economy tends to be defined by internal control and cost containment measures, a procurement plan, supplier databases, asset registers and an asset disposal committee.

Dlodlo said these put public administration processes in danger of producing mediocrity and an auto-pilot type administration that is rigid, unresponsive and not innovative at all.

“The public service has become overly bureaucratised about policies, plans, organisational structures and procedures. Rather than to exercise discretion, public servants refer to rules and discretion is limited to the legalistic interpretation of the rules.

“Our challenge today is to emphasise on values and principles to change this deep-seated management culture of rules and procedures.”

The Minister said once recruited, careers should be built on the basis of professionalisation and socialisation into a strong system of values of serving the people and the Republic. She said a high standard of professional ethics cannot be promoted only through a generic code of conduct.

Mswangayi said ethics and morals were things one has to internalise, starting within the family.

“One can attend a course and get a cum laude in ethics and still live an unethical life. Ethics and moral values need to be internalised and lived. You have to live out your ethics. Families play a key role in building the foundation for making women and children feel safe."

Mthethwa called for the deconstruction of apartheid's social structure in the country’s psyche in order to deal with the challenges faced today such as violence and femicide.  

Unisa’s Vice-chancellor Professor Mandla Makhanya reminded delegates that that public service is about putting the people first “As public servants, we serve our citizens, not clients.”

The delegates at the launch, which included Salga, European Union, Directors General and provinces, signed a pledge embracing these constitutional values and principles. –