The public service needs urgent improvement

A professional public service is underpinned by ethics, accountability and high performance

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01/03/2021 10:11:15


 The public service needs urgent improvement


Professionalisation in the public sector cannot mean only changing individual attitudes, behaviour, willingness and performance towards better serving the public.

“These are important, but professionalism also requires a high standard of work delivery and adherence to certain standards and principles that are clearly defined by job descriptions and key performance indicators. It embodies skills, competencies, efficiency and effectiveness,” says Thabile Zuma, Public Governance Project Manager at OUTA.

These comments are in OUTA’s submission on the National Implementation Framework towards the Professionalisation of the Public Service.

“The Framework is necessary,” says Zuma. “However, the time for throwing around ideas is long past. We are now looking for a concrete and extremely urgent plan from government to professionalise the public service, a plan that recognises how much public money has been wasted on paying salaries of middle- and high-earning individuals who are either corrupt, apathetic, or incompetent. The result has been economic decline and a lack of trust and satisfaction in public services.”

This Framework must be translated into a concrete implementation plan by the National School of Government fast – without watering down meaningful public participation or letting it become another framework without any real impact.

OUTA believes that the public service will change for the better if the attitudes shift more towards customer service and away from entitlement. “Civil society and business pay for services. The fact that these services are mostly monopolistic doesn’t mean government should take its shareholders for granted. The customer pays to receive friendly, efficient and high-quality service and quality products, so government needs to shape up and change must start at the top,” says Zuma.

OUTA is concerned that the public service is plagued with unethical conduct. This results in the ongoing problems of diversion of resources, low-quality services, bid rigging, bribery, patronage, nepotism, conflict of interest, awarding of contracts to incompetent service providers or personnel, and the use and abuse of official and confidential information for private purposes.

Performance development is crucial. Practical and measurable criteria must be applied to ensure that leadership and their teams deliver on strategic and operational objectives. Top structure KPIs must be transparent and publicly available for scrutiny. South Africans also need to see government take real action against non performers.

“If you want to be the boss and get the big money, you need to take accountability for the responsibility that comes with it,” says Zuma.

Employment criteria must consider qualification, experience, race and disability. It is extremely important that we get the best possible professionals and leaders in the top structures to enable teams to perform and provide good service.

Internship programmes need to be revitalised and regulated. Junior staff should be able to work their way up under the mentorship of seasoned professionals.

Political meddling and cadre deployment must stop. South Africa needs a public service which does its job, free from politics. 

Lack of professionalism results in problems such as unauthorised, irregular, and fruitless and wasteful expenditure, nepotism, corruption, and poor service delivery.

“We see this in the everyday running of our municipalities, provinces, national government and state-owned entities, and it needs to stop,” says Zuma.

A soundclip with comment by Thabile Zuma is here.

Picture: Mzi Velapi, Elitsha