By Kabelo Sedupane
South Africa faces critical challenges in its public service – we only have to look at recent events involving public servants of all levels, to understand this. These challenges deeply affect the lives of all the country’s citizens.
Many of these recurring challenges are rooted in corruption, maladministration and inefficient governance and are manifested in limited, improper or even no service delivery. The increasing expressions of dissatisfaction by South Africans in the form of petitions, service delivery protests, and more, are not only about service delivery – they are also about the failure of public servants to remain accountable to the needs of the very people that they are meant to serve.
In an effort to encourage excellence in the public service and to improve service delivery programmes, the minister of public service and administration, Lindiwe Sisulu, recently launched the Public Service Charter. The charter, which all public servants will be expected to sign, introduces among other things, standards in the service, and calls for public servants to meet and exceed these standards.
Could this document be a missing ingredient in our public service, which will create an accountable and efficient system and address the problems that are crippling the public service? Click here to read the charter.
We commend the Department of Public Service and Administration’s (DPSA) efforts to improve the public service. But given that a charter is an instrument of “soft law” that lacks the force of a binding statute, it must be viewed as part of the DPSA’s overall efforts to clean up the public service.
The public service charter is a pledge, or statement of intent that enables the citizens of the country to understand what they can expect from the state. It’s a social contract and a commitment between the state, public servants and the citizens – a written and signed document based on a social partnership which sets out the roles and responsibilities of the respective parties to improve productivity enhance as well as fast-track the delivery of services to improve the lives of the people of South Africa.
“The charter outlines the services offered by the state as well as the service standard that underpins those services,” Sisulu said at the launch. “Our expectation from public servants is for all to embrace discipline in implementation of our priorities, compliance with norms, standards and statutes, compassion for the all employees and the public we serve, and efficiency in performance.”
The charter calls for public servants to, among other things:
- serve the public in an unbiased and impartial manner
- provide timely services
- not engage in any transaction that is in conflict with the execution of official duties.
It further calls on public servants to act on fraud and corruption, nepotism, maladministration or other acts which offend or are prejudicial to the public interest. Public servants must demonstrate professionalism, competency, excellence, transparency and impartiality in the performance of official duties.
For the public service charter to be effective, public servants must know that they are custodians of the state’s resources, with the responsibility to the tax payer to practice good stewardship and perform a service for the benefit of the people they serve. In the past, we have seen one too many times that a lack of commitment by public servants to adhere to their commitment to serve the people of South Africa diligently, has compromised service delivery a great deal.
To give practical effect to this charter, the state must ensure that it takes active steps to not only promote what the harter stands for, but ensure that its every signatory upholds its objectives in every respect. These objectives have to be promoted in such a way that encourages accountability amongst public servants and creates a consciousness within the public service that recognises that they are there to serve people.
The success of this charter will not only depend on the will, desire and intention of public servants to serve selflessly and efficiently, but also on the state to ensure that its employees are constantly motivated to meet the charter’s mission.
The public service charter has relevance in light of the problems faced by the state in ensuring efficient service delivery. If fully and effectively implemented, it can assist in nurturing a culture of efficient and selfless service amongst public servants and also safeguard democracy in South Africa.
The charter is complemented and given muscle by the Public Administration Management Bill, which is set to replace our existing Public Service Act. Thus, included in the DPSA’s machinery of standards and rules together with the charter is a binding statute, with serious consequences if public servants fall foul.