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Focus on producing capable, ethical public servants

Government is intensifying efforts to build a capable public service that will ensure quality service delivery for all South Africans.

With the country commemorating Public Service Month in September, Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu spoke to PSM about how his department will go about achieving this.

Guided by its constitutional mandate, legislative framework, the National Development Plan and the State of the Nation Address, the department will focus on fighting corruption, implementing the eight Batho Pele principles and full implementation of the Public Administration Amendment Act in all spheres of government.

“Corruption, both real and perceived, will be defeated by applying ethical standards that are expected of a good public service and making sure that the public service is accountable,” he stressed.

To ensure that public servants behave ethically and deliver quality services, the department will revive training programmes to ensure that it has skilled employees in the right positions.

“Most of the training takes place at the National School of Government. We are invigorating those training programmes and will be evaluating them in terms of their fitness to stand the test of the sixth administration in terms of professionalism, ethics and the consciousness that people [public servants] are working for [the] people and have to heed the call when the public makes it,” Minister Mchunu said.

Skills development

Skills development will also be a focus area as it is critical to the success of a developmental state.

“A developmental state requires a public service that is highly-skilled. We are thus going to be focusing on skills so that if you are appointed as a director, you are able to deliver up to a director level and not be appointed as a director only to learn that your skills are not to that level.

“We have to train and we have to make sure that those who are general managers up to directors-general are capable, both in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.”

Training should produce an ethical public servant who shies away from corruption and reports wrongdoing at all times,” he added.

Plotting the way forward

The Minister also wants to see the Batho Pele principles being implemented fully and equally, at all levels of the state. The eight principles are government’s guidelines to ensure that those who use the public service are helped efficiently, effectively and with dignity. “This is our first priority, making sure they are implemented in all spheres of government, both qualitatively and quantitatively,” the Minister said.

Batho Pele, means people first, and the principles are aligned to the Constitution of the country and are designed to offer the best service for clients of the state.

The Minister said his department is committed to ensuring that the Batho Pele principles - consultation, service standards, access, courtesy, information, openness and transparency, redress and value for money – are embodied by public servants on a daily basis.

He believes that the full implementation of the Public Administration Amendment Act (PAMA) will also help improve the public service.

The PAMA promotes values and principles governing public administration, which include:

  • High standard of professional ethics must be promoted and maintained.

  • Efficient, economic and effective use of resources must be promoted.

  • Public administration must be development-oriented.

  • Services must be provided impartially, fairly, equitably and without bias.

  • People’s needs must be responded to, and the public must be encouraged to participate in policy-making.

  • Public administration must be accountable.

The Minister said the intention is to move ahead will the full implementation of the PAMA, and to apply all basic principles and values governing public service across all three spheres of government and in state-owned enterprises.

Streamlining the public service

While possible public service retrenchments have been reported in the media, the Minister said that this would not be the case. His plan is to streamline the public service by looking at government’s structure, wage bill and the total cost of running the state to see how it can optimise its service offering.

“We must make sure the tools we are using to run the public service give us the desired results. For example, we have the Bargaining Chamber and its bargaining processes. Right now, there are challenges.

“One of those challenges is that we use different instruments to determine salary increases; there is a tool for senior management services (SMS) members and another tool for non-SMS members, a tool for SOEs and another one for justice officers,” he explained.

One of the ways to fix this, the Minister said, is to look at how many civil servants there are in comparison to the number of people they serve.

“Even though you are not going to necessarily streamline it to the bone, the frameworks should reasonably be single as opposed to what’s happening at the moment. The cost of running public administration is creating concern.

“People are talking about the public service being bloated. Other people are saying ‘No, it’s not that, the main problem is the wage bill’,” the Minister said.

He explained that there are different arguments about why the public service is so costly to run and these will all be looked at.

“Some people say in order to deal with the wage bill you’ve got to reduce employees. If you check, you find that three quarters of public servants are made up of police, nurses and teachers,” said Minister Mchunu.

He pointed out that most police stations, hospitals and clinics are short staffed, so the issue is not too many employees.

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