Imperatives of professionalising public service

Imperatives of professionalising public service

Since Lesotho gained independence five decades ago, there have been frequent cases of political instability that drastically stifled anticipated development. While there is a tendency to blame all the ills to a weak political system, focus should also be on establishing whether public service competently and professionally carries out its mandate. Since Lesotho gained independence five decades ago, there have been frequent cases of political instability that drastically stifled anticipated development. While there is a tendency to blame all the ills to a weak political system, focus should also be on establishing whether public service competently and professionally carries out its mandate. This paper argues that competent and professional public service plays an indispensable role towards improving the economy of a country and strengthening the pillars of sustainable development and efficient governance.

Premised on profound reflection on minimal strides of public service in Lesotho, inferences are drawn that it failed to play the role entrusted to it because of the prevailing political patronage and weak government systems. It becomes clear, therefore, that, lack of professionalism in the public service in Lesotho will engender and perpetuate seemingly perennial political and socioeconomic perils. The paper is largely dependent on the literature on ethics and professionalism in the public service. Government official documents such as the Constitution and the Public Service Act of 2005 were also referred to as reliable sources that articulate the role of public officials.

Former and current senior public officials’ observations about the performance of the public service were purposively obtained. Based on overt lack of professionalism and weak government systems, this paper recommends that the public service in Lesotho should put in place good systems that will enable it to maintain required professionalism. It also recommends that continued tenure in office by top officials should be based on satisfactory performance.

The role of government is wide and influences, either positively or negatively, almost all the operations of other organisations within a country. Thus, the success of all organisations in a country largely depends on the efficiency of government. Among others, prevalence of professionalism in the public service is one of the necessary conditions towards enhanced efficiency of the government. The heightening consciousness among the members of the public about the lack of professionalism in the public service results from unscrupulous conduct of politicians and bureaucrats (Kuye and Mafunisa, 2003: 421). Since both politicians and bureaucrats serve in the public domain, they ought to account for every task that they discharge in the public interest. Relationship between politicians and bureaucrats should ideally enable prompt, responsive and impartial service delivery. Failure to professionally and ethically conduct the business of government erodes public trust, which ought to bond public service and the citizens.

The thesis that this chapter advances is that, a professional public service in Lesotho is an integral variable in securing stability of government because the public service plays an indispensable role in assisting governments to carry out their mandates and to implement their policies.

As Woodrow Wilson (1887: 198) contends, administration is the most obvious part of government, demonstrating that it is in action. Different regimes in Lesotho have neglected the responsibility to nurture a competent and professional public service. The prevailing nonconformity of public officials’ conduct with established standards, codes of conduct and policies are noticeable indicators depicting lack of professionalism in the public service. This problem has engendered a number of problems, including flawed government systems, unprofessional conduct, and political patronage, all of which have become very conspicuous. Broadbent and Laughlin (2012: 293) suggest that, systems in the public service should be geared towards defining, controlling and managing both the achievement of outcomes or ends as well as the means used to achieve the results.

The existence of effective systems in the public service is crucial towards enhanced performance and professionalism. Good systems have the potential to transcend regimes and generations and to promote sustainable efficiency in service delivery. Deficiencies in systems and professionalism in the public service in Lesotho are worsened by a constantly volatile political landscape which dates back to the beginning of the independence era. There is a dire need for public service in Lesotho to map out strategies towards its professionalization so that it can competently discharge its mandate. For this to be attained there ought to be a systematic approach on how professionalism is mainstreamed into the public service culture.

Conceptualising Professional Public Services
Public service is concerned with the business of government.  It deals with how the machinery of government should work for effective and efficient service delivery. Due to its wide scope, public service borders with virtually all areas that affect human life. Because public service touches on all aspects of citizens’ lives, all public officials need to adhere to professional values. This would ensure that public interests are prioritised above narrow interests of individual public officials.Professional public service is the springboard of sustainable development and stability in a country. It is based on professional public officials who possess required qualifications and also exhibit unreserved commitment, competence and maintenance of high professional standards. Professionalism is commonly understood to be concerned about the rules and standards governing the conduct of the members of a profession (Fattah, 2011: 65).

Professional public service would, thus, refer to public officials’ willingness to discharge their responsibilities under the guidance of the rules and standards that govern their conduct. Fatah (2011: 65) contends that the dearth of professionalism among the public servants has, in part, contributed to lack of citizens’ confidence in their officials, and is also a contributing factor in the emergence of weak and failed states that lack capacity. This observation was based on the research which showed that prospects of development and progress are bleak without credible, ethical and professional public organizations (Bagchi in Fattah, 2011: 65).  Because political stability is possible where there is sustainable development, it means that a professional public service is an indispensable ingredient in any attempt to establish and maintain a politically stable society.

In order to uphold high professional standards within the public service, public officials, as moral agents, should constantly maintain the highest professional standards. This is because the acid test of professionalism lies in the ability of professionals to diligently execute their duties to their clients (Hedahl, 2013:1). It is imperative of public officials, therefore, to responsibly serve the public to the highest professional and ethical standards. Based on this professional responsibility, which is underpinned by duty, it is reasonable to infer that public service is largely about the duties of government towards the citizens. The perpetual challenge confronting public service is building and maintaining professional culture. Often, efforts that are taken to cultivate a professional culture in the public service fail to reach fruition due to flawed strategies deployed.

Above all, the greatest challenge is lack of political will to support initiatives aimed at professionalising the public service. Inevitable results ensuing from lack of professional culture culminate in the lack of conformity between bureaucrats’ conduct and established policies, systems and standards. Studies on professionalism in the public service have immensely proliferated in the last three decades (Cooper, 2004:395). This is evidenced by the number of journal articles, conferences and training exercises on professionalism, which, at times, present professionalism in the public service as a complex phenomenon that is not easily implemented (Radhika, 2012:23).

At the hub of public service are skilled and knowledgeable technocrats who specialised in different areas relevant for discharging the business of government. Professionals subscribe to different value systems; this turns out to be another challenge threatening establishment of professional culture in the public service. There exists an asymmetrical approach in the emphasis and inculcation of professional values in different professions. It, therefore, follows that, each profession will emphasise particular professional values that best advance its professionalism. This calls for a concerted effort to train top bureaucrats on ethics and professionalism so that they become competent overseers for the entire public service.

According to Mafunisa (2008:81), unprofessional behaviour in the public service may be manifested under the following forms: covering up incompetence, fraud, bribery, corruption, sexual harassment, nepotism, victimization, subjective and arbitrary decisions, a disclosure of confidential information, tax evasion, speed money and inefficiency. Although the list can go on, the great concern is on the role of professionalism in the public service towards overcoming each of these challenges.

Kuye (2003:421) argues that a professional public official is the one who pursues values such as accountability, integrity, neutrality, efficiency, effectiveness, responsiveness, representativeness, and equity in the procurement of good governance in the public service. As a means of realizing these values and mainstreaming professional culture in the public service, Mafunisa (2008:81) refers to codes of conduct as some of the viable means for promoting professional culture among the public servants. He goes on to give practical means of translating codes of conduct and other ethical principles into reality within the public service by emphasizing the importance of the following points:

l Principles for the promotion of ethical conduct; l Clear ethical standards; l The reflection of ethical standards in the legal framework;l Ethical guidance to public employees;l Political commitment to reinforcing the ethical conduct of public employees;l Senior public managers should demonstrate and promote ethical conduct.
Although the suggested points may be sound and plausible for cultivating professional culture in public service, their implementation may still be wanting. This may be reflected by lack of clear policies geared towards promoting professional culture in the public service.

In this way, each of them requires a careful consideration, and this calls for profound ethical knowledge and competency by public administrators at all levels. In relation to professional competency, Radhika (2012:25) quotes the ancient philosopher, Socrates, who contended that “knowledge and morality are interrelated and one cannot be moral if one does not know what morals are and what is good for mankind.” It is for this reason that, Socrates thought of virtue as the centrepiece of knowledge and argued that virtue is knowledge. Dvoráková (2005:173) postulates the following four ways through which professionalism within public officials can be saved and developed:

l Educational systems preceding the accession into the public sector, especially in the case of civil service appointments,l Training and development,l The acceptance of written regulations and the code of ethics of public administration employees,l The influence of supervisors and their leadership style
All of these four undertakings are indispensable towards successful integration of professional culture in the public domain. Their successful implementation depends, largely, on professional competency of those who pedagogically take others through them.
Ethics as a Basis of Professional Public Service

In order to make sense out of ethical and culture of professionalism in the public service, it is vital to explore relevant moral principles and values that would be instrumental towards the establishment of such culture. The reason for this approach is that ethics and professionalism in public service fall squarely under the domain of applied ethics.Culture of professionalism will only prevail in the public service if public officials are driven by a sense of duty. As deontological approach to ethics attests, what makes a human act ethically acceptable lies in the act itself, not the results that it produces. One of the renowned proponents of this theory is Immanuel Kant who used two imperatives to ascertain the morality of human act. Kant made a distinction between categorical imperative and hypothetical imperative, where the former is ethically binding while the latter has no ethical obligation (Rachels, 2007: 121). Categorical imperative is two pronged and is summarized thus:

l Always act in such a way that you can also will that the rule or maxim of your action should become a universal law;l Act so that you treat humanity, both in your own person and in that of another, always as an end and never merely as a means. (Kant in Miller, Roberts and Spence, 2005: 65)It becomes evident from the first imperative that, a public official ought to be convinced by his action and wish that it can be universally applicable to persons who come across a similar situation.

The second imperative seeks to treat humanity as a kingdom of ends, where none can be used solely as a means to advance selfish interests of an individual. A deontologist public official is the onewho shuns corruption at all costs albeit aware of the personal gain and fortune that such corruption might bring into his life. Thus, if corruption is considered to be universally unethical, it should be abhorred under all circumstances.Ethics and professionalism in the public service can also be approached from the virtue ethics perspective. This approach emphasises that, moral agents ought to cultivate virtuous character traits. The approach was mostly shaped by Aristotle, who made a distinction between intellectual virtue and moral virtue. Virtue is learned and people acquire it over time through practice. Under virtue ethics, a person acts in a particular way and exhibits relevant virtue for the sake of morality itself (Christensen and Laegreid, 2011:461). Further, under this theory, public officials are expected to exhibit virtuous acts when they render services to their customers.

A public official who has cultivated a virtuous character, will at all times, strive to meet the interests of the public even if doing so does not benefit him or her. It is vital to make reference to African morality because in the world so interconnected, with people from different cultural and religious backgrounds, it is important to appreciate other ethical traditions (Murove, 2009: 14). Ubuntu, as an African moral theory that is widely acknowledged in sub-Saharan context, finds full expression in African languages in Southern Africa: motho ke motho ka batho babang  (Sesotho) or umntu ngumntu ngabay’ abantu (Xhosa); both statements can be literally translated as ‘a person is person through other persons’ (Munyaka and Motlhabi in Murove, 2009: 65). Ubuntu emphasises a constant need for human beings to act humanely towards others. It can also be referred to as an ideal stewardship theory.

Ramose (1999: 77) provides a profound reflection on ubuntu as a “quality of being”, or an indispensable human characteristics that underpins the primacy of the value of being a human. According to this perspective, a person who subscribes to ubuntu habitually cultivates a virtuous character by constantly performing good deeds that promote the wellbeing of others. Ubuntu has a great potential to promote professionalism in the public service by inculcating to public officials a sense of prioritising and promoting community wellbeing above selfish interests of an individual such as political patronage, nepotism and favouritism.

By ; Napo C. Khasoane

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