Getting civil servants to break sweat

Getting civil servants to break sweat

GOVERNMENT workers, especially those on the frontline in dealing with the public, are probably some of the most pilloried employees in the country. The common refrain is that civil servants are lazy, rude and incompetent.
But ask any of them about this assessment and they are likely to say they are often judged harshly and the public doesn’t appreciate how hard they try to make things work despite the lack of resources.

Some will say they are overworked, underpaid and frustrated.
There is some truth in all this but for years successive governments seem to have allowed the problem to fester. Half-hearted solutions have been bandied around, accompanied by high-sounding promises that things are about to change.
In 2014, for instance, the government established the Public Service Performance and Assessment which it promised would help ministries improve service delivery. It was the institution that was going to keep civil servants on their toes.

On paper the PSPA was a brilliant idea but it too, like other previous initiatives, was left dormant. After the initial pomp and funfair of its launch the PSPA seems to have completely disappeared from the minds of the civil servants, the public and senior government officials.
But the new government seems to want to change that. It recently appointed Taelo Ntsokotsane as Director General of the PSPA.
Ntsokotsane says he is however not under any illusion that things will be smooth sailing.

He foresees a battle in getting civil servants to get their hands dirty with real work that benefits the public, their real bosses.
Just a few weeks into the job he has noticed that there are “too many idle civil servants and there is duplication of duties for several government departments”.

That might sound harsh to some but Ntsokotsane puts that view into context in the following interview with the thepost’s News Editor, Caswell Tlali.
Below are the excerpts from the interview:

Tell us about your office and what it does. To start with, let me say I was given a job at what is called the Public Service Assessment Centre and I already had a plan of what I wanted to achieve but when the appointment letter was brought to me I was given a totally new job.
I was at first startled because as I looked at it I thought this is the duplication of the duty of the Ministry of Public Service.
But when I sat down to read my job description, I found that what I am called to do is to help both the offices of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Service.

In short, my duty here is to identify challenges that make government ministries and departments fail to deliver on their mandates, come up with solutions and give advice to the relevant ministries.  The aim here is to ensure that every department delivers.

That still sounds like the role of the Minister of Public Service.
No. Like I said, that was the first impression I had when I was appointed. You will notice that my job focuses on the performance and assessment of the public service but the Public Service Minister runs the daily operations of all public servants wherever they are and in every department.
He hires and fires them through a relevant body established by law. In short, he is the government’s human resources manager. My duty here is to ensure that departments perform according to what the government requires of them and give counsel where it is needed.

Remember that I also have to assess the performance of the Ministry of Public Service and to see if it is still within its mandate. I do not manage the workers but I assess if they collectively work within their mandates and their departments are what they are created to be.

Who do you report to?
I report to the Government Secretary. There were some who held the view that I should report to the Ministry of Public Service but it became clear that I could not because my mandate is to assess and advice the very same ministry so that it performs according to what is required of it.
That is why I have been given the office here at the Prime Minister’s offices. That is why I say this office helps the Prime Minister because he is the overall overseer of the performance of all government ministries and departments.

It also helps the Minister of Public Service because he is the direct supervisor of all civil servants, the ones who have the skills and means to do what the government wants.

But what can you say this office has done so far?
You will recall that this office was established in 2014 and its first director general was Ntate Tšeliso Khomari, former Communications PS, although he never entered the office.

You know the controversies surrounding his appointment to this office and we need not talk about them. So, ever since its establishment it has barely worked. When I arrived here I found that it had two directors doing the same job but with different titles.
They provided me with documents of what they were planning to do and I realised that they were not assisted to implement any of their plans.
I also noticed that one of the major impediments in the implementation of their plans was that they were working without a leader. They were not sure where they belonged and they became happy when they finally had a director general.

In short, for the past three years they were not productive at all because the government was not utilising them. My brief assessment of them is that they are the people who can be used profitably because of their skills.
I understood that they were now becoming frustrated. So I instructed them to go around all government departments to find other skilled people who are idle.

This is not to duplicate the Public Service Minister’s job but I do this so that we can identify where to use them across all departments where they qualify most.  We are aware that some departments under perform because they lack skilled manpower when some have excess skilled personnel idle.
They can be used in other departments. What I found in this office has its archetype in many departments and I have a strong feeling that their skills should be channelled to where they are needed.

The Minister of Public Service will be advised once we have completed our short assessment.

Does this mean your closest partner is the Ministry of Public Service?
Not necessarily. I work closely with all ministries. I work hand in hand with principal secretaries in all ministries. I have so far held meetings with the Ministries of Public Service, Finance, Planning and Local Government.

Our meetings are ongoing. You will understand that I have to comprehend the mandates and duties of all ministries so that I can assess them.
I have to monitor the performance of each department in each ministry, which means I have to work closely with each of them.

By now you must have an idea of the challenges facing the ministries.
Yes. For example, there is an urgent need for the Ministry of Local Government to robustly empower community councils so that the central government can work directly with them.

The Local Government Ministry has to play the management role at the top level but the councils have to identify their own needs and work directly with any government department to solve any of their own problems.
This will diminish government’s bureaucracy that hampers the economic growth of the communities. This is what we call decentralisation of power.
Without giving power to the people, where it rightly belongs, no government department will be able to deliver services according to the expectation of the people.

The people are a client and they need unfettered access to service providers, which are government departments. There is no need for the Ministry of Local Government to play a middleman’s role because that will delay service provision to the people.
The ministry should only manage how the councils get enough funds for their community projects and help them to account.
In other ministries, we are also aware that there are parallel departments doing the same job, either in the same ministry or in different ministries.
For example, here in the Office of the Prime Minister, we have the Disaster Management Authority and the Food Management Unit and I have realised that their duties overlap in each other’s territory.

There is a need to sit down and see how we can deal with that. There are other idle departments like the Smart Partnership Hub.
It is an important tool in the development of this country but I feel that it has not been utilised enough so that it unleashes its potential.
We are yet to sit down with all ministries and departments because we feel that many of them are no longer sitting on their foundations.
You cannot expect them to deliver if they have shifted from their mandates. We are not sure what we are going to discover as we continue to hold meetings with the ministries but we want them to perform as best as they can for the betterment of this country.

There is a general complaint from the community that civil servants are lazy, rude and are often absent from work. What do you think should be done?
The Ministry of Public Service, which is the direct manager of public servants as individuals, will have to deal with that. I think we will have to advise the minister to ensure that all public servants have name tags so that you will know who attended you so that you can report them to the relevant authorities.

Also, there have to be boxes attached to a wall in every office where clients will sign forms to rate services they received from each worker. We will have to have a team, working in collaboration with all ministries that will monitor the boxes.
By so doing I believe the ministries will be efficient and productive. However, that is the duty of the Minister of Public Service but we will have to help him because it is in our interest that all ministries deliver and perform as best as they can.

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