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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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We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges



For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Call that a muffin?



In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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Lessons from Israel: Part 3



I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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