The real meaning of Public Service Day

THE Public Service Day, which was celebrated on October 29, should be an opportunity for public servants such as police officers, soldiers and health workers to celebrate and express their grievances.

It should be a day of introspection.

It should provide civil servants with an opportunity to evaluate ministries and government departments on their performance.

The process of evaluation would be expected to be a robust engagement about the public’s perception on the performance of government ministries.

This process of engagement cannot be achieved through television or radio talk-show programmes.

When government ministers organise their presentations during the Public Servants Day they should bear in mind that it is not an opportunity to advertise themselves.

Rather they should realise the occasion is an opportunity to respond to areas of concern and deal with the frustrations that civil servants grapple with in the process of service delivery.

These frustrations should be well captured in the annual continuous assessments. These assessments could be done in two ways.

First, every government department should have suggestion boxes to allow the public to post their opinions and views on the quality of services received.

The information that is collected from the information boxes should be analysed by independent consultants who will present these reports to the public in the presence of the ministers.

These ministers should be given an opportunity to clarify and explain their position on the findings.

Secondly, the annual continuous assessment could be a platform where parliamentary committees report on the performance of government ministries throughout the year.

I will seek to critically discuss the purpose of the Public Service Day vis-à-vis how the day is celebrated in Lesotho.

I will also look at the role of parliament and cabinet in the celebration of the day.

In 2001, ministers of civil service met in Namibia for the Third Biennial Pan-African Conference and adopted an Africa Public Service Charter.

The aim of the charter was to set standards that would restore prestige and dignity to the public service and raise performance levels and competence in governments.

The charter embodies principles that are compatible with the African philosophy of batho-pele (people first) in service delivery.

Besides the batho-pele approach there are other key transformation objectives and priorities that are critical in celebrating the Public Service Day.

These include bringing public servants together to commemorate the value and virtue of service delivery improvements to the public.

The transformation objectives consider the working conditions of public servants who devote their lives to serve the public.

There are mixed feelings among public servants regarding how this day should be celebrated.

This is due to the interests of cabinet ministers who seek to influence how the day is celebrated.

Public servants neither lead the process nor are they allowed to direct how the day is celebrated.

The government ministers often organise radio and television talk shows whose main purpose appears clearly designed to advertise the role of government ministers.

These radio and television shows should be more of public debates on the welfare of public servants.

A couple of months ago nurses at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital went on strike complaining about poor working conditions.

They also complained about the shortage of basic equipment in the course of discharging their duties.

Their strike was of course illegal.

But their basic grievances were never addressed. What they received was an ultimatum to resume work or lose their jobs.

I believe civil servants across the board within the army and police as well have similar concerns.

However, there appears to be no public platform where civil servants can raise these genuine grievances.

Public Servants Day should be a day where these government workers can receive ‘therapy’ for their frustrations.

Parliament can also play a critical role in ensuring that the relationship between public servants and the administration is not based on patronage or nepotism but on merit.

This must be reflected in the recruitment and promotion, mobility and redeployment, staff training, remuneration and security of tenure for staff.

Parliament must ensure that the values of civil servants are not based on party affiliation but are based on professionalism.

Parliament must ensure all civil servants provide services to the people and use resources efficiently.

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