Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Is our public service living up to expected standards?
By Editor
Tue 25 June 2013, 14:00 CAT

Seldom have we heard an international civil servant present such solid and eloquent reasoning concerning the public service as we heard from Kanni Wignaraja, United Nations resident coordinator in Zambia on Sunday.

Wignaraja articulated clearly the vital role that the public service plays in fostering social justice, peace and development in our countries. She made it clear that "where a public service discharges its duties with care and conscientiousness to ensure that the most vulnerable are also well served; with a scrupulous and transparency to ensure it holds to high ethical standards and is accountable first and foremost to the people; and with a daring and courage to change and innovate with the times, then we have a public service that performs to high standards and also inspires".

Wignaraja challenged us to reflect on whether our public service lives up to these standards. And where it is challenged, she urged us to ask what those impediments are, and what we can do about them.

It cannot be denied that governments are under increasing pressure to open up to public scrutiny, to be more accessible to the people who elected them and more responsive to their demands and needs. Indeed, an open government that meets all these requirements is increasingly recognised as an essential ingredient for democratic governance, social stability and economic development.

From the public's point of view, an open government is one where businesses, civil society organisations and citizens can "know things" - obtain relevant and understandable information; "get things" - obtain services from and undertake transactions with the government; and "create things" - take part in decision-making processes.

The principles of good governance - transparency and accountability; fairness and equity; efficiency and effectiveness; respect for the rule of law; and high standards of ethical behaviour - represent the basis upon which to build open government.

It is important for those in government to realise that they will not be able to effectively implement policies, however good they are, if citizens and business do not understand and support them. And this in itself makes an open transparent, responsive and accessible government a must.

And as Michael Sata once aptly put it, "an authority is needed to guide the energies of all towards the common good". Public servants should exercise stewardship and uphold the common good. Public servants must be conscious of their specific and proper role in the governance of our country.

We need civil servants who profoundly love their own people and wish to serve rather than to be served. A person who joins the public service must remember that he or she is simply a servant entrusted to offer humble service to others as opposed to owning the people he or she is serving; they work for the common good.

But is this the type of public servants we have in Zambia today? The answer is a categorical no. We generally don't have civil servants who are imbued with the characteristics of what is the best of a public servant - "being proud of a contribution to one's community and country beyond individual gain; having a high standard of values and ethics to which one holds oneself to, every day; enjoying an open engagement with those around you, always seeking new ideas, sharing information, getting and providing useful feedback; and always having an open heart and mind to watch out for those much less fortunate, so they get a helping hand when needed".

What we have is a public service that focuses more on serving itself, on those who work for it. A substantial part of our national budget is spent on the public servants themselves - their wages and salaries, allowances of all sorts, per diems and so on and so forth.

Public servants have a strict duty to give the public efficient and conscientious service for which they have a right to a just salary. Our public servants cannot be said to be providing the Zambian people with an efficient and conscientious service. They are getting financial rewards that are far beyond the value of the service they are giving to the Zambian people. This is not fair or just.

The work of public servants must take on the character of service. Their work is done well if it is committed to the common good of society. People employed in the civil service are, precisely, employed to serve. Their primary motivation should be a deep desire to serve others. Attentiveness to the needs of the persons being served is essential to an understanding and fulfillment of this deep desire to help and serve others.

A public service that spends almost the entire national budget on itself cannot be said to be serving the common good - it is serving itself. Look at how rich our public servants are compared to the people they serve. Look at how much of every kwacha in our national budget is spent on them as compared to that which is spent on the public. To hold a meeting in their own ministry or department, our public servants have to be paid a sitting allowance. What for? Are these not full-time employees of the public service? Are they not using already paid for public time to sit in such meetings? Equally, public servants who serve on statutory bodies are paid sitting allowances by the same government as if they are not full-time public employees. This is tantamount to getting a double pay for the same work. When they attend workshops or seminars, they are again paid allowances. Again, this is for the same public work they are already paid for. Some of them even get paid more allowances than the days they attend the workshops. For instance, a public servant would be paid allowances for seven days when they simply went there to open the workshop and take off for another. We have public servants who are paid for attending more than 365 workshops in a year. How is this possible? It's simply an issue of banditry, corruption and of looting government resources. Successive governments have tried to reduce the number of workshops being attended by public servants but have failed. Levy Mwanawasa tried it, he failed and was hated by public servants for that. Michael has tried it and we don't think he has succeeded in stopping or reducing unnecessary but costly workshops.

We also have travel allowances that are being paid to public servants for all sorts of trips which they themselves conveniently create when they want money to complete their buildings. Again, can this be said to be an efficient and conscientious service to the Zambian people?
There is need to reflect and deeply meditate - with broadmindedness - over the issues raised by Wignaraja concerning the role of our public service. We need to continually ask ourselves if our public service truly lives up to the standards expected of it. And where it is challenged, to find out what is wrong and how that can be corrected. This is the only way we can maintain good governance, social stability and encourage economic development.


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