Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Open govt listens to the people - Wignaraja

By Moses Kuwema
Mon 24 June 2013, 14:00 CAT

UN resident coordinator Kanni Wignaraja says an open government is one that keenly hears and responds to the voices of its people, whether they voted for that government, or are of different opinions, religions, ethnicities and tribes.

Speaking yesterday during the celebrations to mark the African Public Service Day held under the theme "African Public Service in the Age of Open Government: Giving Voice to Citizens", Wignaraja said an open government and with it an open public service, serves and protects all people on its territory.

"This day is an important reminder to all people on the African continent and the world over of the vital role that the public service plays in fostering social justice, peace and development in our countries. Where a public service discharges its duties with care and conscientiousness to ensure that the most vulnerable are also well served; with a scrupulousness and transparency to ensure it holds to high ethical standards and is accountable first and foremost to the people; and with a daring courage to change and innovate with the times, then we have a public service that performs to high standards, and also inspires," Wignaraja said.

"It is easy to point fingers, to place blame and to keep raising our levels of expectations, without addressing what, where and how the change has to happen. A people's expectations and demands are always evolving. Sometimes, they are within reason, and sometimes not so..."
Wignaraja said there was need to reflect on whether the public services across the continent, and in Zambia, live up to standards.

"In a country like Zambia, with a dramatically shifting demographic, a public service has to directly engage with the 65 per cent of the population that are under 25 years of age. This cannot be left only to youth groups and NGOs. This is the majority of the citizenry today, and hence the majority clientele. And this is a different group from those with whom a public service is more at ease dealing with. This requires a different skill set and mediums of engagement that a youthful client understands and engages with," she said.

And Wignaraja hoped to see many of Zambia's brightest youths join the public service in the spirit of caring and being committed to something bigger.

She said much had been heard about lessons from high performing public services around the world, and "while we can learn and improve", there were some fundamentals beyond the usual resource and capacity issues and performance and oversight systems to be implemented, that we can focus on".

She said a public service that stayed relevant and ahead of the game, was one that was fully engaged in policy formulation with its eyes and ears to the ground.

"…so it stays relevant to a changing social dynamic," she said.
She said hard as it was to design and to deliver programmes, it took even more to be an 'open government' when it comes to "constantly tracking impact, to ask if we are doing the right thing, to evaluate the performance of national policies and programmes, and to correct our course."

"Institutions get stuck in their ways and it is easier said than done to change direction, make adjustments and have the guts to admit a mis-step. This is where having that regular open engagement with the public and with the politicians, with a give and take of feedback without fear of reprisal, is so critical to a high performing, motivated public service," she said.

"This is also where a public information Act that provides real-time information in the public domain is key so we look to the approval and implementation of this progressive legislation in Zambia."

Wignaraja also said just as much as people demand of their public service, they should also honestly ask what it is they should demand of themselves, as clients of that public service.

"Gone are the days, when we can or should just stand by, waiting, just waiting for a service to be delivered. This is a level of disengagement and apathy that no public service can fix. It takes a motivated, 'can do' spirit by the people to also engage, to get things done, to be entrepreneurs and to meet the public service half-way. The days of waiting till the public service comes by to 'fix it' are long over," she said.

"The sense of having choices, of taking opportunity by the scruff of its collar, of harnessing the positive energy and drive to make change happen, this is the kind of public space and engagement that the public service and the political leadership has to support and inspire."



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