Of flowers and thorns: Where has public gone in public service?

Published on Pambazuka News, by Dale T. McKinley, May 16, 2012.

By the late 2000s, the bed had turned into a fully fledged forest. Not content with what were already very decent wage packages financed by the public purse, high-ranking politicians and public sector officialdom at every level were awarding themselves with super-salaries and a huge range of benefit sweeteners. Indeed, South Africa has to be one of the countries in the world where the majority of this public sector ‘cadre’ are made millionaires every year and that’s not counting what many of them make on the side … //  

… Things are now so bad in departments like Public Works that its Minister feels it necessary to inform the public that, “we have people looting and even saying ‘it’s our time to eat’ … they act as if they own the department”. Even in the military, as the South African Security Forces Union points out, some commanders, “spend more time running their personal businesses” than they spend on the job while “critical health services have been outsourced to private hospitals which are run by current and former Generals …”

When the public asks too many questions about what their public servants are up to, the arrogance surfaces with a vengeance. We are thus told by the likes of Defence Ministerial spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabya that, “we do not have to explain to anyone the decisions which we take … we don’t owe anyone answers.” Throw in security-intelligence officials running amok behind the smokescreens of ‘national interest’ and ‘classified information’, transport authorities giving the middle finger to actual public transport or the police brass making a mockery of their own code of conduct to “act with integrity in rendering an effective service of a high standard which is accessible to everybody”, and it isn’t hard to figure out that there is precious little of the ‘public’ left in most of our public service.

At the end of his recent Freedom Day address President Zuma implored South Africans to, “put the country first in everything we do …” Besides the fact that he should have said ‘the people’, who after all are the ones that make up ‘the country’, our public sector numero uno would do well to listen to his own advice. Better yet, the President and all those who are supposed to serve the public should ask themselves the questions posed in Pete Seeger’s famous 1960s anti-war song:

  • Where have all the flowers gone?
  • Long time passing
  • Where have all the flowers gone?
  • Long time ago
  • …When will we ever learn?

(full long text).

Link: The real reasons for the coup d’état in Guinea-Bissau, May 17, 2012.

Comments are closed.