In the column I wrote for the last edition of Vuk’uzenzele I focused on the theme of September as the Heritage Month on our calendar.
I suggested in the column that it is important not only to live the injunction made in the preamble of the Constitution of the Republic, that we should be united in our diversity but also that most importantly, the diversity of our heritage and cultures is actually the source of our strength as a people. Our ability over the past two decades of democracy to harness our diversity for collective prosperity is not a small achievement, especially in the world in which, increasingly, human diversity is used as a wedge to divide people instead of uniting them.
Our government uses the month of September to focus on another equally important theme: improving the quality and performance of the public service. The fundamental values and tasks of the public service are set out in Chapter 10 of the Constitution. The Constitution also outlines nine principles according to which the public service has to operate. It enjoins the public service to be transparent, accountable, ethical and development-oriented. The public service should provide services in an efficient, cost-effective manner and ensure the economic use of resources.
Since the dawn of democracy in 1994 we have set up institutions, laws and rules to put these principles and injunctions into practice. We established state agencies such as the Department of Public Service and Administration, Public Service Commission and the office that supports it, the National School of Government, the Department of Cooperative Governance, and since 2009 the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), now known as the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. Our decision to establish DPME was informed by our experience which showed that where the performance of government was weak, it was because of wrong policies. The fundamental source of problems was poor implementation. Our focus since 2009 has been on improving the implementation of government policies and programmes. The role of DPME therefore is to monitor the implementation and, where there are gaps, identify them and advise the whole of government to act on them.
We plan to use Public Service Month 2017 to emphasise, once again, the importance of the ethos of public service, to remind civil servants and all those who have chosen the vocation of public service that they are employed first and foremost to serve the public. This year’s Public Service Month is particularly significant. We celebrate the centenary of the icon of our liberation struggle, Oliver Reginald Tambo, who dedicated his whole adult life to a political cause which was bigger than himself: the liberation of all our people from the bondage of apartheid. OR Tambo believed strongly in our constitutional creed, which is that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. He led with humility and integrity. As we celebrate his life this year, I implore every public servant to emulate his example by dedicating themselves to the values of public service as enshrined in Chapter 10 of the Constitution.
This year is also significant for another reason. It is the fifth anniversary of the National Development Plan (NDP): Vision 2030. The NDP sets out specific targets on important developmental areas of our country that should be met by the year 2030. It is a clear road map that should be followed by all of government, business, labour and society in bringing about a South Africa where there will be work for the jobless, food for the hungry and security for the vulnerable. The NDP has been supported by all major stakeholders.
The fifth anniversary of the NDP presents all of us the opportunity to assess the progress we have made in implementing it. We have organised its implementation into five-year programmatic terms called the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF). We should look at the targets we set in the MTSF and assess whether we have met them. The importance of this fifth anniversary for all public servants is for them to look at the role each of them is playing to realise the objectives set in the NDP.
Let’s use the Public Service Month 2017 to rededicate ourselves to the values of public service and to put these values to practice through the implementation of the NDP. Our people deserve nothing less than public servants who work to bring about a South Africa in which, to borrow words from another icon of our liberation struggle, former President Nelson Mandela, there would be work, bread, water and salt for all.
I have no doubt that there is nothing that would please OR Tambo on his 100th anniversary more than a South Africa in which there is an army of dedicated public servants who are working tirelessly to bring Madiba’s vision into being!