Speech by John Gomomo on the Department of Public Service & Administration Budget Vote Debate

5 June 2007

Madame Speaker
Minister of Public Service and Administration
Members of Parliament

This debate comes at a difficult time that the Nation's focus on anything that has to do with Public Service is the wage negotiations, the deadlock, the public sector strike and the future.

I will therefore be failing in duty if I do not reflect on the current debate at the public discourse.

The Nation is debating issues of Public Service and Administration, guided by what is happening at the moment in the country and the impact thereof on service delivery.

The strike is on and its effects are visible, even in those areas that we all agree are essential services, and by all, including those workers we all agree should approach their work like a calling.

I was listening to a phone-in debate on the SA-FM channel of our Radio Broadcasting recently, and the topic was whether or not the Public Sector strike is an indication that the Government has failed the workers and failed us as a Nation, by not resolving those issues that led to the strike.

Of course, as it would be expected in any debate like that, there were those people who were saying that the Government has not failed the workers and therefore it has not failed the Nation.

One of such callers said that the Government has done enough to the extent of their affordability and that they acquitted themselves well in the negotiation process.

Some of the callers held a point of view that the Government has in deed failed the workers and therefore failed the Nation in their handling of the Public Service issues.

They argued that the conditions, under which the Public sector workers are, live much to be desired and that we do not seem to see a demonstration of the will to deal with some of those issues.

Some would even suggest that the fact that some of the Public Sector workers would opt for alternative employment opportunities outside the country is a demonstration of them getting disillusioned with the manner the Government responds to issues of conditions of service, including salary issues.

Such views also alluded to the service delivery record of Government and said that it is not where it is supposed to be because of what they said is due to the low level of morale in the Public Service as a result of what they call poor conditions of service.

There was one caller who maintained that neither of the parties is doing us any good.

He said that whereas the Government has to do more to address the conditions of service for Public Service workers, the workers must do more on their part as well.

Commenting on whether the workers should continue with the strike, he said that they may strike as long as they want, and that the Nation would not feel any difference because he believes that, after all, even if they are not at a declared strike, their pace of work suggest that they are in a permanent state of striking.

I know Honourable Members here may have other stories to tell about what they heard people say on the strike.

What I observed in that debate was the fact that people could raise different views as to how they feel about the wage negotiations, the deadlock and the strike, but they all could converge on a common understanding that the strike is at no one's advantage, and that something needed to be done to address the matter.

This observation is so important for the Nation to understand the objective position of all the parties on both sides of the industrial action declared.

My view in the whole matter is that the parties involved in the negotiations should acknowledge that the Nation is facing a serious challenge, exercise restraint but intensify their efforts to expedite the resolution of the matter.

Everything else all of us may need to do is to provide as much as we can, our support for the quick resolution of the problem.

Last week I made a call from this podium that as the parties engage in the negotiations, they should also put the interests of the Nation at heart and be more cautious.

I reminded them, as I remind them now, that the question that society is asking is as to whether a sense of responsibility is at all times maintained by all the negotiators in this current wage negotiations.

What I understand about acting responsibly in a Democratic dispensation means acting in respect of the rights of others.

What I understand about fighting responsibly in a Democracy means fighting in observance of the rules of the fight. We cannot fight like wild animals in a Democracy.

What I understand about fighting responsibly in a Democracy means even in a worst case situation of war, there are rules to be respected.

What I understand about negotiating responsibly means negotiating in good faith with the intention of providing a solution.

Now to all parties involved, do you think you are acting responsibly?

Acting in the spirit of respecting the separation of powers between Parliament and the Executive, I will urge the Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration to reflect on this wage negotiations at an appropriate time and we will come back to this House with a considered opinion on the matter.

We do not want to be seen to be meddling into the affairs of the Executive in this matter now, hence we want to allow the process to run its course without making possible unguided calls beyond just talking about the process itself and the parties to be responsible in their conduct.

But we want to stress that we cannot afford to be silent forever in dealing with questions of content on this matter as if to suggest that our oversight role over the Executive is barred from attending to issues of negotiations on conditions of service.

Madam Speaker,

Today we are debating the budget Votes that seek to address the financial resources meant to support the role of the Department of Public Service and Administration, the Public Service Commission, the South African Management Development Institute and the State Information Technology Agency, for their role in providing support to the entire Public Administration.

This is an opportunity for us to reflect on the highlights and lowlights that characterise our ability as a Nation to implement the policies and legislation that are designed to propel us to the ultimate goal of better life for all.

I have to agree with Professor Sangweni, the Chairperson of the Public Service Commission, for what he said in his foreword to the 2007 State of the Public Service Report, when he said the following: "As South Africa enters the fourth year of its second decade of democracy, the country can look back with pride and celebrate the significant milestones it has achieved since the dawn of its political transition".

I further agree with him when he said: "and there is improved access to basic services such as water, electricity and health. Yet the daunting task of creating a better life for all is by no means fully accomplished".

Taking a cue from our turn of first Decade review, it comes to mind that we have come out with policies that are ready to take the process forward to the realization of the stated ultimate objective.

The area that needs strengthening is in dealing with the implementation of those policies.

If we all agree that we need more action in response to the service delivery challenges that we identify, we need to know exactly as to what is it that we have to do.

We must identify the National problem correctly.

The challenge that we have in doing so as Portfolio Committees of Parliament is that we rely on reports that we receive from the very institutions that we have to manage our oversight function.

They are the ones that say to us that so much has been done, and so little remains to be done, and we formulate our Programme of Action to respond thereon guided by those reports.

If they want to give us half-baked truths, we more often take them for their words and join the chorus to repeat verses, some times to the disappointment of the public that we are representing.

I think Parliament should build an independent capacity in terms of which Committees should be able to read into the performance details of Government Departments without having those Departments writing the stories themselves, and there should be sufficient resources, including time for such to happen.

Take, for intense, the use of Annual Reports as accountability mechanism for Public Service performance.

How useful is this supposedly important instrument?

Not long, the Public Service Commission conducted an investigation on the usefulness of Annual Reports as an accountability mechanism, and established that this instrument is not being used effectively as envisaged.
Of course, we acknowledge that we have an independent Public Service Commission that should be able to deal with matters of Public Service without fear or favour.

The question that we have to ask ourselves is as to whether this independent body has the necessary resources and power it takes to be able to deal with such issues that it ought to handle.

Simply put, how independent is that Public Service Commission without enforcing powers on the findings and subsequent recommendations they make on specific issues of Public Service.

We are looking forward to the report of Parliament's Ad hoc Committee on the review of, among others, this important organ of our Government.

However, we may write about success stories in the implementation of the policies that we developed for ourselves.

But, the other thing I think all of us have to be worried about is the extent to which all these policies are implemented, and for those implemented, we need to be concerned as to assess whether such moves are valuable moves both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Four years into our Second Decade of democracy, a review on compliance with the Batho Pele Policy on service delivery reflect that not all is well.

It is reported that there is room for improvement in compliance with Batho Pele, let alone the internalization thereof as guiding principles for public service employees.

But what is a serious threat is the realization that it seems like there is no generic understanding on some of the principles of Batho Pele, such as value for money.

The challenge that we have therefore in as far our policies are concerned is whether they are user-friendly or not.

Our policies should not be complicated to require a high degree of sophistication to be able to understand.

It should be stated, however, that there are notable interventions that are put in place to accelerate service delivery in our Public Service, and to do so in a clearly coordinated fashion.

Some of those interventions include the introduction of Service Delivery Improvement Plans by the Department of Public Service and Administration, as well as the Round Table discussions and Service Delivery Inspections by the Public Service Commission.

As we developed our Programme of Action as the Portfolio Committee, we did so including an arrangement to facilitate the realization of some of these interventions.

We acknowledge lastly that the Debate on these Budget Votes comes at a time that we are readying ourselves to engage in a debate to establish a single Public Service, and I believe that all South Africans are looking forward to that engagement.

In conclusion, I want to thank all Members of the Portfolio Committee for their contribution in the activities of the Committee and of Parliament in general.

The ANC supports the Budget Votes for DPSA, PSC, SAMDI and SITA.