Do we need government, let alone the lesser spotted public servant?

While one cannot malign all and sundry in the public service, one has to dig deep in the barrel for good and diligent apples.

By Imraan Buccus

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

An increasingly rare species is slipping further from public view: the lesser spotted public servant. When the provincial capital was cauterised from the IFP’s Zululand heartland in Ulundi, the ANC promised a boom for the once sleepy hollow of Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal. And it delivered.

Armies of officials drove up rentals and property prices. The fried and flame-grilled chicken economy had feathers flying. Driving this past week through Langalibalele Street at 4pm, one had the distinct impression that the city’s eyes have become droopy again. Where there were once throngs of SUVs generously funded by government subsistence and travel allowances, there is the ease of a platteland dorpie. No one is more disturbed than the cashier at the chicken joint close to the equally desolate petrol station.

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Pietermaritzburg government departments have been depleted of all manner of life. Corridors haunted by deathly silence. Doors latched. Cleaners robbed of dust and trash. That is not to say that there has been any dent in the public sector wage bill. Quite the contrary. Unions are clamouring for more. More for less?

A curious directive from the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) decreed that public servants – chilled by “working from home” since last March and undisturbed by salary cuts or furloughs – had to come in on a generous rotational basis (if not disturbed by that endemic species: the comorbidities medical certificate).

Even when the struggling country energetically returned to Covid-19 Level 1 regulations, the Pietermaritzburg grandees clung to the protection of the lazy circular. While one cannot malign all and sundry in the public service, one has to dig deep in the barrel for good and diligent apples. To add insult to the injury of the public purse, the selfsame minister of the mollycoddling circular made a shocking revelation in response to a parliamentary question.

DPSA Minister Senzo Mchunu was forced to disclose that of the 9,477 senior managers listed on the Personnel and Salary System, 3,301 do not have the required qualifications. Of these, 1,987 officials are employed in national departments with the rest in the provinces. Or in KwaZulu-Natal’s case, safely at home. The salary scales bring tears to the most Covid-19-weary eyes.

Middle managers command between R779,802 and R922,750 per annum. Those higher up gobble anything between R1,078,267 and R1,974,067, depending on their grade (or lack thereof in the case of the 3,301 with close political connections but lacking the right paperwork). Despite the missing public servant, the lack of government service delivery has run along unhindered.

Do we need government, let alone the lesser spotted public servant? DM168

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