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Editorial: Civil Servants’ Primary Role Is To Serve The People

Editorial: Civil Servants’ Primary Role Is To Serve The People
July 31
11:00 2017

Complaints against civil servants are not new. While it is sad to say it, it has been a problem plaguing the civil service after Fiji became independent in 1970.

The Auditor-General Reports year in and year out give us a snapshot of the magnitude of the problem.

That’s the reason why we urgently need  civil service reforms to stop the rot and clear it.

At Vunivau, Labasa, on Saturday, people aired their grievances about the poor service in the processing of their applications. Two organisations were  specifically mentioned, the Lands Department and the iTaukei Land Trust Board. The Attorney-General and Minister for Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who fielded the complaints had to apologise for civil servants who failed to do their job.

Work habits and attitude don’t form overnight. There is a conception period before they take root and grow. It is during this conception period when they should have been identified and nipped in the bud.

The issues in the Auditor-General’s Report relate, in principle, to the lack of integrity, inefficiency, incompetence and the general lack accountability and transparency.

Some may say that the civil service is the country’s largest bureaucracy and employer and as such, these things are bound to happen. Wrong. We are hoping that the current reforms will prove it.

There used to be this belief that the civil service is the best place to work in because you cannot lose your job as long as you punch in when you start in the morning and punch out in the afternoon when you finish, and go with the flow.

That is no longer the case now. To start off with, new employees recruited are accepted on merit. A new performance-based policy ensures that employees who put in an honest day’s work or work beyond the call of duty get compensated.

It encourages civil servants to perform to the best of their ability and raise the standard of service to the people. It means that the waiting time for applications to be processed will be cut back drastically.

This requires a shakeup in the executive arm of Government. The problems of the past also reflect the performance of those put in charge of the respective ministries. For example, the Permanent Secretary for Infrastructure is accountable for that ministry’s performance. He or she is responsible for putting together the policies and systems that will ensure efficiency, accountability and transparency.

Learning from the past, we must have a system that requires the permanent secretaries reporting to the line minister. While this means it is a crossover from the executive to the legislature, it is a form of checks and balances.

It makes sense because the minister should be ultimately responsible for his or her ministry and is answerable to the people through Parliament and the ballot box.

When a new government comes in, it has been given a mandate by the people to implement its policies. Whether civil servants personally like these policies or not they are obligated to implement them.

It has been suspected that some civil servants, because of their opposing political beliefs, have allegedly worked to frustrate Government efforts to serve the people. This has been highlighted by the complaints coming from people.

We have also heard reports that some civil servants are allegedly engaged in political activities.  If it is true, it is against their conditions of employment. They can only do so if they have resigned or have retired. Civil servants must be impartial in the discharge of their duties. They carry out the policies of the Government of the day irrespective of which political party is in power. They should not lose sight of their primary role and that is to serve the people.

Nemani Delaibatiki

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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