Analysis

Nemani Delaibatiki: Civil Servants Have To Play Their Part In National Development, Be Accountable

Some civil servants are still clinging on to the old attitude and ways of doing things despite the on-going civil service reforms, it seems. As a result some development projects
24 Jan 2020 09:39
Nemani Delaibatiki: Civil Servants Have To Play Their Part In National Development, Be Accountable
The newly-constructed Lokia Kindergarten in Rewa.

Some civil servants are still clinging on to the old attitude and ways of doing things despite the on-going civil service reforms, it seems.

As a result some development projects are being affected and the Government is being blamed unfairly.

But people do not differentiate civil servants and the Government.

When something goes wrong the Government usually gets the blame because people think civil servants are Government. Yes and no.

Yes, because they are Government employees, paid for by taxpayers’ money to serve the people.

No, because they act as advisers only to their line ministers who make the final decisions in their ministries. They implement Government policies whether they agree with them or not.

If their conscience tells them that they can’t support the policies and can’t function properly then they should do the honourable thing and quit.

That is better than staying on the job and making life difficult for their colleagues who are trying to do their best to fulfill their prescribed responsibilities.

They drag their feet and hope that the policies fail so that they can be vindicated and still get paid.

Ultimately the people they are supposed to serve suffer as a result.

Some are driven by political motives or professional pride or an old culture and practice or just plain incompetence.

The bottom line is for the civil servants to provide the support for the Government irrespective of which political party is in power.

Their job is to facilitate and implement Government policies to the best of their ability and ensure that people benefit.

Their ministers have the final say on the recommendations and advice they provide.

This is because the people will judge them for their performance at the ballot box during the General Election every four years.

For the FijiFirst Government it will happen in 2022.

Between now and then it will try to deliver on its promises contained in the 2018 election manifesto.

That is why the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, had to intervene in the Lokia Kindergarten saga in Rewa.

Now this may be a small rural kindy in a close-knit multiracial community, probably of little consequence to many people because there are no big names there.

These are ordinary folk, most of whom eke out a living through subsistence farming and fishing.

For nine years they dreamed of a proper kindy. Many sacrificed to take their children to Nakaikoqo, Toga, in a 20 minute bus ride. Others travelled longer to go to Nakasi.

The rest went to an improvised setup in Lokia.

Already at least 18 children are going to be registered in the new facility which may require expansion if there are more intakes.

In November last year a committee headed by Jo Vesikara decided to approach the Chinese Embassy in Suva for help.

They needed $20,000 to start building the kindergarten. This was granted.

A Ministry of Education official and the Assistant Roko Tui Rewa received the cheque on behalf of the committee at the embassy.

Groundbreaking was done on December 31. An invitation was sent to the ministry but no one attended.

Volunteers built the building which was to be ready for opening on January 17.

Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, was to attend to receive the handover of the kindy from the Chinese to the Fijian Government.

On the eve of the planned opening Mr Vesikara received an email from the Ministry of Education outlining a list of compliance issues.

It was followed up with a phone call threatening the committee that the ministry would close the kindy if the committee opened it as scheduled.

Mr Vesikara then approached Mr Bainimarama for help. The PM had no hesitation to step in and help because children’s education ranks high on his priority list.

If Mr Vesikara had not made noises and asked the PM for assistance, they would still be running around to fulfill the compliance requirements because they cost money.

Now the kindy will soon open and it is only fitting that Mr Bainimarama should open it.

Some questions need to be asked.

Why was no Education official at the groundbreaking ceremony?

If someone was there the committee would have been advised of the compliance issues.

To make matters worse no ministry staff inspected the construction right up to its completion.

Was it because this is a small rural kindy, which is a community initiative?

The seemingly lack of interest by some of the ministry staff in this project is exactly what civil servants should not do.

At the end of the day, it was the Government that was getting the bad wrap. Someone needs to be held responsible in the ministry over this serious blunder as a lesson to others.

If this was a project with some prominent people, the attitude might have changed.

That’s disgraceful. Everyone should be treated equally whether they are prominent or not, rich or poor.

The Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, stressed this principle when he recently spoke at a Legal Aid Conference.

Permanent Secretaries are ultimately responsible for their civil servants on performance appraisal and other employment issues.

But when a CEO of an organisation writes to a PS and does not get a response until five months later despite several reminders, what does it say?

The role of civil servants is absolutely important in national development. For the civil service reforms to work they need all civil servants including the PSs to embrace the changes that improve service delivery.

The Lokia Kindergarten is a good case study.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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