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CIVIL SERVANTS AND POLITICAL AFFILIATION

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I am definitely sure that everyone knows an employee in the civil service who barely goes to work, not because they are indisposed or have a valid reason for doing so.

Some do this because they just have this sense of entitlement. Others do this because they just do not believe in the system of government they work for, which is tinkhundla. In most cases, those who have the sense of entitlement are pro-tinkhundla and those who do not believe in the system are obviously anti-tinkhundla and belong to the ideologies of various political parties. We then have the so-called neutrals. Even though those who are pro-tinkhundla do not belong to a specific political organisation, they nonetheless believe they are of the ruling class.

We should not beat about the bush here; this is the group that is mostly made up of people who are close to the royal family (not members of the royal family per se but belong to the extended families of the royal family – if that makes any sense). This group can be a real handful and nuisance. They make the royal family look so bad.  To be entitled means believing you have an inherent right to something. It is very easy to feel entitled, to feel like we deserve a certain quality of life or valuable opportunities. I don’t know if anyone is immune from entitlement at one time or another. It’s what you do with that sense of entitlement that matters most. I have been told many stories about this one principal secretary (PS) who is barely at work.  Imagine, a whole PS not coming to work! In the few days that this PS happens to report to the office, they say an hour is more than enough before disappearing. This PS is someone who is close to a high-profile member of the royal family. This is what makes this PS feel entitled. Principal secretaries are the controlling officers of government ministries.

reshuffled

They are assumed to be more powerful than Cabinet ministers. Even officers are known to respect principal secretaries more than ministers because they know that the former will more likely remain in that position for countless years as opposed to the latter, who can only be there for not more than 10 years and could even be sacked or reshuffled anytime. Principal secretaries are rarely reshuffled or sacked. Under the leadership of this one PS, who would expect a committed team of officers? Entitlement is one of the reasons the country’s public service is in shambles.

So, when I learnt that Minister of Public Service Mabulala Maseko informed senators that aspiring civil servants would be vetted to determine their political affiliation in order to sift those who are anti-tinkhundla, I thought to myself “but that’s not the main problem”. You can have an entire public service that is 100 per cent pro-tinkhundla and still have a totally malfunctioning government machinery. Most civil servants are in their comfort zones – bakagogo. You would ordinarily expect that those civil servants who are in support of the Tinkhundla System would work hard so as to portray it positively, but the exact opposite is happening with most of them. They are the ones who have made the system appear to be a non-starter. They are self-entitled, lazy and corrupt. They also expect to be protected from all these deliberate shortcomings. That’s what the minister needs to deal with.

affiliation

Yes, it should also be a concern that there are civil servants who, because of their political affiliation, are working against the system they were employed to work for. But I do not believe a person’s political affiliation should bar them from being employed as civil servants, just as long as they do not publicly display this affiliation. There are many civil servants who are known to be aligned to certain political parties but they perform their duties diligently. Some have even retired. They were even better than those who are known to be pro-tinkhundla. Take the case of Elliot Mkhatshwa – an individual who was known not to be a fan of the Tinkhundla System but worked for government committedly for 40 years. Before he retired, he gave an interview to the Times of Eswatini and described his years of employment as ‘40 years of slavery’. But hats should be taken off for this man because he served government loyally.

diligently

“I have served government even though we were enemies and I did this diligently throughout the four decades. I have been working as a slave for all these years but I am not bitter because I know that I have done my best,” he said during that interview in 2014, five weeks before his retirement in January 2015. Those were the words of a true civil servant. He remained committed to his job despite not being considered for promotion because of his political views or perceived political affiliation. He was judged on his perceived political affiliation more than his job performance. I don’t know whether I missed it or not, but I do not recall seeing Mkhatshwa participating in a political rally under the banner of any political organisation. But I do remember seeing him in protest actions organised by civil servants to address bread and butter issues. That was his right.

Rather than government seeking to vet aspiring civil servants on their political affiliation, I would rather suggest that the Government General Orders should be enforced and then public employees be judged based on their performance in their jobs. As things stand, the General Orders are not being upheld. If they were being enforced, the vetting part would not even be a subject for discussion. In Section 4, the General Orders address the political activities of officers, wherein it states that it is of fundamental importance that political impartiality of the public service shall be maintained, so that the Service may enjoy the confidence of the public, whom it serves.

prohibited

It provides that an officer shall be entitled to his own views on political matters, but he shall not express such views publicly. It goes on to state that an officer shall, therefore, provided he is eligible to vote, confine himself to recording his vote at an election. An officer is prohibited from being a member of any political party or association; or hold any office in such a party; speak in public on any political matter, except in the course of his official duties; publish his views on political matters in writing; take an active part in support of any candidate in an election, other than to record his vote; hold office in any local government body, except where the office is held in an ex-officio capacity, provided that an officer may be appointed as a member of a town council (or other statutory local authority in Eswatini) with the consent of the principal secretary, Ministry of Public Service; and do anything by word, or deed, which is calculated to further the interests of any political party or association. This, for me, is what government should be looking to put into practice and seeing to it that every civil servant toes the line. Many, if not all, countries have this in place.

In Scotland, the civil service code says civil servants must not act in a way that is determined by party-political considerations or allow their personal political views to determine their actions or advice. Civil servants are also banned from using official resources for party-political purposes. The code also says officials must service the government ‘in a way which maintains political impartiality’, regardless of their political beliefs; and comply with ‘any restrictions that have been laid down’ on their political activities. In the Republic of Ireland, the nature of a civil servant’s role is such that a civil servant must maintain a reserve in political matters, in order to ensure confidence in the political impartiality of the Civil Service. The restrictions placed on civil servants in relation to politics and political activity are designed to ensure that a civil servant does not do anything that could give rise to a perception that his or her official actions are in any way influenced or capable of being influenced by party political motives. In the Republic of Moldova, civil servants are expected to be independent in their duties in the sense that their political affiliation should not influence their conduct and decisions, as well as the policies, decisions, and actions of public authorities.

authorities

While performing their duties, the civil servants shall not: Participate in raising funds for the activity of political parties and other social-political organisations; use administrative resources for supporting electoral candidates; post signs or objects with signs or names of political parties or their candidates in the premises of public authorities; campaign in favour of a political party; and establish or contribute to the establishment of subdivisions of political parties within public authorities. The bottom line is that no matter one’s political beliefs, civil servants should be proud of their jobs and have high standards of conduct that will characterise their service to the public over the many years they will be in their positions and carry out the mission of the civil service with diligence. While political affiliation should not influence a civil servants ability to ably carry out their duties of serving the public, those who feel they are self-entitled should be equally admonished.  

The class that feels entitled should not operate under a set of rules that is different from others. We should not get the impression that there is an upper echelon of people who think that the rules that the rest of us have to follow don’t apply to them. Once a person is employed as a civil servant, they should just do their job and stop politicking or exercising self-entitlement because that is not what they signed up for. As for that Principal Secretary, you are a bad example; please stop it!

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