by Frank Stevens, Institute For Municipal Engineering Of South Africa

Issues with service delivery

International Public Service Day: SA is severely lacking

SA is struggling with effective service delivery
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Public Service Day has become a day of recognising a competent civil service as one of the foundations of a sound democracy and a successful government, consequently pronouncing to the world that civil service is nothing less than a human rights issue. 

As part of celebrating global public service, the United Nations Economic and Social Council established the UN Public Service Awards to laud innovative achievements and contributions of public service institutions worldwide. The awards promote professionalism, positive impact and prominence amongst civil servants – crucial measures needed to motivate and encourage service delivery excellence in the public sector.  

Earlier this month the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) made a national plea to government departments amidst “a serious service delivery breakdown in several parts of South Africa and a perceived lack of government accountability.”

Several government departments stepped up to the plate in a “defining meeting” to address some of the findings from the SAHRC’s National Hearing on Water and Sanitation. Report findings underlined the lack of access to water for some of the poorest communities in the country, poor water quality, the lack of sanitation services in informal settlements and poor maintenance of existing facilities, amongst some. 

The inter-governmental collaborative initiative is applauded, as well as the governmental departments who accepted the need for action, as outlined by the Commission. 

As a South African civil servant, and on behalf of the Institute of Municipal Engineering of Southern Africa (IMESA) serving as the organisation’s current president, we recognise these immense service delivery challenges. They are vast, and they keep us awake at night. 

As an organisation we aim to combat these challenges through capacity building and knowledge transfer. IMESA successfully liaised with the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) for the establishment of the Blue/Green Drop master classes to contribute to enhanced water quality and sanitation services in South Africa. 

Recently, the organisation also started lobbying for higher integration and collaboration between local governments across Southern Africa. Over the past few years, IMESA has increasingly tabled the importance of not only serving South African municipal engineers, but also to develop a network of support, knowledge sharing and service integration for the municipal engineering fraternity across the SADC states. 

As we are on the brink of opening branches in Harare, Zimbabwe and Mbabane, Swaziland, we recognise the similarities in infrastructure and service delivery challenges we share with our Southern African neighbours. 

Through IMESA’s collaboration with the International Federation of Municipal Engineers (IFME), we have also come to realise that the challenges we face and agonise over continuously within Southern Africa’s local authorities are not isolated to the SADC states, but are being experienced globally. 

The pipeline of young engineers and other technical staff presents a global challenge to local authorities. Worldwide, municipal engineers lament infrastructure maintenance and asset management problems, adequate budget spending and timeous delivery of services. 

I need to articulate, however, that the severity of the inequality of service provision in South Africa cannot compete with anywhere in the world. It is a challenge that government departments and associations of all levels cannot neglect or devalue. In a global context, this is a South African challenge – one we need to find proactive, combined solutions for. 

Today, public service organisations and departments around the world celebrate the valuable role that public servants play in making improvements to society and democracy. Let us take consolation in the fact that the South African public sector shares united service delivery challenges with the rest of the world, never forgetting that we have a unique human rights issue to fight locally. 

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