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Lindiwe Sisulu’s public service plans raise Sadtu’s ire

Just eight months into her new position, Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu plans to send inspectors back to monitor schools, enforce a dress code for teachers and make it difficult for both current and former state employees to do business with the government. South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) has long opposed the return of school inspectors, who were reviled and removed after the ANC took power in 1994.

Sisulu told the Mail & Guardian this week that the majority of measures she is introducing were discussed with public-sector unions and formed part of the three-year agreement she signed with them last year.

However, Sadtu said on Thursday that its national executive committee had decided to withdraw from the agreement. The union's general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said: "We are going to lobby other … unions to show them [basic education minister Angie Motshekga and Sisulu] that they cannot undermine us."

The following are among the measures Sisulu wants to introduce:

  •  A new public service charter that sets the norms and standards for public servants, which will be launched on March 20;
  • Government employees will be sent for compulsory public service courses at a school of government;
  • Public servants fired for fraud, financial mismanagement and misconduct will be blacklisted from being employed by any government department or agency;
  • Disciplinary proceedings will be pursued against public servants who resign during the process;
  • A 12-month cooling-off period will be imposed on state employees involved in the procurement of goods or services from service providers. A contravention of this will result in a R1-million fine;
  • Public servants, without exception, will no longer be allowed to do business with the state;
  • Besides the reintroduction of school inspectors, Sisulu will also be paying surprise visits to schools; and
  • There will be a compulsory dress code for teachers.

Sadtu said it would fight the reintroduction of school inspectors, the biometric fingerprint system to monitor teachers' working hours and the unilateral implementation of a public service charter. However, it will support the establishment of a school of government.

Sisulu has said she is introducing the measures to transform the public service in order to ensure that public servants render appropriate services and to fight corruption.

"The idea of a public service charter came at a point when we were negotiating the annual salaries," Sisulu said. "It occurred to me that, in this relationship with labour, it's a situation of 'you give and we take'.

"In discussions with my team, we realised that one of the ways we could ensure that we are able to have the kind of measurable productive outcomes is to have a basic understanding of what is it that we are measuring, what is it that needs to be achieved and how to work together to achieve those goals. So we came with the idea of the service-delivery charter as part and parcel of the package that we've signed."

Protests and demands
This three-year pact included "a ceasefire," Sisulu said. "They [public servants] will not go on the streets [protesting] because I don't want them on the streets. I want them working.

"When it [the charter] was introduced, they agreed. Need I say that for them their immediate demand is always about 'what's in it for us?' – for themselves – so we introduced the element of what's in it for the common good, for the country, and they were not averse to the idea. They agreed to it."

Sisulu reminded the unions last month that the implementation of key agreements had to begin. "They need to fast track what they are doing to make sure that by March 20 we are able to sign. We're not going back on that."

In future, those wanting to be employed by the state will have to attend the school of government, regardless of the qualifications they already hold. Sisulu is planning to launch the school by October.

"We want to create a cadre who we can entrust with all the responsibilities of government. We can only do that in an environment where we have complete control over … the course structure," she said.

The school will be run in partnership with other learning institutions because the government doesn’t have the capacity to operate it.

"We agreed with labour that we are going to professionalise the public service. All first-time entrants into the public service from last year will not be paid a pay progression until they'e gone for that induction course," Sisulu said.

"In future you'll not enter the public service without having gone through the school of government. Ideally, you would need to have gone through the school to be able to even apply for a job."

Sisulu is determined to root out the cancer of corruption. Public servants will no longer be able to do business with the state, a practice she regards as "the kind of double-dipping, insider trading that is unethical".

She said the prohibition would help in "opening up the space of doing business with the government to entrepreneurs who can create more jobs".

Sisulu is also going to introduce regulations governing public servants who quit. All employees in the government’s procurement services will be obliged to enter a year-long cooling-off period during which they will not be allowed to engage in any business dealings with the state. Her department is developing a database of all employees in that category.

"We have seen how it disadvantages the public service when the top-most echelons are able to leave government service and benefit from something which they have been working on," she said.

Also, any service provider that employs a former public servant will not be able to do work for the government.

"A contravention by a service provider also constitutes good cause for the cancellation of the contract in question," according to the memorandum on the aims of the Public Administration Management Bill compiled by Sisulu's department.

The department's central database, available to all state departments, will make sure that public servants found guilty of malpractice, financial mismanagement, fraud and corruption are blacklisted.

Sisulu also said the government was trying to better the working conditions of the public service. A presidential remuneration commission would investigate the salaries and conditions of employment in some industries, with teachers being given top priority, because they had complained that their salaries did not match their skills, she said.

But, she warned, they would have to show they were worth their salaries. The same commission would "look at whether we're getting value for money. We might even find that they’re better paid than the services that they're giving us.

"We want teachers to be at school eight hours a day, dressed properly, looking the part of a teacher, behaving the part of a teacher, providing the service for which they seek remuneration, and we'll say 'this is the remuneration that we think they are entitled to'."

If it was up to Sisulu, school inspectors would have started working on Monday this week.

"They would have started checking working conditions and monitoring teachers’ compliance with norms, values and standards that we have set out. We pay them in good faith; they must do their work in good faith."

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Mmanaledi Mataboge
Guest Author

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