Strangely, this past week a guy walked in, chased all out and locked up the offices he had spent his resources to maintain. The reason being that he had not been paid for half a year despite timely and satisfactory completion of his work! This is not government policy and it is not the BDP trying to make anyone suffer: it is one or a few people simply failing to do their job. The BDP government has provided money for projects - why can cheques not be signed on time for people who have successfully completed their jobs?
The answer lies in a bureaucracy that is out of touch. Former Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair in his memoirs, A Journey, brilliantly picks this up from the onset and he uses his first meeting and subsequent encounters with Sir Robin Butler, Cabinet Secretary back then as an illustrative point. In his description, Blair says Sir Butler “was a traditionalist with all the strength and weaknesses that reverence for tradition implies; and in this, he was thoroughly representative of a large part of the senior civil service”. This is a scenario not unlike in Botswana. An aging civil service is increasingly failing to deliver public goods as expected and political principals are getting frustrated. What is the root of the problem? Blair called it inertia.
Inertia was a result of being out of touch with the modern state. Blair posited that “as I shall come to later, the skill set required for making the modern state work effectively is different from that needed in the mid-twentieth century; it is far less to do with conventional policy advise, and far more to do with delivery and project management. The skills are actually quite analogous to those of the private sector. This is true of civil servants. It is also true of politicians”.
In Botswana as in Tony Blair’s Britain at the time, civil servants go on about business as they always have. The civil servants largely do not manage projects as they do in the private sector where ‘time is money’ and targets have to be met or one gets fired. In Government people take their time. This is hugely due to an environment that fosters entitlement and less having to sweat to grow. The politicians are not any better.
In Botswana as in Britain, the dismissal of directors gets the media headlines painting doom; the labour unions arguing constitutional outrage. Similarly, the appointment of certain individuals by a seating president is seen as a bad thing: a living example is the current administration’s record number of ex-military men appointees who have been viewed with all sorts of intrigue and skepticism. Yet, for a government to deliver, it needs to take control of this aspect.
This may yet be the biggest problem with our public service and political heads of department. Not being suited to the working of the machinery of the modern state - especially in the 21st century is a problem since the private company now does business with government routinely; the public company is receding.
If government is not broke and projects were budgeted for why must it take 6 months to pay a guy who is owed P39 000? He has people working under him and they demand pay from him. Much as he explains he is still owed money by government they do not believe him because in their eyes government is loaded and cannot be said to be unable to pay P39 000. And they are right in their thinking. Rather, some public servants are failing to execute their mandate on time. If there was a problem, why is that after the locking up of the offices a cheque was immediately done?
I hope the political principals are demanding explanations of this action. At times you get the feeling some people are making efforts at embarrassing government for reasons best known to themselves. Why can we not pay people on time? Well you say you are busy but we all know of the eight hours per day you spend slightly over half doing official duties and some on your on errands. Our civil service can and must do better if our economy is to grow. And people must know that P39 000 in January may no longer be worth the same in June!