Lost and found creed
What has happened to putting the people of South Africa first?
HARDLY a week passes without violent service delivery protests in many parts of the country.
So ridiculous is the situation that public representatives are now asking for life insurance cover.
The protests have also become something of a moral hazard, with citizens destroying the little but significant infrastructure they have to vent their frustrations.
The government has resorted to all manner of tactics to deal with this. The most obvious one is the deployment of the police.
The other is mere public appeal against violence.
Another tactic gaining ground is to launch attacks on "third force" elements who fuel protests.
Whatever government officials make of them, what is certain is that the service delivery protests have become a defining feature of our public space and political culture. Destructive - and in some cases deadly - as they increasingly are, the protests have become normal.
But why is the government allowing civil unrest to be a normal feature of our society when it knew what needed to be done to quell public frustration just three years into democracy?
Could it be that officials don't have the capacity to understand policies formulated by their own government?
Could it be that those presiding over state institutions are ignorant of what Nelson Mandela's administration formulated?
On October 1 1997 the government produced the most important document after the Constitution.
The White Paper on Batho Pele was signed off by then Public Service and Administration Minister Zola Skweyiya.
It was published in Sesotho, Xitsonga, isiZulu, Afrikaans and English to ensure it reached as many people as possible.
Skweyiya understood that he was elected into office to advance the interest of the people.
"Access to decent public services is no longer a privilege to be enjoyed by a few; it is now the rightful expectation of all citizens especially those previously disadvantaged," he wrote in the foreword of the document.
"The transformation of the public service is to be judged, rightly, by the practical differences people see in their daily lives. That is why I am launching Batho Pele.
"I want to turn words into action. I want the needs of our people to come first and be satisfied. I want people to view and experience the public service in an entirely new way."
Sweet words indeed.
The document stated that improving service delivery meant redressing the imbalances of the past and focusing on meeting the needs of citizens living below the poverty line, the disabled and black women living in rural areas.
Improving service delivery, the document stated, needed new ways of working that put the needs of the public first: better, faster and more responsive to citizens' needs.
The document criticised the lack of "clearly defined standards by which to measure the delivery of services". It observed that "all too often it is left to the citizen to work out for himself or herself what services are available, and what he or she is entitled to".
In addition, "finding the right person to speak to in a national or provincial department, particularly someone who can give friendly advice can be very trying, leaving the citizen feeling helpless, frustrated and uncertain".
Fifteen years later many can relate to this.
What the document said about the importance of setting and publishing standards is worth quoting at length.
"National and provincial departments must publish standards for the level and quality of services they will provide, including the introduction of new services to those who have previously been denied access to them.
"In the case of certain services, such as health, or education, national departments, in consultation with provincial departments, may set standards which will serve as national baseline standards. Individual provinces may then set their own standards, provided these meet or exceed the national baseline..."
Now, listening to Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu talk about the importance of a new type of civil service, one would be forgiven for thinking it's a new idea.
To her credit, she is doing the right thing: linking productivity (improved service delivery) to wage increases. But this should have long been entrenched.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has just begun to put together a system with clearly set standards for health care. Why is it being done now? What happened all these years?
Prior to his election and in subsequent speeches, President Jacob Zuma spoke about how his government would make sure that it does things better and faster.
It was as if it was a ground-breaking undertaking. But this is what the government promised in 1997 - only to let the Batho Pele document gather dust.
How many government departments have set service delivery targets? How many have published them? How many have explained these targets to citizens?
Do the generic statistics about delivery of services - water, housing, electricity - have meaning to the people who have supposedly received the services?
Do citizens know what are the service delivery targets of their respective municipalities?
Do they know what the service delivery targets of their provincial governments? What do councils, provincial legislatures and parliament do when these targets are not met, assuming that there are targets in place?
The government can expand the police force to deal with protesters, but for as long as Batho Pele remains a theory, we must brace ourselves for more deadly protests and expensive insurance cover for our councillors and MPs.