IN HIS inauguration address President Jacob Zuma committed himself to the service of the nation with dedication, commitment and discipline.
He called for faster service delivery and instructed all to ensure that everything we do contributed in a direct and meaningful way to the improvement of the lives of our citizens.
To ensure the building of a caring society and a responsive and effective public service, he established the Presidential Hotline. Twenty-one staff members were brought in to the Presidency for the job.
Not long after our appointment we found ourselves sitting in this new "aircraft" and having to pilot it safely to its intended destination.
At first glance it looked glamorous and it felt good to be part of the highest office in the land. But little did we know the responsibility and endurance that comes with it.
After all our experiences I am certain that none of us would want to be president and be faced with this country's problems.
It is almost three months since we rolled up our sleeves, hoping to change the way things are done in government.
As the president says, "we need to foster the culture of an interactive, responsive and caring government that puts people first".
When we started work the president warned us: "You might receive calls from angry people who would have been provoked by your colleagues from other departments. Remain calm, patient and be humane and human.''
Indeed, we try our best, all 21 of us at the Presidency, the 40 call centre agents at the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) and 43 public liaison officers in offices of premiers and departments.
But just as the president had warned, we find ourselves in the middle of things.
On the one hand we face the wrath of government officials who are irked by our persistence.
On the other hand, we find ourselves at the receiving end of the public when the departments fail to respond to enquiries punctually.
With unimaginable vigour we continue to work connecting the public with the offices that failed them before.
It has been overwhelming to see the offices that were said to be arrogant, non-responsive and uncaring starting to communicate with a greater sense of respect and fulfilling the president's wish.
We have grown considerably in life skills over the past three months.
The team has had to deal with the emotional journey of citizens who have waited for years for their problems to be resolved.
We have watched colleagues in tears after persuading citizens not to take their lives and have listened to many heart-rending stories.
I have never experienced such emotion as when we share the joy of reading messages sent by overwhelmed individuals who have had grants approved, identity document problems rectified, processed and delivered, bank repossessed houses saved from auctioneers, labour relations cases fairly heard and resolved, community land restored to the descendants of the first inhabitants, electricity bills sorted out and electricity reconnected.
We have resolved about 9000 cases and wanted to have resolved a much larger number of cases during this short time.
In the first month of the hotline's operation, only 12 percent of the cases in the provinces were resolved, in October 26 percent of calls were resolved and in November 31 percent were resolved.
Overall, only 17 percent of the total calls opened with provinces in the past three months were resolved. With the national departments, in September only 19 percent of calls opened were resolved. Overall, 33 percent of calls were resolved. We hope to see an improvement in coming months.
The President has instructed provinces and departments to send turnaround strategies to him.
Directors-general have been urged to monitor the response and resolution rates of their departments and provinces regularly and to ensure that citizens' queries are being attended to.
All directors-general will be given access to the hotline IT platform so that they can use it as a monitoring tool. Even if the success stories do not make it to the front pages, they are the trophies that keep us going in the midst of the criticisms of the hotline.
We have made a good start, and the service can only get better.
lThe writer, formerly with the kwaito group Trompies, is deputy director of the Presidential Hotline in the Presidency.