AFRICAN Union member states last week converged in the tourist city of Victoria Falls to discuss public service issues as they commemorated the 8th session of the Africa Public Service Day. Senior business reporter Melody Chikono spoke to AU Commission Representative, Ambassador Osman Keh Kamara (OK, pictured) on the sidelines of the conference to discuss the significance of the day to the public service, which comes at a time the government is involved in a cat-and-mouse game with its workforce. Below are the excerpts from the interview:
MC: What is the general perception of public service in Africa?
OK: The thrust of this particular day is, there is a commemoration day and the theme is: “Building the Africa we want, through embracing an ethical culture that underpins purpose-driven leadership in the context of a crisis”. As you know there is this perception that we are not managing public service well in Africa. This is not the case now because if you look at what is happening in Africa now in respect of this Covid-19 pandemic we have tried our best to manage it efficiently with the help of our CDC and the help of the African Union and other various leaders of the public service commission. They had meetings and agreed to continue the delivery of public service efficiently despite the pandemic.
And now we have decided to change the method of work by using the virtual method of delivering service to various communities within the African Union. Whenever we use the face-to-face method, we ensure that we limit interaction .If you noticed we are less than 50 here. This applies throughout Africa. So these are some of the challenges we are facing at the moment.
MC: What are some of the challenges of public service delivery in Africa?
OK: One method of allaying fears on how we handle public service delivery is to ensure that our programmes are implemented. This one example, when the decision was taken in 1994 that we effect public service delivery we decided to do it periodically every year and the objective of this particular programme is to reflect on the provision of a more enabling platform for public servants to reflect their achievements to ensure that they look at it with a positive eye despite the prevailing circumstances. It is also that we develop new initiatives in developing and addressing the different situations by way of effective governance systems.
Let me take you back a bit. When there was an Ebola crisis, Africa developed a particular governance strategy calling it Africa Response Ebola Crisis in West Africa. So in this case as well, we realise that the challenges of Covid-19 are part and parcel of public administration.
So through the governance structure that was in place, the AU tried to modify it by bringing in CDC to make sure that they put in mechanisms that ensure that member states adhere to effective service delivery on the continent
So the AU has in place rules put together by WHO and the CDC, the African leader in terms of initiating innovations for the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
MC: What are some of the key issues you have put in place so far?
OK: One is to adhere to the use of face masks, it’s one aspect though there are still challenges in relation to the manufacturing aspect. Not all countries have the capacity to manufacture them.
We have the sanitisation process to ensure that whatever we do we put our safety first. Testing and prosper sanitisation are some of the additional mechanisms. It is also mandatory that all meetings should be virtual if it’s more than 50 people.
MC: So how accessible is the AU for an aggrieved ordinary public servant?
OK: Another method of delivering service is to ensure that citizens air burning issues affecting them. So we have this forum here, citizens should air their views and how to access services delivered by their governments and if not through the AU by participating though such events. It is not only limited to us here but every public servant across the continent. So here they are allowed to air their grievances as it is also virtual.
AU will know about it and find a way of addressing the issues by ensuring that the governments conform and inform what is affecting their people and come up with strategies or policies to ensure that member states adhere to those policies as we try to bring about an amelioration of public service delivery in those countries.
MC: So what are some of the key issues that you are addressing in dealing with public service issues?
OK: Sometimes it is common for member states to concentrate on urban areas. So decentralisation is one aspect of ensuring that service delivery goes to rural communities as well, but how can you do that? You try to bring about policies and strategies that will focus on rural communities rather than just the city centres. Right now we are having meetings here because the government ensured that not only Harare but also the provincial headquarters can host meetings.
If you look at the participants and even the keynote address took into consideration people from the regions. So if it happens in a decentralised system in Zimbabwe it means it can work out in other countries as well. Look at the exhibitions that we officially launched, they did not focus on Zimbabwe only but saw people from Kenya and other countries trying to address public services.
Now this can be an opener to the continent. So these are some of the methods put in place to have a big forum like this, to organise it and invite people from all over Africa so we can share knowledge and then transform and implement them to our various countries.
MC: So do you have any penalties if a government fails to adhere to laid down rules and procedures?
OK: As you know every state is a sovereign nation and we also have what we call a treaty or an organisation. So if we agree to come together as a treaty, as an organisation, it means we have also decided to agree to cede a part of our sovereignty for the benefit of the general population.
If a country is not doing these things, there is a way how we police it. We communicate that wrongdoing to that country not directly but through statements so that the country can address that issue. There are no penalties.
The AU also has systems where people are sanctioned . I’m not sure of this form of non-compliance but if you repeat it over and over again and people continue to voice over those issues, then that can go a long way to inform that government that it is not doing the right thing.
In terms of physical penalties I’m not sure but there are certain penalties like you don’t participate in debates, you don’t participate, at functions of the AU or even voting. If you are supposed to vie for a position, if you have been sanctioned you won’t be able to participate.
MC: Have you ever sanctioned anyone?
OK: Yes there are a number of countries that have been sanctioned, by not participating in AU functions, by not voting and by not having access to some benefits.
Failing to comply with public service rules may be regarded as non-compliance and attract sanction. Non-compliance with the AU treaty will also attract sanctions.