Public Service Reorientation Programme: reflections from the Lowveld
By National School of Government
South Africa entered uncharted waters in March 2020 when the novel coronavirus arrived on our shores. Like anywhere else in the country, the officials in Mpumalanga are public servants faced with the heavy task of serving the public with diligence, efficiency and dignity, amidst the Covid-19 challenges as well as existing historical inequality and socioeconomic challenges.
The question remained: How to encourage ethical, well informed professional conduct from seasoned public servants? Mpumalanga was the testing ground for the new Reorientation Programme offered by the National School of Government for public servants who were in the system for some time.
The province of Mpumalanga has an approximate population of over 4,5 million people spread over three district municipal areas. The population has grown at an annual rate of 1.60% per annum between 2011 and 2017, which is higher than the national average of 1.48% (according to SCOR’s 2018 Spatial Challenges and Opportunities Report).
“Demonstrate the application of developmental values, constitutional principles and citizen centered approaches.”
According to Stats SA (2016), the province’s total number of households increased from 1 075 488 in 2011 to 1 238 861 in 2016. Whilst Mpumalanga’s Human Development Index (HDI) has seen a great improvement from only 0.50 in 2009 to 0.67 in 2018, poverty in the province is still higher than the national share (SCOR, 2018). The necessity of having a professional, competent and ethical public service is paramount. Convened in the summer of 2020 in Mbombela by the , the Reorientation Programme drew participants from a wide variety of occupations, experience and worldviews. It made for a rich experience where the senior and middle-manager divide was diminished through stimulating conversations and creativity that covered the following outcomes:
- Demonstrate an understanding of how global, regional and national issues affect them and the people they serve, as well as the commitment to unblocking service delivery challenges.
- Demonstrate the application of developmental values, constitutional principles and citizen-centred approaches to their work and the public they serve.
- Demonstrate an understanding of regulatory frameworks from the perspective of lay people and a commitment to work with zeal to implement government priorities.
In addressing real and complex public service issues, the content framework of the programme molded the learning and dialogue towards pragmatic solutions. The ROP curriculum is designed around four vital themes: I care; I value; I serve; and I deliver.
It became clear that in grappling with intricate challenges presented by the content, participants were concerned that any new way of thinking would be futile if it wasn’t anchored on a foundation of a good value-system founded on the Constitution. For South Africa, participants emphasised the preeminence of the principle of nation-building as the cornerstone for a recommitted and revitalised public servant, envisaged in the ROP content. They argued that there can be no real alignment to the developmental state vision in the absence of nation-building, a key principle that became the hallmark of South Africa’s democratic dispensation.
Since its inception, the Public Service Reorientation Programme (ROP) had to navigate through an already charted path to find its own niche among an array of induction courses offered by the National School of Government (NSG). “How do we amplify the ROP among a range of our courses already entrenched in the public service training environment?” Rolled out nationwide in national and provincial departments, the ROP has weathered the marketing storm and it has gradually become a sought-after programme among experienced public servants, rekindling the passion for the public service and the re-commitment to the people of South Africa.
For senior and middle managers at the Office of the Premier in Mpumalanga, the attraction to the ROP difference lies in its curriculum design and conversational methodology. Personal reflections from Brett Cuthill, Director of Information Technology, who remarked, “My experience in the ROP sessions was pleasant. Given the group’s diversity, I got to hear other people’s views and gain understanding of their civil service roles. A number of my responsibilities and duties were refreshed by the facilitator.”
For Joseph Khoza, Manager, HRD&M, the lasting impression emanating from the programme lies in how it affects attitudinal change and workplace behaviour among public servants. The ROP is designed to revitalise experienced public servants, while infusing new knowledge drawn from issues driving change and development globally, regionally and nationally. These are subjects which bear relevance to the public service and how it discharges its constitutional mandate. The reflections by participants do not only showcase how attuned they have become with the external environment influencing the public service, but also point to how they have been infused with the urgency to serve with care, dignity and respect for the public.