Friday 29 February 2008

Serve the Public

I’ll be perfectly honest. I really am in two minds about what we should expect from the Government, or rather what I prefer to call the Public Service. I’ve no real complaint with our Government, our elected leaders, law-makers and representatives. They do a fairly good job and, best of all, they tend to keep out of our way and not bother us too much.

It’s the Public Service I have a problem with.

It’s our attitude towards them and, worse still, their attitude towards us that bothers me. For any Government employee who hasn’t worked it out yet, let me spell it out for you. There’s a reason it’s called the Public Service. It’s because you are there to Serve the Public. Not yourself, not your convenience and not your ego. You are there to serve me and my neighbours.

So why do we put up with those Government Departments that have a job to do but who completely ignore their obligations? Why do we allow them to ignore us, their customers? Yes, that’s what we are. We are their customers. Before anyone thinks that the Public Service is different because we don’t pay them for a service, let me correct you. We do. We pay them. We pay them money, sometimes even hard cash. Every thebe we pay in income tax goes to them. Every time we pay for a driving licence, for a replacement Omang card, for a passport the money goes to them. Every time we buy something and pay VAT we are paying them. Paying them for a service.

Every time I go to a restaurant or a bar and buy something with my money I am a customer and I have expectations about how I should be treated. So long as I don’t get drunk, become obnoxious and start hitting people I deserve to be treated with respect and courtesy. Why? Because I’ve paid for that. Not just for beer and pizza but for a service as well.

The Public Service is no different. Every time I pay VAT I am paying them to do their job and I have a right to expect decent service from them in return.

The Police are a very good example. We are paying them to do their job. You and I are their customers. We have a right to demand they enforce the law. We have a right to see them stopping combi drivers for driving like psychopaths, taxi-driving imbeciles who seem to have forgotten what those flashing yellow lights on each corner of the car are for and moronic BX drivers who seem to think red means “Go faster. Yes, you CAN get through!”

To be fair though, just last week they were out in force in Gaborone. Between the office and the customer I was visiting I saw 5 or 6 police units stopping vehicles. It was great to see it and I didn’t get stopped (this time) so I felt very good.

Then there’s the Consumer Protection Unit. We pay these people to do a number of things, things they are required to do by law. As well as educating us about our rights, which I’ve never seen them doing, they are also required by law to “receive and investigate complaints of unfair business practices”. Then they are required to “assist a consumer or class of consumers to initiate civil or criminal proceedings arising from an unfair business practice”. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that happen either. Finally they are (take a deep breath) required to “do all such other things as may be necessary to protect consumers from purchasing or otherwise acquiring substandard goods or services or from being otherwise exploited”.

The Consumer Protection Act doesn’t say that they have “the right to do all these things”. It doesn’t say they are “allowed” to do these things. It doesn’t say that they can do all these things “if they can be bothered”. It says that they “shall” do these things. So why aren’t they?

Go on. Ask yourself. Why aren’t they doing these things?

It’s because you and I have forgotten that we pay them to do these things. We have forgotten that they are our servants, we are their customers. If a restaurant doesn’t bring me the food I’ve ordered then I’m going to get all stroppy, demand to see the manager and get what I’ve paid for. So I should do exactly the same if the Public Service lets me down. I should demand to see the relevant managers and remind them that I am their customer, they are my servants. I pay for their salary, their pension and their copy of the Daily News that they spend so long reading every day. They owe me. They owe you. They owe all of us.

So as I said at the beginning I’m in two minds about what we should expect. Should we perhaps just give up expecting decent service from our Public Servants and instead rely on voluntary organisations like Consumer Watchdog and our good friends at Mmegi to protect us? Or should we start demanding what we’ve paid for from the Public Service?

What do you think?

This week’s stars!

  • Bonang Maplanka who works for Department of Tourism in Maun. Our reader lost her cellphone in Maun and gave up hope of ever seeing it again. However Mr Maplanka found it, searched through the contacts in the phone, made a few calls and our reader now has her phone back. Apparently this isn’t the first time Mr Maplanka has done this. Our reader said “In this world of crooks, such characters are rare”. Rest assured we’ll be making sure he is recognised for this. We’ll be writing to the Minister of Tourism and his Permanent Secretary to make sure he gets celebrated by his colleagues and we’re working n a plan to celebrate him ourselves. Watch this space!

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