ISSUE 13 | 2015

 

Dear Colleagues,

DESPITE MANY CHALLENGES, THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF OUR DEPARTMENT DO NOT GO UNNOTICED

On Tuesday, 18 August 2015, I had the privilege to share a platform with our former Minister, Ms. Naledi Pandor MP, at a panel during the Public Service Innovation Conference hosted by the Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) in Cape Town.

After brief introductory remarks by both of us as panellists, the facilitator opened the floor for questions, first from him and then from the public servants who were there as delegates. Among the questions they asked us, they wanted to know:

  • What innovation were we introducing the better to manage our borders, asylum- seekers and refugees and economic migration;

  • How has the department got it right with regard to the systems we are implementing;

  • With all the new systems we are introducing, how does the department address cyber-security;

  • What stops government services from being available on a 24/7 basis;

  • Given the heavy regulatory environment in the public service, how can it be

    innovative;

  • Why can the government departments not work together as we tend to duplicate

    services in the same areas;

  • How has the department succeeded to maintain continuity and consistency at the

    top officials’ level, especially given a high turn-over at the level of the Executive

    Authorities; and

  • How can we address the relationship between government innovation and ethics.

Clearly, as complex as these questions were, one of the clearest messages they communicated to me was that our audience was very much aware of the challenges and progress of our department and were following us very closely, with interest and admiration.

Against the torrent of negative media narrative about our department, portraying us as the department only responsible for visa regulations, there are many out there who are seeing in us more than that which those with vested interests are seeing. There are many who view us more clearly and for exactly what and who we are – a department at the coalface of economic development, national security, service delivery as well as effective governance and administration. We are the agents of the change government seeks, ourselves pioneers and catalysts for public service innovation.

If somebody had landed in South Africa in recent weeks on a visit from Mars, they would be forgiven to believe that we are a Department of Visa Regulations, or perhaps even more precise, a Department of In-person-Applications and Unabridged Birth Certificates. They would wonder, correctly, if you needed a department only for these services!

Public servants expect of the Department of Home Affairs that we will enlighten them on some of our achievements and yet explain to them what additional innovative solutions we are working on as the Department.

This is why we all need to understand very clearly our importance as the officials of the department in relation to the department itself, government as a whole and the people of South Africa and our visitors. As a result of the innovation we are introducing, we are bringing hope among fellow public servants and South Africans, as well as our broader clients. People appreciate this.

This is why the Moetapele Initiative, the modernisation programme and the other three priorities for our department are so important. I wonder how many among us as colleagues can repeat without any reference what the five strategic priorities of our department are! How many among us care or bother to reflect on what could be the principles of Moetapele and what they must do to become the real Baetapele! Can we identify Moetapele in our ranks within our immediate environment of work? Do we know what we must do ourselves to become a proper, makoya, Moetapele?

We can only succeed if these innovative programmes become inculcated in us and become part of our new culture. I must reiterate that I would rather our clients praise and remember us for our excellent professional service than only beautiful offices. For, what would be the use of cosmetically appealing offices when the service is less than what is expected by the people who vote in every election and pay their hard-earned taxes to keep us employed!

Last year, addressing the national conference of our Department’s Youth Forum, I challenged each one of them to become an innovator and to encourage and support the culture of innovation among their subordinates. Often, supervisors fear innovation among their subordinates and suppress the very spirit that an organisation such as ours needs in order to keep on innovating and hence inspiring fellow public servants and serving our clients better.

I have interacted in the past with interns and learners, or cadets and cadres, who complained that they are not being assigned significant responsibilities and their supervisors do not encourage them to come up with ideas in meetings because they are afraid they will outshine them or will appear smarter than them. Sometimes they reprimand and victimise them if they can ever see them chatting or sharing ideas, or even smiling, with a DDG, DG, Deputy Minister or Minister.

At the first chance available, they get asked, “What were you talking to the DG about? You think you can gossip about me to the DG and get away with it? Who said you can talk to the DG without my permission? Who do you think you are! I’m going to show you who I am!”

Obviously, such insecurity is a fetter to organisational growth and innovation. Innovation thrives in a learning environment where everyone views themselves as connected with all others, drawing from and contributing towards collective wisdom and where everyone loves new innovative ideas and embraces them. Anything less than this is a sure recipe for stagnation and disaster.

We must keep on pushing ourselves beyond our current levels; beyond what we think we can afford or achieve.

At the Conference, we raised what we thought are the critical successful factors for innovation:

  • Resources, both financial and human,

  • People – each and everyone of you, our officials,

  • Leadership – Baetapele,

  • Strategic partnerships and collaboration between branches, agencies and

    departments – silos must be banished and we must all work towards the common goal of serving our people, rather than compete with one another and duplicate resources and programmes, and

  • Learning environment.

These are not all the critical success factors, but some of the most important. A complacent department can never innovate or grow. Clearly, emanating from the Public Service Innovation Conference, the Department of Home Affairs is not only at the important nexus of government services, but it is also leading in innovation

I dream of a department whose officials perpetually push the bounds of the possible, who never satisfy themselves with doing things as they are or as they have always been done, who are able to say to the DG or the Minister, “This system, process or programme is not working for our clients, we can improve it in this way!” This would mean that the past where we used to oversee and implement dysfunctional systems, processes and programmes is over and behind us, and we have entered into a new period of innovation unbound. Leaders and supervisors must not fear this type of department, but must encourage and support it.

The starting point for all of you, Baetapele, is to shout wherever you are: I am NOT a mabhalane; I am NOT a clerk!
I thank you.