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Political patronage



Had a brief walk with a retired nurse and we had a talk about her past on that walk. It was a normal conversation about abnormal times, a discussion on how the profession has decayed over the years. The new realities of the world in the present times and how the different professions have eroded is a topic that needs perusal on a conversational basis. There is need to understand the lead causes to the decay of the culture of professionalism and the dire consequences they present to the world at this point in time. “Back when we still wore caps and capes as nurses, the idea of accountability for the lives of the patients was a principle every nurse held very close to their heart. This is because the basic idea was that no one patient was supposed to die on one’s watch, if it did indeed happen, then there were long and serious discussions to prevent reoccurrence of any maladies in the patient-care system. The modern type of nurse with painted nails and hair extensions is often an individual without initiative; serving patients whilst still busy on social media platforms. The profession has lost almost all of the Florence Nightingale mentality it once held as a standard. I honestly miss those good old days when healthcare was a calling and not a profession it now is. The profession has lost most of its original heart…” The type of talk the retired nurse presented is actually peculiar to the field of healthcare but actually spans across different sectors of public and social service. The culture of nepotism that is fast spreading along with its cousin, corruption, has led to the breeding of a culture of poor civil service. This could be because many are holding political positions, or, positions they got through political affiliation. Political attitude does not differentiate between duty and calling, all it sees are party affiliates. This means that even those that are good at what they do fail to enter the civil service sector just on the basis of their non-affiliation with the party in government. The state ends up stuck with civil servants that feel entitled to their position just because they voted their employer into government. Sarah Repucci sees the weakness of the civil service system possessing large numbers of servants that feel entitled on the basis of their affiliation with the ruling government as being the direct result of its hinging on patronage. She states: Political patronage often leads to vested interests that see the civil service as a source of personal gain through pay, promotions, and employment status. Such interests are likely to see any reforms to the civil service as a threat to these benefits. Similarly many within the civil service benefit from being able to dole out public money, jobs, and other contracts and are unlikely to willingly give up such powers. She further suggests that civil service plagued by this political patronage needs to adopt reform projects aimed at doing away with the complacency that comes with the idea of entitlement. This idea of entitlement is what leads to workers in the civil service performing poorly when they have to serve the public in various sectors within the government. A reform process faced with strong patronage systems can only work best when the focus is on specific areas within the institutions of government instead of taking a blanket approach. She asserts that the focus of reforms should be on the processes of employment, for example, the recruitment should be merit-based which leads to both commitment on the part of the servants, and the improvement civil service reform while at the same time chipping away at the power of vested interests that forms the basis of the patronising and corrupt governance. An article on how to manage civil servants by Jan-Hinrik Meyer Sahling, Christian Schuster, and Kim Sass Mikkelsen states: Civil servants who are recruited or promoted through political or personal connections (for instance through support from friends and family) engage more frequently in corruption on the job, and perform more poorly. Our survey suggests that the politicization and personalization of civil service management decisions is far from uncommon. In the ten countries surveyed, 41% of civil servants got their first job at least in part thanks to personal connections; for 34% of civil servants, they helped them get promoted and for 22% they mattered for their pay rises. At the same time, 20% had help from political connections to get recruited and promoted, and 15% to get pay rises. Government systems with weak institutions in reality lack the drive necessary to push reforms through; institutions depend on the individuals that work in them to be effective, and this means that they too will be weakened if the individuals working in them are not committed. The weakness of institutions is directly associated with a lack of commitment on the part of the members of civil society, and this means that external pressure for reform cannot be rendered effective because commitment on the part of the workers is absent. Gathered around heaters in the thick of winter and lazing about in office chairs in air-conditioned offices in the heat of the summer, there is in reality nothing much one can expect from a civil service sector run by patrons of the ruling party. The reality is that if the rule of law is weak in the country as a whole, it will logically be weak within the public service sector as a whole. This leads to the formulation of policies that are not properly elaborated leading to employees that are not aware of their rights and responsibilities within the whole process of reform. The reality is that reform processes in states with weak governance start from a lower point and have more to accomplish in the course of their installation. In an environment where dependency is seen as the norm, the individuals therein first have to be taught that the progress of the state rests on their shoulders. This means that whoever has to reform should begin with ensuring that the individuals understand the significance of the reform process. One can then go on to deal with the larger systems and institutions that the individuals serve, meaning that the process of reform lasts longer. The reality of the matter is that governments can only be effective if the people working in government, that is its civil servants, are motivated individuals that are able to implement policy and services well. However, in many developing countries, this remains an absent work ethic and aspiration. Present are high levels of corruption, members of staff that are on a normal day unmotivated, meaning that poor performance is the prevalent and popular stereotype in the world of civil service in the third world as a fact. After many decades in the post-independence era, many international aid programmes have invested in civil service reform to change this reality, but the truth is that their efforts have had little impact in effecting positive progress within the civil service sector. The track record of these reform programmes has unfortunately been poor if one is to put in a close view at the performance statistics. The progress of reform initiatives has largely been hampered by the lack of evidence on the questions Sahling, Mikkelsen and Schuster pose: “What works in civil service management?. How can institutions manage people in developing country governments in ways that enhance motivation and performance, while reducing corruption?” There have been several recent studies whose motivation has been to look at specific interventions in particular countries. However, studies on that set out to find what works across countries in terms of civil service management practices has remained unclear to the present day. This might be due to the fact that the approaches used focus on the causes to the problem and not those that are looking in from the outside. An ordinary emerging and growing phenomenon is that of the unemployed graduate, and to a large extent, the seeming non-commitment of governments to deal with the realities of having an educated but unemployed class. The discussion between the retired nurse and I reveals a culture where some individuals are just not keen to retire, meaning that the younger potential labour force cannot enter service and bring new ideas. Reform means that new ideas must be brought in as solutions to existing problems. Without any new ideas, countries remain stuck with old inefficient ideals that may have worked some day in the past before the world picked up pace and moved into the age of globalisation. One can never hope to change the circumstances of their state with a workforce that is not clued up on the latest trends. The assumption that whoever can access social media platforms can be a part of the policy implementation processes is erroneous. Such spheres of national economic strategies and practices do not take two-week long conferences to understand; those unemployed graduates have a better understanding of what policy and implementation really mean: it is what they were taught at school and was part of their research projects at tertiary learning institutions. That the graduate is outside the system despite the education due to nepotism and corruption is the lead cause to the demise of countries in Africa. There is no clear antidote against the now accepted culture of politicisation and nepotism that is prevalent in civil service management decisions in Lesotho for example. In the quest to garner votes, the political class in this country have given birth to a culture of dog-eat- dog where the uneducated rely on entitlement to justify their politically motivated positions in the civil service. It is seen as nothing wrong that graduates walk their shoes to the soles of their feet because they are not politically connected. The silence of oversight institutions means that there is no culture of accountability with regard to the human resource that is slowly wasting away committed to other pursuits instead of serving in positions they were all educated for. Schuster, Sahling and Mikkelsen suggest: Formal ‘merit’ procedures curb politicisation and nepotism in civil service management: for instance, publicly advertising public sector jobs and systematically assessing candidates through written examinations and personal interviews. By curbing nepotism and politicisation, these procedures intermittently help enhance performance and integrity among civil servants in developing countries. There are trends in African governance in the post-independence era and the issue of corruption and nepotism in the process of civil administration has taken centre stage in recent years. Though multiple anti-corruption efforts have been initiated to solve the problems associated with the process of corruption, there has however been little in terms achieving the desired success in dealing with the scourges of corruption. The reality is that corruption is in one’s personal opinion been given a cosmetic makeover on the several occasions it has been addressed. That means that there has been no review of the causes of corruption or any effort to reveal individual and behavioural causes associated with its proliferation. The presence of corruption owes its being to two aspects: the need for corruption and greed for corruption. These two are closely linked with other realities such as the pay structure, power of the officers, and the accountability mechanism. That is to say, individuals do not just end up corrupt, there is always some influencing factor that has to be addressed and dealt with first before engaging in the act of eradicating corruption. The bribes, embezzlement, forgery, fraud and other corrupt practices all have a source somewhere that can be dealt with if the accountability mechanisms are working. The Covid-19 pandemic brought with it new sad realities, but there is an upside: states can come out of the pandemic richer than they were before. Lesotho and other Third World peers have a simple reality to face: stop segregating the educated to the peripheries of the economy for the sake of protecting an illiterate and non-committed cabal of political followers and their zealots. It is a sin to accept injustice on the basis of its being accepted as a normal in society, the reality of the matter is that the illiterates, like a band of blind men that they are, will push this country into the abyss where it will be unsalvageable. Unless patriots are dead and truth died and rotted with them in their graves, the reality is that we should be aware of the fact that deluding ourselves that this country is peaceful will only serve to make the catastrophe facing us worse. He or she that does not agree with me should ask themselves this one question: what shall we be as a nation earning and eating in April after the Budget Speech? There is high potential that this pandemic will turn the kingdom into a Lifaqane era landscape. I don’t care if you agree, but the realities of the moment present a scary picture of what we shall become if we go on with the knob-shining and fake kissing like we have done for the past 54 years. Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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