Service charters are intended to be a tool for improving public services but to some they are meaningless rhetoric
The recent times have witnessed public service charters occupying a distinct position in the public management reforms of several countries. Although the reasons for having these service charters may differ from one country to the other, the epicenter for the instigation of charter policies is identical. The purpose is to improve the responsiveness and transparency of public services by passing out in a principled way the standards of delivery that service users should legitimately expect (Teicher, 2002, pp.385-389). The other factor is the shared emphasis on an "administrative charter" format. Despite the tone of its language with the other existing constitutional charters, the public service charters do not grant legal rights, enforceable in the court of law.
The service charter gives a clear line of the values and principles governing the conduct of public servants employed by the state. It is a show of commitment of the government employees to the state by upholding the said values and principles in service rendering to the ultimate citizens. Scholars have outlined the word charter differently since it is found in the domain of rules and codes designed to control the ethical behavior of public officials. Though some of them possess statutory force, others amount to little or more than a code of public service values. The civil service implements them as a commitment to the public, the existing government and to a professional public service (Clarke et al, 2007, pp.28-31).
Issues relating to service charters
However, countries instigating service charters directed at influencing the quality of service delivery to its citizenry have experienced numerous challenges. The existing government workforce is controlled by acts of corruption that in turn negatively affect efficiency and effectiveness to its population. It has therefore been termed as a meaningless rhetoric due to its lack of sincerity (Ancarani, 2005, pp. 9-15). Even under such circumstances, these forms of charters have served an integrative role for the improvement of the delivery of public services and also improved the accountability towards the citizenry. The paper bases its case using a developing African country. Africa has been marred by rampant corruption and poor resource utilization for the benefit of majorly the political class. It has in turn rendered their citizens poor, until the recent intervention of the United Nations and some concerned developed countries (Bovens, 2005, p.19). South Africa being one of the top economies in Africa and the world as a whole has made considerable steps in creating efficiency in service delivery. The Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) which represents the state as the employer and the public servants had designed the service charter (Service Charter: Republic of South Africa, 2013, p.3 ).
The mission of the state is to address issues and needs of the majority of its citizenry, especially those historically disadvantaged by the apartheid regime. It is hence, mounted on affirmation of the country's commitment to uphold the principles and ideologies of public administration as per the constitution. According to Shah, (2006, p.13), an appropriate charter should incorporate all the relevant parties of the state and be in line with the legislative rule, meant to improve the livelihood of its citizens.
Service Charters in South Africa
The South African Charter upholds the constitutional responsibility in an articulate manner as enshrined in the Bill of rights, on citizenry service delivery. The role is diverse in the sense that it holistically complements the state as the employer, its employees, and any party falling within the scope of PSCBC. An effective charter directly reflects the economic status of the country, due to minimum availability of loopholes and the continued commitment to provide for their citizens.
It is objectively mounted on enhanced accountability by providing citizens with a clear understanding of service delivery standards which includes timetables, user fees for services and options for grievance redress. The charter increases organizational effectiveness and performance by making a public commitment to adhere to measurable service delivery standards. In addition, it creates a way for both internal and external actors to monitor the service delivery performance objectively as well as promotes a more professional and client-responsive environment for the provision of services. Through this, it fuels staff morale and minimizes on opportunities for corruption and graft by increasing transparency and educating citizens about their rights. Moreover, it increases government revenues by ensuring that the money taxpayers payment for services go to the government (and not into employees' pockets) (Service Charter: Republic of South Africa, 2013, p.4; Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2003, pp. 89-96).
Lane (2005, pp.120-128) describes an efficient public service charter as one, which enhances accountability of service providers to their clients by providing adequate and reliable information. Citizens get a clear understanding of the standards to be met in service delivery, including time schedules, the required fees for services and appropriate gateways to grievances redress. South Africa has clearly defined its stand on the standards to be met in service delivery.
The service delivery clients are encouraged to serve citizens swiftly and politely at every service delivery points. It is meant to achieve their vision of enhanced citizen-client level of satisfaction, to match those of the private sector. The country is of the opinion that citizens need to develop trust in their government in improving their social well-being. The clients are encouraged to provide friendly and helpful services, which serve to benefit the ultimate consumers. If a service is obsolete to the user, then they will lack the satisfaction derived from them. Service providers are further encouraged to assist service users so that they make the right choices while accessing services. The good choice limits the risk of legal actions if efforts go wrong in one way or another. It also reduces the risk of losses made out ignorance on the side of the service partakers.
They should promote appropriate signage and information desks in their centers of service provision. It is meant to ensure reliability and promptness of service delivery, since citizens will have a clear direction on whom to approach, depending on the type of service they need. They are encouraged to respond to queries and complaints to remove the stereotype of associated with government offices. Government departments tend to take time in acting on some questions due to the excessive procedures in order to provide the ultimate service to its citizens (Service Charter: Republic of South Africa, 2013, p.4; Newman, 2002, pp.34-38).
The Government and state officials commit to the public as per the legislative acts to adhere to the measurable service delivery standards. It hence increases the effectiveness and performance, which is an absolute benefit to the public (Shah & Schacter, 2004, pp.89-96). The commitments by the state as an employer within the South African public service are protected under Section 23 of the Constitution, the Labor Relations Act and other relevant labor legislations.
The charter ascribes to the provision of a facilitating environment, within the accessible resources, for the state officials to carry out their duties. If the state officials fail to render the required services, due to lack of or inadequacy of the required resource, then it would make the system inefficient and ineffective. He charter comes handy to aid the government in ensuring adequate and timely allocation of the necessary resources within its institutions to promote effective service delivery. The state commits to the employer by facilitating"…a rewards and recognition system commensurate with the values and principles of the charter that focuses on individuals and teams…" (services charter republic of South Africa 2013 , p.5). The reward system comes in the form of fair salaries, awards and individual accreditations, which motivate employees towards the goal of providing adequate service delivery.
The State commits to the provision of contemporary and original policies and systems for the purposes of delivery of services. For instance, the execution of ICT policies and programs to support and improve services delivery. It is essential to place such governance systems that utilize the management of resources, risk management, and audit management adequately. Further procedures and formalities related to access and delivery of services is made simpler in order to practice service delivery improvement programs, such as the introduction of systems and processes which facilitate access of citizens to government services (Benton, 2002, pp.74-79).
National accountability and integrity systems are to be introduced which is aimed at promoting value-based societal behavior and attitudes to counter corruption. To create awareness public servants have the right to form associations or trade unions or any such similar groups that is according to the laws of the country. Further public servants have the right to indulge in collective bargaining. Finally, political party memberships should not be used as criteria for appointing any person in the public service (Benton, 2002, p.76; Cameron, 2004, pp.110-116).
The public is committed to serving the public in a neutral and fair manner so as to build assurance in them. They are encouraged not to discriminate unfairly against any member of the public because based on some form of disability or disadvantage. The charter calls for honesty and accountability in the process of dealing with public funds and the utilization of the property of the civil service and other resources successfully, proficiently, and only for authorized official purposes. They should display honesty and admiration for laws, values and recognized codes of conduct in the performance of their official duties.
The charter creates an avenue for both internal and external actors, to impartially supervise the service delivery performance. Charters provide the appropriate systems and legal channels, for clear and efficient communication of grievances. The channels create an effective environment for the proper instigation of the monitoring processes. Monitoring weighs against benchmarked standards, to be able to draw conclusions and ascertain the achievement of the predetermined principles. The internal actors rely on the external feedback for shortcomings in order to improve the total performance.
The public charter outlines the procedures and the formalities in receiving and resolving grievances from the public domain. The approach used in solving them ultimately improves service delivery since they provide room for small improvements. It will in turn accredit the role played by charters in increasing efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery (Bovens, 2005, pp.81-86). In South Africa, the charter directs people in following the Batho Pele Principles, which call for full information concerning the public services to which they are entitled.
They should be conversant of the standard and class of public service they will obtain for them to be aware of the expectations. The citizens are encouraged to comment on the standards of public services that they receive and, wherever possible not considering any of the choice of the services offered. Citizens are well-versed on manner in which the national and state departments run and the authorities in charge. The charter provides an efficient public relations system for effective communication in case the standards are not delivered to the expectations (Bovaird & Löffler, 2009, p.90).
Van Thiel & Leeuw (2002, p.102) asserts that the charter plays a vital role in minimizing on opportunities for corruption and graft by increasing transparency and educating citizens about their rights. Majority of the African countries as compared to the developed ones have experienced cases of graft on public resources. The instigation charters have proved beneficial in ensuring the minimization of reduced utilization. Public charters have come handy in providing guidelines on efficient use of public resources. It is upon state citizens to ensure protection of the available resources.
The charters have further improved the resource utilization procedures by providing legal measures to public servants who embezzle funds for personal gains. They provide state agencies in charge of resource, which analyze and interpret resource utilization in order to ascertain if the resources have been put into their appropriate usage. The South African charter has provided numerous possibilities to enhance effective resource usage. It recognizes that the public are the primary taxpayers, and they are directly affected by the policies and procedures instigated by the government (Van Thiel & Leeuw, 2002, pp.132-136).
The country has established agencies and committees, who have the power to ascertain the use of public resources and annual reports published for public scrutiny. In all state departments, the government allocates budgeted resources, and proper financial information systems are used to keep track of the resource usage. State officials in charge of the public resources are held personally accountable as per the Constitution in cases of misuse.
Further, it increases government revenues by ensuring that the money citizens pay for services goes into the government's coffers. It is an aspect of accountability where residents pay for services in public bodies yet they do not reach the state treasury. It is due to lack of proper procedures to shield the corrupt state officers from misuse of public resources. Absence of proper policies on effective revenue collection has led to deficits in tax revenues to the government. The formulation of public charters provides the procedures through which the government can enhance revenue collection. The South African government has distributed its state agencies into reasonable units to ensure close supervision by state officials. The government calls for proper recording of resource utilization by citizens to enhance accountability.
Briefly, the inception of public service charters has proved beneficial in improving accountability and improved service delivery. The charters follow an appropriate structure such that they meet public, concerning resource utilization. The South African government has improved its resource utilization mechanisms by ensuring the state, its employees and all the concerned parties are committed to ensuring effective resource utilization. It has proved profitable since it has significantly minimized cases of corruption and poor resource utilization within the country.
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