File photo: African News Agency (ANA)
This month is designated as a Public Service Month to recognise the selflessness of those men and women who are serving the South African public with distinction across the three spheres of government.

However, this should also be a month in which we reflect on our role as public servants in the realisation of the vision of the National Development Plan (NDP) to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030.

It is an opportune time for introspection on the extent to which we are contributing to hampering these noble goals, leading to public frustration and casting the government as unresponsive to their plight. We need to look hard at our conduct to see if we are doing enough to change the material conditions of the marginalised.

Fittingly, this year’s Public Service Month is taking place under the theme: “Thuma Mina - Taking Public Service to the People: Batho Pele: We Belong, We Care, We Serve.”

This theme should be a clarion call to public servants to be agents of change. Through the resources at our disposal, we must work tirelessly to make tomorrow better than today for millions of people who still languish in despair and hopelessness.

As we pay homage to those of our public servants who have demonstrated commitment to the cause of the needy, we should work to raise the bar in terms of our ethical conduct. The public service should not be a cash cow for rogue elements bent on milking it dry.

Serious gatekeeping must be exercised through rigorous processes to ensure that only those with the interest of the public genuinely at heart join the ranks of government

The vision of the NDP requires nothing less than a committed public service that exhibits the highest standards of ethical behaviour.

It is in light of this vision that the Department of Water and Sanitation, which is dealing with a myriad challenges, including water shortages, climate change, toxic waste and water pollution, seeks to attract not only appropriate skills, but public servants who pursue ethical conduct with unerring vigour.

The magnitude of these and other challenges cry out for solutions that require not only the kind of skills that are needed in the sector, but conduct towards which all those who are part of the department should strive.

In the face of the country’s water security demanding sound fiscal compliance, the department requires and encourages public servants to uphold values that are fundamental to our Constitution, and frowns on anything that resembles any tendency that exhibits, even to the slightest degree, illegal conduct that involves moral turpitude.

So, apart from technical skills and hard work, the department is putting emphasis on the impeccable integrity of its officials. Judging by the scale of work the department is entrusted to carry out, almost everyone agrees that officials should be able to withstand the temptation to do something that is irregular or dishonest for purposes of self-enrichment. Taking resources meant for the public is tantamount to taking food out of the mouths of the poor and is an act of treason.

Appropriately qualified and ethical public servants are central to the transformation of the South African water and sanitation sector.

Any effort aimed at changing the landscape of the sector calls for incorruptible and accountable public servants.

As we celebrate Public Service Month, we should stop for a moment to think about the dire situation in which many South Africans are still trapped. During this time, it should be our foremost priority to become the champions and the voices of the voiceless.

Ours must be to ensure that we do not in any way impair their dignity, which we are enjoined to promote, protect, respect and fulfil.