||South Africa: What the African Charter Means to Public Service and Employees
||Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Information Access, Citizens’ Service Delivery
||Nov 13, 2012
A clear appreciation of the objective behind African Union-affiliated governments and their public service fraternity celebrating the service they render to their respective societies begins with understanding what the African Charter is all about.
It all dates back to 1994 with the inaugural Pan-African Conference of Ministers of Public / Civil Service in Morocco declaring every 23rd of June an Africa Public Service Day to "recognize the value and virtue of service to the community".
This annual calendar day has since 2002 been officially marked by the United Nations as well as the Africa Public Service Day.
The African Charter can thus be described as having been born out of the AU's commitment not only to strengthen professionalism and ethics in public service in Africa but to also promote the values and principles of democracy, good governance, human rights and the right to development.
This being out of governments' constitutional obligation to protect the fundamental values of public service and promote an administrative culture based on respect for the rights of the citizens, also commits fellow member states to promoting the values and principles governing the Public Service and Administration institution.
Accordingly the Charter is an authoritative embodiment of these values and ethics, and is binding to everyone involved in the sector.
Besides promoting the principles and values of the public service, the Charter ensures quality and innovative service delivery that meets the requirements of all stakeholders. It also encourages the efforts of Member States in modernising administration and strengthening capacity for the improvement of the public service.
Citizens and users of public services are, through the Charter, encouraged to actively and effectively participate in public administration processes, while moral values inherent in the activities of Public Service Agents are promoted with a view to ensuring transparent service delivery.
The Charter provides for the improvement of public service agents' working conditions and ensures the protection of their rights, and encourages the harmonisation of policies and procedures related to Public Service and Administration among Member States with the aim of promoting regional and continental integration.
Gender equality and the prohibition of all forms of discrimination on any basis, including place of origin, race, gender, disability, religion, ethnicity, political opinion, affiliation to trade union or any other lawful organization, are held in a high esteem by the Charter.
The Charter's emphasis on respect for human rights, dignity and integrity for all is spelt out in the document's demand for fairness and due processes in the delivery of public services, while striving for continuity of public services under any circumstances, remain the Charter's primary objectives.
Although member states represent divergent societies from autonomous nations, the collective respect for and conformity to national laws, regulations and policies is prominent in the Charter.
This is made clear by directives to state parties to entrench into their national laws and regulations the principles of equal access and non-discrimination to ensure and facilitate easy access to adequate services.
Transparency and collective participatory governance are seen as the most effective way of speedily and constantly taking services directly to where the people are, while continuous monitoring and evaluation of such service delivery will ensure efficiency and eliminate corruption in all its forms.
Ethical behaviour by all public service practitioners is ensured by a strict code of conduct which prohibits any soliciting, acceptance, or receiving directly or indirectly of any payment, gift, donation, or reward in kind or cash, for public services rendered.
In terms of the Charter, public service agents are not allowed to participate in making decisions or intervene in situations in which they have vested interests in order not to compromise their impartiality or cast doubt over the image of the administration.
Respect for confidentiality is regarded as the key element towards preventing and combating corruption.
In pursuance of this goal, governments are required to enact laws and adopt strategies to fight corruption through the establishment of independent anti-corruption institutions, while Public Service and Administration departments sensitise public service agents and users on legal instruments, strategies and mechanisms used to fight corruption.
The Charter urges governments to institute national accountability and integrity systems to promote value-based societal behaviour and attitude as a means of preventing corruption, and advocates exemplary leadership in creating value-based and corruption-free societies.
However, public service agents, as members of the societies themselves, do have rights like everyone else, and the Charter requires of Public Service and Administration to promote equality among its agents and desist from encouraging or perpetuating discrimination based on origin, race, gender, disability, religion, ethnicity, political opinion or any other consideration.
Freedom of expression and association is the right of everyone, including public servants to who the Charter guarantees the right to create or belong to associations, trade unions or any other group to promote and protect their rights in accordance with national laws.
Without prejudice to national laws, membership or non-membership in a political party is in no way allowed to affect the career of a public servant.
Public servants are guaranteed the right to engage in collective bargaining, or take industrial action having due regard to national laws and regulations.
Trade union representatives are protected against discriminatory practices and any form of punishment on account of their trade union activities, but are equally required to promote an enabling environment which enhances dialogue and consultation.
Procedures and mechanisms to resolve disputes shall be clearly stipulated in national laws and regulations.
Public Service and Administrations are required to provide a working environment that guarantees the safety of its employees and must protect them against all forms of threats, insults, harassment, aggression and sexual harassment in the performance of their duties.
The Public servants' right, within a coherent and harmonized pay system, to a just and equitable remuneration which corresponds to their qualifications, responsibilities, performance and tenure is also guaranteed
They also have the right to leave of absence, social security and retirement benefits.
Regarding any disputes relating to interpretation, application and implementation of the Charter, the Assembly of the Ministers for Public Service and Administration is the presiding body pending the establishment of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.