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Public Administration; We Can Do Better

Cameroon joined the international community yesterday 23 June, 2015 in commemorating the International Day of the African Public Service on the theme, “The Role of the Public Service in Rendering Women Autonomous, Innovation and Accessibility to the Public Administration.”  

This was the 21st such event to be celebrated and apart from activities at the Ministry of Public Service and Administrative Reforms, little noise was made about the event in Cameroon, not because the role of public administration in the country is negligible. Rather, the sector is so vital in the daily reality of almost everybody that even those who do not work in the public service are often affected.

Although the number of civil servants in the country has been estimated at just tens of thousands in a population of over 20 million inhabitants, their impact is such that those who feel the pinch of what goes on in the sector are many. It could be a friend, a family member, a father, a mother, brother, sister or whoever earns money that helps others in society. Of course, the interwoven nature of our sociological composition accounts for the widespread impact of the Public Service being mentioned here.

Yet, apart from the commendable windfalls accruing from Public Service functions, there is the fact that by definition, the privileged few who have jobs in the sector are expected to offer their best for the general good of the country. However, such a picture almost ends all the good intentions that anyone would want to have about the public administration in the country.
Coming just a few days after the National Anti-corruption Commission launched an investigation to have the public assess the performance of public administration in Cameroon, many will be curious to know what the findings may be.

But as we wait, the general clichés of stockpiles of files in offices, coats hanging behind swivel chairs where the officer in charge is out on other duties remote from his/her daily job, women gleefully chatting over sumptuous roast fish while desperate users watch on as tramps, snobbish bureau heads waving at another citizen with the left to go present their problem elsewhere without leaving them with the least clue on where such a solution could be found, teachers who abandon children in classes especially in rural areas to squat in homes in Yaounde chasing files, and the list goes on. Talk less of the internal complicity that has resulted in the constant presence of ghost workers who keep swelling the Government payroll on a yearly basis. Examples like these remain some painful realities of our Public Service.

No one can neglect complaints of poor salaries, frustrations resulting from appointing subordinates over their seniors, clientelism, nepotism, tribalism and all the isms that bedevil our Public Service. Such excuses are definitely enough to keep some of the most witted individuals from giving the best of themselves, but all this is not always remembered when the month ends and people have to rush to the banks for their earnings.

The level of hostility in our public administration is at times so bad that even a soldier needs to summon Dutch courage before going to present a problem in a public office. You often find people praying before going to follow up a file because they are hardly sure of the kind of reception they will get from someone paid monthly to render important services on the behalf of the State. Those who keep saying; “Government work never ends”, “It is not my father’s farm”, “Let the file wait there”, etc. are so many, and tend to paint the picture of a public service that lacks any vestiges of humaneness.

The consequence is often that people easily fall prey to corrupt individuals who give the impression that they know the system better and can quickly offer the required services. You simply need to move into the world of the numerous youth who idle around government offices on a daily basis proposing assistance of all sort, to understand how desperate Cameroonians are in offices that are there to serve them. This is not to say that everyone in public administration is not duty-conscious. There is certainly the hidden minority who even go out of their way to make users feel welcomed.

And it is definitely an occasion for such persons to commemorate the Day of the African Public Service happily while serving as examples for the rest to emulate. They are also there to tell others that we can do better in our public administration for the nation to move forward.

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