Zambia Law Development Commission

PROFESSIONALISM IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE- WHY IT MATTERS?

This week H.E. President Hakainde Hichilema reminded public service officials that ‘Public Service is not for self’. The President issued this reminder when he swore in the new Permanent Secretaries for the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Health. The Republican President challenged the new permanent secretaries to maintain professionalism and adhere to public service ethics, cautioned the two, and reminded the rest of the Zambian public service that public service is not for self, being professional is very important, and that the health and wellbeing of the Zambian people and the prudent use of our meagre national resources is key.

A few weeks ago, the Zambia Law Development Commission held a legal seminar under the theme Professionalism in the Public Service- Why it Matters”. Listening to the President’s remarks reaffirmed our conviction that it was a timely discussion.

Seminar participants were drawn from the public sector that is responsible for appointing and dismissing public servants and delivering public services, non-governmental organisations that provide checks and balances on public services, university schools of public administration, and cooperating partners. The discussion was intended to facilitate public discourse on the national framework for professionalism in the public service, challenges and to identify possible areas of reform to enhance professionalism in the public service.

Key issues that arose during the seminar included, Zambia’s peace and stability, freedom to hold discussions on topics of national interest, enactment of laws and establishment of institutions to enhance professionalism in the public service, inefficiencies and other challenges related to professionalism in the public service that have been exhibited through the prosecution and conviction of public servants for various offences; citation of public servants in reports of the Financial Intelligence Centre and the Auditor General for involvement in illicit financial flows and the misappropriation and misapplication of public funds; and allegations of the use of public servants and resources to advance political agendas.

Why does a professional public service matter?

According to the Zambia Constitution “ public service ” means service in the Civil Service, the Teaching Service, the Defence Force and National Security Service, the Zambia Correctional Service, the Zambia Police Service, Emoluments Commission, the State Audit Commission, the Lands Commission, Electoral Commission, Human Rights Commission, Gender Equity and Equality Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission, Drug Enforcement Commission, the Anti-Financial and Economic Crimes Commission, the Police and Public Complaints Commission, and service as a constitutional office holder, service in other offices, as set out in the law.

The Constitution goes further to set out values and principles of the public service that are to be applied at national, provincial, and local government levels of the Executive, Legislature, or Judiciary and these include ministries or departments of the Government, public offices, agencies, institutions, statutory bodies commissions or companies in which the Government or local authority has a controlling interest.

The public service values and principles are maintenance and promotion of the highest standards of professional ethics and integrity; promotion of efficient, effective, and economic use of national resources; effective, impartial, fair, and equitable provision of public services; encouragement of people to participate in the process of policymaking; prompt, efficient and timely response to people’s needs; commitment to the implementation of public policy and programmes; and accountability for administrative acts. The Constitution goes further to prohibit the victimisation or discrimination of a public officer who performs their functions in good faith in accordance with the Constitution or other laws and the removal from office, reduction in rank or other punishment of a public officer without just cause and due process.

The public service is the administrative machinery of the government which is responsible for delivering public services and public servants are the engine of the machine, as they are the employees who come up with the programs and deliver the services. Public services are wide-ranging and include the provision of health services; strengthening the economy; ensuring that the population has access to basic education, and clean drinking water; ensuring that public places comply with set hygiene standards; and the construction and maintenance of buildings and roads. Public services also include programs such as the social cash transfer that are developed to protect the most vulnerable people in our society and provide cash to poor households to mitigate extreme poverty; ensuring security of persons and their assets and law making.

The Government of the Republic of Zambia and its citizens have an agreement of sorts- the citizens pay taxes, and in return for those taxes, the Government provides services. This is what is referred to as a social contract.

For public servants to meaningfully contribute towards fulfilling government’s obligations under this social contract, there is a need for them to conduct themselves professionally. “Professionalism” can be defined as the skills, competence, and conduct displayed by an individual of a certain profession. For a public servant, professionalism requires one to have the capacity to carry out a job, be honest, have integrity, be accountable, be impartial, exercise fairness and set aside personal interests for the sake of the greater good. Public servants are called to a higher standard of professionalism than any other type of employee because they are stewards of public resources, and they are paid from the same resources.

The Zambian government has over the years implemented several administrative and legislative measures to ensure that the Public Service is competent and professional. Despite these efforts, the Public Service Index 2023 ranks Zambia at 8.1 points below the global average of 5.43 index points. This ranking is important because public services are instrumental to a country’s productivity, growth, and development. Indeed, African countries that have enhanced professionalism in their public service, have reaped economic development, accountability at all levels, enhanced capacity of the public sector, strengthened public financial management, and increased transparency and predictability of policy-making.

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