Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Civil Servants and a Cup of Tea

Whenever, I feel stressed at work and the pressure is coming in from all directions a common response is, “I need to join government.” I have never worked in government before but among my peers there is just a sense that people who work in the civil service have it easy. It is a relaxed environment, no deadlines, you knock off at 5pm on the dot and life is just generally easier on the other side. I already know that this is a misplaced misconception but the fact is it is a general belief especially for some of us who have never worked in government.

Before, I get chewed up by anyone in the civil service allow me to pull out my disclaimer card right away. This piece is merely to get the discussion going and in no way is it intended to belittle anyone. It is through this discussion perhaps I can be enlightened and my misconception corrected. Now that we have gotten that bit out of the way, we can get to the thorn of this matter. Writing about this has always been on my mind but for some reason I never had the courage to actually let it out, mainly because I was afraid of offending some of my friends in the civil service. An article in the Post newspaper is what has prompted me to actually be bold enough to spit it out. The article, “Patients accuse Kanyama clinic staff of priotising tea” really made for sad reading.
Its an issue of tea
It was reported that the clinic staff spend two hours having their tea before attending to patients some of whom went there as early as 5 am. It is expected that the staff would begin work at 8 am and attend to the patients but clearly that was not the case. Now, this attitude is not only at Kanyama clinic, try visiting other clinics or other government departments and pretty much you need to make an allowance for a long time queuing up.  Queuing up because of lack of staff is understandable, but queuing because someone is sipping some Quick Brew chatting about Shree is another.

There is a joke that goes around, “Government workers report for work at 9 am, have a tea break at 10:30 am, go for lunch at 12:30, leave the jacket on the chair at 2 pm and return to pick it up at 5pm to knock off.” People wonder what time they spend in the offices. It is purported that they are busy with other ventures after all it is BOMA, they will get paid anyway.  I have had my fair share of frustrations through government offices; it almost feels like we have to work around their time. Some start working late but are always on time to go out for lunch no negotiations, anyone experience that?

During the discussion ‘Is Zambia, Africa’s Emerging Economic Tiger?’ on ZNBC, deputy minister of Finance and National Planning Hon. Miles Sampa bemoaned the work culture in government. He stated that coming from the private sector where when you ask for something in the morning by close of day you have it. In government, it was not the case it comes two months later. He said that if he had his way there would be a lot of firing done but it is not that easy. There is a certain perception that in government things are done at your own pace and when you feel like it. It is like there is no sense of urgency. Yes, they may say a passport will take three weeks to come out, will it? The doors will open at 8 am but how many do? Or as in the case of Kanyama Clinic perhaps the tea is more important than serving the people.

I do not know whether there is something wrong with the work culture or there is a feeling of entitlement that government owes the civil service workers something. Maybe the civil service is just too large to manage and this is causing some of the inefficiencies and under delivery of services. Arguably, the deputy minister during his discussion probably gave us a better perspective in this matter. It is not so easy to fire a civil servant because of all the bureaucracy involved. In the private sector you underperform or do not do your duties you are shown the boot no questions asked, start applying for another job. It appears in the civil service there are too many channels to go through before someone is fired which can take months. Therefore, I think some of them have become too comfortable.

This negative attitude that some people have towards their work is very unfair to the dedicated and committed civil servants who do their duties diligently. I have met many of them who are committed to their work and actually improving the lives of others. Unfortunately, because of clusters who are giving the civil service a bad name the rest of them are dragged down with them. The way I see it a serious shake up of the civil service is needed. Nurses cannot be having tea while someone is surely in pain on the queue, seriously? Being in the civil service should be an honour, it is not a debt that government is paying to anyone or it is volunteer work. And for the sake of the thousands of civil servants that do justice to the civil service we salute. Wouldn’t it have been something if those nurses offered those patients on the queue some tea too?

Oh by the way the private sector does have its flaws too in case someone was thinking of putting that as a comment.


  1. I suppose there is some merit to the perception of the "typical" civil servant although as you rightly note it is not a clear case of black and white. I know civil servants who work as hard as the private sector. Well thought out article.

    1. Hi Keith, thanks for reading. I think that perception will stick around for a very long time unless something is done quickly

  2. Well balanced article. Some civil servants, especially nurses dont shock 'the hell out of me' if I can be allowed to use such language. In the civil service, its 'speed kills' attitude. Most of them work at a snail's pace. Now as though having tea while patients are waiting is not enough, some nurses in Kitwe claim maternity cases are not emergencies and one poor woman delivers in a car. Now go figure what kind of attitude this is. Some workers are alive, because its illegal to kill!

    1. Hi Anonymous, we can even be rest assured that such an incidence will happen again.I think the civil service needs someone with an iron fist to put the house in the order it should be.


  3. Great post.I'm glad to see people are still interested of Article.Thank you for an interesting read.

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