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Mon Dec 22 09:01:26 CAT 2014

Windows are work ethic wonder

Peter Delmar | 27 February, 2013 00:07
Peter Delmar
Image by: The Times

I recently read somewhere that, according to New York window cleaners, a third of all the computer screens they can see through the windows of the skyscrapers they are cleaning are occupied with the electronic version of Solitaire.

Somewhere else I read that 11% of US office workers spend between an hour and two hours a day of work time Facebooking and Twittering.

Surveys, as we all know, are mostly so much old tat but generally contain a kernel of truth. I prefer to trust the New York window cleaners.

In fact, I would be perfectly happy if some of my tax rands were spent on window cleaners to check up on what was really going on in our schools, clinics and Department of Cooperative Governance, and who was actually giving the taxpayers their full eight hours of public service toil, and who was shirking in the coffee room.

This is not a task you would necessarily entrust to the Department of Public Works (not that one would readily entrust anything to that lot) or even the Department of Public Service and Administration, but maybe someone like PricewaterhouseCoopers could be engaged to throw a few interns or newly qualified CAs at some public-sector window-cleaning surveillance.

Informing this highbrow bit of rumination on window cleaning is the radical new announcement by National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel last week that public servants are going to be expected to do some work for a change. And that, if they don't, they're going to be in for the high jump.

This is not in our South African culture, of course, and will require a great deal of adjustment from all of those who play Solitaire, run their sideline catering businesses or solicit bribes in the hours that the dwindling number of taxpayers pay them to do some work in the name of the public good.

Not since Lord Charles Somerset clapped work-shy officials in the stocks after a good lashing has it been taken for granted that public officials should actually be held accountable for a certain output during their working day. (This does not imply all civil servants would rather stay at home and rig tenders for their friends; the truth is we have many thousands of public workers who do excellent work day in and day out.)

Manuel's announcement, according to Business Day, that it was in the interests of democracy that those who failed to do their jobs should "be relieved of their responsibilities", is aimed at laying the groundwork for ensuring the National Development Plan will one day mean that all 52 million of us can eat KFC every night and go on holiday at least twice a year to Amanzimtoti .

The National Development Plan more or less recognises that the hard yards are going to have to be covered by the private sector, parts of which will require stretching, cajoling and even pushing to achieve the plan's laudable goals.

But the private sector will be darned if it is going to support and pay for the plan of a government whose officials are too indifferent, too corrupt, too lazy or too stupid to do the plan's bidding.

What the "capable state" envisages is all public servants getting off their backsides, and being equipped to do stuff instead of siphoning off tax and rates revenue to buy themselves Toyota Corollas without any measurable or discernible productivity. This is greatly to be welcomed. I would submit for the consideration of the honourable minister my (admittedly) genius suggestion of deploying covert window cleaners. I would also humbly entreat him to take seriously the idea of time sheets.

Time sheets have been the bane of my life for most of the past 20 or so of my working years - except for when I took semi-retirement to become a newspaper sub-editor.

Time sheets are boring and the filling in thereof not exactly uplifting, but they do create a measure of accountability. As far as I know, they are not widely practised within our public sector.

In the private sector South Africans are working their backsides off, so much so that people of all races and most job categories have great reputations as being willing to work hard and make a difference to employers.

This means that all too often they get snapped up by foreign employers who value individuals who can make things happen as quickly and as cost effectively as possible.

Bring on the window cleaners and the time sheets.

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