Wednesday, August 05, 2009

‘Please don't use my name'

Jack Bloom (DA) on the culture of non-complaint in the face of appalling govt failure

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It really irritates me when I am told about an appalling instance of government neglect or disservice, and the complainant says "please don't use my name".

You don't get this in the private sector, where consumers know that they need to identify themselves to get redress.

Many retailers are so keen to keep customers that they have a policy that "the customer is always right".

They know that without the customers' business, they will be out of business.

Now think why this doesn't apply to a government service.

If you need an identity document, is there any alternative to a long queue at a Home Affairs office?

There is always the thought that if you complain the staff will take revenge on you.

Hospital patients feel particularly vulnerable, since who knows what an annoyed nurse can do when no-one is watching.

The head of a state hospital once told me in great despair that the problem with most black patients is that they don't complain enough. They are too accepting, even fatalistic about medical failures whereas white middle class patients will loudly question and insist on a second opinion or go up the management chain.

A properly run complaints system can improve service by identifying areas of weakness, but this will only happen if people are emboldened enough to use it.

The other side of the problem is that government workers rarely think that their job is on the line if they don't serve the public well.

It's not just lax discipline but the fact that they need never worry that a government department or agency will go bankrupt and close down.

The key problem is monopoly, since even a private company that is too dominant in a particular sector can become arrogant and disdainful of customers.

The more areas of life taken over by government, the more we will get this fear about speaking out.

For instance, NGOs that are dependent on government grants lose their independence and are cautious in speaking out against government policies they may disagree with.

The Treatment Action Campaign was able to challenge government's disastrous denialism on HIV/Aids because it had outside funding.

I am not saying that government should lose its authority, because otherwise we will have anarchy.

Ideally, government should be respected rather than feared, even though laws are ultimately backed up by force.

It is truly disturbing that communities across the country are erupting in violent service delivery protests. Why has it got to the stage where frustrations boil over?

It seems to me that while individuals are often scared to complain, it is a different matter when the mob takes over.

The strange thing is that these areas voted overwhelmingly for the ANC just a few months ago.

It would be nice if ANC politicians were scared that non-delivery could see them booted out at the next election, but this has not yet happened.

After all, as President Jacob Zuma repeatedly assures them, the ANC will rule until Jesus returns.

I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson, who said "Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty."

We should never be afraid to speak up as active citizens who know our rights.

This article by Gauteng DA MPL, Jack Bloom, first appeared in The Citizen.

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