The National, Thursday November 7th, 2013
IT IS said that a few rotten apples spoil the whole barrel.
This cannot be truer for government institutions such as the police and defence force and the Correctional Services, which have been lambasted lately for the actions of a few wayward officers.
Indeed, corrupt and self-serving public servants give the government service delivery machinery a bad name.
Just a few weeks ago, a senior official, commenting on the negative perception of the civil service, urged people to refrain from putting most of them in the same boat as the corrupt few.
And he is right – not all public servants are lazy, conniving and inept in what they do.
In fact, most are hardworking people who want to deliver the best services to their fellow citizens given their skills and the resources at their disposal.
But news this week of Registrar-General Augustus Wagambio’s removal of one of his senior officers and putting 15 to 20 others on notice only heightens the sense of bemusement and perception of the civil service.
The registrar-general has effectively cast doubts on his entire staff and wants them to be investigated and those found to be involved in unethical and corrupt practices removed.
The senior officer and his colleagues were said to have falsified birth certificates by forging the registrar-general’s signature and selling the illegal documents. “We don’t need such officers in the department,” Wagambio warned.
“Once I find out who those officers are, they will be removed immediately from the department.”
Ironically, while he is determined to sack all those involved in the illegal activities, the registry is seriously in need of extra staff to sort out a backlog of incomplete files and other operational activities.
The Office of Civil Registry was established in 1982 and but has remained largely under-resourced.
It briefly gained prominence a few years ago when new family laws were mooted and the importance of birth registrations came to the fore.
However, today, the office badly needs manpower, equipment and financial support to carry out its functions.
It is the same old story of many a government institution being established with the best of intentions, but over time getting neglected.
Operational funds allocated annually merely cater for wages, utilities and minimal administrative work.
In the case of the Office of Civil Registry, the funding woes at the headquarters affected a provincial office tasked with the job or registering births.
Several years ago, the staff there admitted that they were paid merely for being in the offices and had not carried out much of the work expected of it.
Little wonder bored and under-worked staff resort to undesirable and illegal activities such as what has happened at the headquarters of the Office of Civil Registry.
The minister and departmental head responsible, no doubt, are well aware of the plight of the Office of Civil Registry and the office should expect that much needed funding would be forthcoming in the new financial year.
This is not the first time The National has been critical of the performance of civil servants.
However, we do it with a genuine belief that a change must happen in the way public service does business and that there will come a time for a break with the culture of inefficiency and or plain corruption.
Even the most ardent cynic must have reason to believe in the public service to do what is right by the taxpayer.
Our citizens expect, sometimes with a little faith not entirely misplaced, that the public service can change Papua New Guinea for the better.
Yet a handful of public servants in there keep reminding us not to be so confident after all.
These are the rotten apples which shun service before self and have got it the other way around instead.
They may be a few among the thousands of hardworking civil servants throughout the country but that handful is detrimental to the efficiency and effectiveness of the government service.
They must be found quickly and dealt with to send the correct message out.