If you do not like the job, go and work somewhere else
The Katutura State Hospital is notorious among the residents of Katutura. It is viewed as a place where one goes to die.
Still, it provides an invaluable health service to the many thousands of people who can not afford private hospitals or clinics. Therefore, its gruesome label is certainly exaggerated, and perhaps a bit sensational. Nevertheless, horror stories abound, and these have grown into a forest of urban legends, all bad, and all concerning conditions and attitudes in this premier grassroots health facility.
Last week Wednesday was an ordinary day like any other for the staff at Katutura State. The nurses were sleeping in rows in the beds that line all the hallways, the floors were dirty, linen was a luxury, and the patients were wailing. Nothing unusual, nothing out of the ordinary. This was all witnessed by an eye witness who, in turn, informed me of the events. In short, the place was in shambles, but for Katutura State, I am told, this is normal despite all the good intentions from the health ministry.
Then later in the evening, an old female patient was admitted and had to face these conditions. She suffered from a stroke and was in a very weak condition. She was also accompanied by some family members. The nurses just carried on in their usual sullen, couldn’t care less, way. Meanwhile, quietly, a telephone call was made to the permanent secretary in the health ministry, and fifteen minutes later all hell broke loose.
It so happened that the old, infirm patient is the mother of a regional councillor, so some strings were pulled. The strings turned out to be massive ropes and before one could say “Nurse, get up from that bed” the place was cleaned, tidied up, new linen appeared like magic, the stuff in the decomposing scullery disappeared, and as was stated to me “Suddenly you could eat your dinner off the floor, so clean was the place.” No longer was there a single nurse sleeping in any of the beds intended for patients, the sick people who really need them.
This painful episode is a prime example of the incompetence and lackadaisical attitude of simply too many people working for the government. Why is it necessary that a high ranking person must first bring this to the attention of another high ranking individual in the health ministry before the people who is paid to do the job, actually start doing it.
The unfortunate aspect is that not all civil servant sleep in the patients beds in the hallways, figuratively speaking. There are many competent civil servants who do their work diligently and who are a jewel in the government crown. But then there are simply way too many who just float along, exploit the lack of oversight, milk the state medical aid dry, steal the government’s fuel and other equipment, bask in the luxury of having a guaranteed home loan, do illegal trips in government vehicles, or worse, abuse their positions of authority to exploit an unwitting and often unwilling general public.
The civil service has a good many pillars of strength but it also hides a vast cadre of incompetent, useless people who will not survive a day in the private sector. Add to that a streak of criminality, or should I say, hard entitlement, and the stage is set for racketeering of the worst kind, stealing the government’s assets.
Civil servants need to go back to their fundamental mandate. This is provided not by their job descriptions but by the people they are supposed to serve, the ordinary, everyday Namibian public.
The problematic side of this is of course, that so many civil servant live and flourish on an attitude of expectation and entitlement. This, to a certain extent, is not entirely their own wrongdoing. In a sense, they have been wired by the government to expect entitlement. When you have been conditioned for a quarter of a century that entitlement is something you deserve, it becomes very difficult to break this cycle.
It is just sad that the small number of diligent civil servants are so vastly outnumbered by the lazy ducks milking the system, that it requires action from the very top, to make nurses get up, clean the place and actually do the job for which they get paid.
In my mind, there is no justification for a civil servant not to do his or her job. There is also no justification for a civil servant to strike for a pay rise. They may not be the highest paid workers in the country, but their packages are so attractive, nobody in the lower ranks ever consider leaving.
Perhaps next time when nurses complain again about working conditions and pay, then is the time to start dishing out resignation forms. This appliers to all ministries, departments and agencies.