Towards a pro-poor service-centred public service: The case of delivery to indigents in two Western Cape municipalities: attitudes, practices and policies among municipal officials
du Plessis, Belinda
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The problems of the predispositions of municipal public officials and the professionalization of the public service have in the recent past come into the spotlight in service delivery protests involving poor people and unemployed youth. The criticism levelled at bureaucrats within the public service relates to administrative systems, bad policies as well as unresponsive attitudes among frontline staff. The existing perception is that South African street-level bureaucrats are lazy, uncaring, self-serving, unethical, and conceive of the poor in derogatory terms. They are generally only in public service because it is a means of employment or enrichment. Most recent literature on municipal water and free basic services focused on exposing the cost recovery drive of the state and its associated forms of oppressive neoliberal surveillance of the poor. The research sought to primarily understand the attitudes of street-level bureaucrats (SLB’s) within two B-category municipalities in the Western Cape, South Africa. This was done by identifying what motivates them to work in the public sector, how they see and interact with identified poor members of the public (usually defined as municipal indigents), what their value orientations are, and if and how principles of Batho Pele are understood by frontline workers. It explored how these principles are applied when interacting with indigent citizens in their everyday work environment. Additionally, the research explored how poor citizens view their experience of interacting with the state. A qualitative study, using semi-structured questionnaires, was conducted in the Cape Agulhas municipality which is the most southern municipality and the Matzikama municipality which is the most northern municipality of the WC on the west coast. Interviews with frontline municipal employees, senior bureaucrats and residents were conducted. The interviews were conducted, to obtain three different views on the problem, with a total of 71 participants. The participants comprised of 15 street-level bureaucrats, 8 senior staff, with a minimum of 5 years’ tenure, and a total of 43 indigent citizens. Given the sample size, composition and the demographics relating to these municipalities, the research is not generalizable. The public workers in the case studies, I found, cared deeply for the community and the community in turn are very appreciative of this. I also found that indigent citizens were not ashamed of their indigent status although there were those who outright denied being indigent and therefore were not interviewed.