SPEECHES: Keynote Address by Minister for Public Service and Administration, Hon. Mr. Collins Chabane at the 8th CPSI Public Service Innovation Conference held in Cape Town, South Africa on 19-20 August 2014

Date: 19 Aug 2014

Programme Director

Fellow Cabinet Members:
Minister of Basic Education Mme Angie Motshekga,
Minister of Science and Technology Mme Naledi Pandor,
Minister of Higher Education Dr. Blade Nzimande,
Minister of Home Affairs Mr Malusi Gigaba,
CEO of the Centre of Public Service Innovation Mme Thuli Radebe,
Executive Mayors, Directors-General, CEOs
All senior government officials from various state institutions throughout the three spheres of our government,
Esteemed guests, - and a special mention to Dr Carsten Mann who joins us from Germany,

Ladies and gentlemen, a hearty good morning to you all.

I would like to start by thanking the Programme Director for this opportunity to address you all at this very important public sector innovation conference. I am truly honoured to be here. In addition, allow me programme director to take this opportunity to acknowledge all the women who are part of this gathering and to say to them, that your contribution towards freeing our country from apartheid and building our new democracy is truly appreciated. It is because of your active role to end apartheid that we are celebrating 20 years of democracy.

Ladies and gentlemen, in terms of our responsibility, globally and certainly in South Africa, governments are prodded to deliver efficient and effective public services to their citizens. In other words we must provide our citizens with a seamless service experience whilst achieving efficiencies that help reduce government's cost-to-serve.

Citizens look upon us - as their elected government - for assurance of continued and improved services and quality of life. Ladies and gentlemen, we have chosen to be the kind of government that is always ready to fulfil its side of the social contract entered into with citizens, to always be at hand to meet their needs.

I am talking about the kind of government that President Zuma refers to as 'a government that knows where its people are and what they need - a government that is, agile, flexible and rapidly responds to the need of citizens'.

Importantly, we must remember that today's citizens are no longer passive consumers of public services:

  • they are sophisticated and more informed, thus demanding better, more efficient, more personalized services and multiple channels of access to match their preferences.
  • they want a coordinated, accessible and integrated yet seamless experience.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is essentially the main reason for our gathering here in Cape Town, primarily to look for smart ways and means or innovative solutions that can transform our government into a machinery capable of operating with high efficiency and effectiveness in order to satisfy the needs of our citizens. This Conference is one of the strategic avenues that we use to emphasize the urgent need for the entrenchment of a culture of innovation which encourages creativity, innovative thinking and public sector entrepreneurship.

We need to ask ourselves very basic, fundamental questions;

  • How do we get world-class education to children in under-serviced areas where there are no roads and learners have to negotiate raging rivers to get to school, and where large numbers of learners have to share a few teachers?
  • How do we maximise access to quality health for all - but importantly for our destitute and remote communities?
  • How do we get clean water to our communities?
  • How do we get rid of the bucket system that has been haunting us for decades?

We have said more than once that we have very good policies and regulatory frameworks in place to create a better life for all our citizens. In addition, there are numerous task teams to support and expedite the implementation of our vision to create a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. Therefore the need for our managers and ordinary staff to start thinking out-of-box!

Despite all the good work done over the last 20 years, service delivery challenges persist. This is why we need to challenge ourselves to be creative and embrace innovation as a critical approach to doing government business - more smartly. Innovation enables us to stretch ourselves, think beyond the borders of our mandates to find integrated innovative solutions, be they prototypes, processes, improving management systems, better organizational structures, and ICT and non-ICT gadgets.

This Conference must serve as a platform for all of us, who are committed to the cause of serving our citizens with diligence,

to interrogate the way we conduct business,

to interrogate the challenges standing in the way of excellence and start pursuing possible collaborative solutions.

This year, the theme of the conference is: Building an Innovative State Machinery for maximised service delivery impact. This theme essentially prescribes that state institutions must begin to work in synergy and collaboratively to ensure uninterrupted, integrated service delivery to citizens, as required by our Constitution as well as the National Developmental Plan.

Innovation, as you all know, forms the crux of that commitment to continually explore new and innovative ways and solutions to deliver services to the public instead of continuing with the old and often less effective practices.

The role of ICT as a tool for socio-economic development has been on the world stage for a while now. Information Technology (IT) plays a critical role in enabling government to deliver better services to citizens while supporting and increasing our countries' economic competitiveness.

The explosive global growth of emerging technologies is set to increase the importance of the role that Information Technology plays in service delivery innovation, and citizens' access to government services, and enhancing democracy through greater levels of public participation.

Around the world other governments are leveraging Information and Communication Technology to excel in service delivery. While we understand that Information and Communication Technology is complex and diverse, its potential must be fully utilized and mainstreamed as a tool to build, empower and benefit the country.

For this reason we must see Information and Communication Technology as a critical enabler of public sector innovation. To achieve this we need to ask ourselves if our technology and e-Government landscape is robust enough to support innovation. Public Sector innovators should not have to deal with issues of connectivity, lack of access to data, cloud services or other Information and Communication Technology infrastructure failures, the lack of which hampers service delivery innovation.

Schools and hospitals should not have to hassle with getting broadband but should be benefitting, in an affordable way, from the gains in our national Information and Communication Technology infrastructure development. We have heard of a school in Mpumalanga, Ligbron Academy, which set up its own wireless network spanning a radius of more than 50km in order to connect 5 other under-serviced schools. This should have been the least of their concerns. But it also showcases the caring nature of South Africans.

Ladies and gentlemen, our country has made commendable strides towards ensuring equal access to quality services by all citizens. However, working together and using such platforms as this Public Sector Innovation Conference we can collectively identify and share innovative solutions that would ensure that our country becomes a prime-mover in terms of innovative service delivery.

If the projects that are going to be showcased through the Conference are anything to go by, clearly there are teams and departments that have seen the light and have responded to the clarion call by embracing innovation as a way of life. Tomorrow they are sharing with all of us how these innovative projects have remarkably improved the lives of citizens while also demonstrating the creative and innovative capacity of public officials. Some of these projects have been unearthed through the Awards programme that I hope you are all participating in.

I therefore need to ask you why these solutions or best practices are not being adapted and/or replicated throughout the public service where similar challenges are being experienced.

As an outcome of this conference, I would like to see how these showcased innovations will be 'cleverly' adapted and replicated across the country where there is a need.

Ladies and gentlemen, in terms of the National Development Plan, the role of innovation as a catalyst in ensuring an effective state machinery is indisputable. However, innovation can only thrive in a permissive and supportive environment. This is true for us as a country at large where our competitiveness is dependant on a strong National System of Innovation and it is equally true for a public sector that is solution-focussed.

Working together with strategic partners such as academia, industry, civil society and specifically our National System of Innovation, galvanises our efforts to optimise the impact of innovation.

As I conclude, you have, clearly sketched in your minds, a comprehensive picture of the sort of service delivery scenario that we have as a country, including our gains and of course, most importantly the gaps that we still have to plug going forward.

At this conference, we are provided with an invaluable opportunity to collectively share and exchange knowledge and experiences on innovative solutions that may work to further our passage towards improved service delivery.

Let us all use it to explore a range of areas where innovation can be used to deliver better services to our people. In the words of the late renowned economist and Harvard Professor, Theodore Levitt: "Innovation is the vital spark of all man-made change, improvement and progress."

If we work together and innovate together, we will create that vital spark that can make a difference to the lives of our citizens. The only certainty is that things will not remain the same. We therefore must embrace the change that comes through innovation!

Thank you.

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