Today is United Nations Public Service Day, an opportunity to honour and celebrate the courageous women and men who have helped steer this country through some of its best and worst days. For the past year and a half, public servants have worked at the forefront and behind the scenes of the Covid-19 response, tending to the critically ill, patrolling the streets to enforce regulations, ensuring the continuity of government services and devising and coordinating strategies to combat the spread of this deadly virus.

Many are battle-weary, exhausted and frustrated, not only because of the daily rigours of their jobs but also because they operate within frameworks that are less than ideally equipped to deal with the exigencies of the new normal. Existing inefficiencies in the structures, mechanisms and delivery of public services have become more glaring, even untenable in the face of some of the challenges thrown up by the pandemic. Various government offices have been successful in implementing work from home, digital service delivery and appointment-based services, while others have had to bear the brunt of public displeasure about slow processes, flawed initiatives and sub-par communication.

That Covid-19 has accelerated the urgency for public service transformation is undeniable. At a time when social distancing is essential and face to face contact is discouraged, those entrusted with bridging the digital divide between the state and Information and Communications Technology must not only keep pace with the technology available but stay ahead of the curve. If we are to achieve effective delivery of government services in the age of Covid-19 and beyond, public officers must be provided with the necessary infrastructural upgrades, training, tools, equipment and visionary leadership that would enable the wheels of a modern government machinery to turn. The Ministry of Public Administration and Digital Transformation has the challenging, but not impossible mission of ushering the public service into the 21st century and equipping it for the future, which according to the United Nations is “more agile, tech-savvy, data-driven, and human-centric”.

Since the onset of the pandemic, we have seen public servants do more with less, time and time again. A common thread emerging from the accounts of former Covid-19 patients is the care, perseverance and sacrifice of doctors, nurses and hospital personnel who, despite overwhelming conditions, go the distance to save lives. I commend and thank them and all public officers who continue to put their shoulders to the plough to ensure that this nation can surmount the Covid-19 crisis. It would undoubtedly be for the benefit of all—public servant and citizen—for the public service to significantly advance its transformation into a modern, efficient, transparent and productive sector.