The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) Acting Director-General Phumla Williams has called for Thusong Centres to be adequately funded.
She said the centres, which were conceptualised 20 years ago with an aim of bringing government information and services closer to the people - especially those in far-flung, previously under-serviced areas - are a lifeblood of communities as they improve the quality of their lives.
Williams said this when she spoke at the Thusong Service Centre Excellence Awards at the Grand West Casino in Cape Town on Tuesday night.
"It is very exciting for me to be here to appreciate those men and women who are still holding up and who are still appreciating what we have done.
"I think as we reflect, we also need to appreciate that the colleagues that are in these centres can write a book on challenges that they still have at these centres, the lack of resources that they have.
"I think as we celebrate this public service month, I think the powers that be have got to question whether is it right that these centres are not adequately funded," she said.
A study conducted by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) in November 2018 revealed that Thusong Service Centres are experiencing several operational challenges, including:
- As the centres started growing, citizens also started to demand more services - with some of these buildings not having the adequate capacity to meet up with the challenges that their communities faced;
- Moreover, there has not been a lead department appointed to oversee the management and coordination of these Thusong Service Centres. In some provinces these centres are coordinated by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs - leaving the management function to municipalities;
- In the same vein, in other provinces the centres are coordinated by the Office of the Premier, without funding for maintenance, leaving the responsibility to municipalities;
- This creates an environment in which departments then abandon the centres because they have insufficient budget and operational space for them to perform their functions;
- Because these departments also do not pay rent, the centres are not adequately maintained, with some buildings becoming dilapidated because municipalities do not have allocated budgets allocated in their IDPs to maintain these centres.
Williams said the centres have since evolved into institutions that provide a wide range of services and that they also allow citizens to apply for basic needs such as birth and death certificates without having to commute to the nearest city.
"So, these centres, when I was looking at what they have since done, they have even migrated from what we had at the time.
"I see that they have so many benefits for communities in their areas. Some of them have got information technology laboratories, they have postal services - they have just gone beyond what we had in mind in 1999 when we first opened the first centre in the Eastern Cape."
Best performing Thusong centres recognized
Meanwhile, Anton Bredell, the Western Cape MEC for Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Planning, said the Thusong Centres were an important point of serving communities and that they now provided a service to more than 1.3 million residents.
Paying tribute to the public servants who have dedicated their service to making the centres work, he said the province will continue to roll-out the programme.
More than a dozen awards were handed out to recognize public servants who have put in notable effort to make the centres work.
This includes the Limpopo province, which was recognized for its role in the better coordination of the centres, and KwaZulu-Natal, which was named as the most improved province in the roll-out of the programme.
The Laingburg Thusong Centre was given an award for its ability to forge meaningful partnership with other sectors to ensure the smooth running of the centre.
In one of the main awards of the evening, Nebo Legoabe was recognized for her role in implementing the programme from day one and for her tireless work over the years in ensuring that the programme remains alive.