“The public service works for us, we pay their salaries.”
This refrain is heard often and is heard loudly by anyone that has ever worked in the front lines of the public service. That is partly true, the taxes collected ultimately goes towards the salaries of public servants but ultimately you are paying them for public services that they are providing rather than paying them to agree with you when you have an issue with a government policy. Part of the problem I believe lies in the perception that the public service was designed to “listen” to the people and to give them what they want or demand.
The Public Service works for the Government. Your Government.
The public service serves the Government of the day. The Government being selected from the ruling party or the majority party in parliament. Ultimately the public service works to provide services to the general public and in this role it does serves the public but it is not directly answerable to the public.
The reason for the separation of the public service from the elected Government is to attempt to ensure that the public service remains politically agnostic so that it can work with any elected government of the day. Additional safeguards have been put in place to prevent tampering with the public service. For example, a new government technically cannot come in and simply sack all the heads of the different ministries and stat boards. This can only be done with the consent of the President, who is technically not part of any party (though there are some loopholes available).
Working for the State.
Another aspect of the public service is that we have to work for the continuation of the state. The public service isn’t simply accountable to the current generations under it’s charge but is also responsible to the many generations that are to come. Any public service that focuses only on the needs of the current generation will quickly lose the plot for long-term development and potentially send the country down a road of development and policies that may seal it’s fate. History is lined with the broken carcasses of failed states, which is something any good public service has to work to avoid.
Public Servants aren’t drones.
A final point I would like to make is that the public service isn’t there to simply take instructions. More often than not, the people that work for the service are attempting to come up with plans, policies and ideas that can improve the delivery of public services and make interactions with the public better. Obviously they aren’t going to get everything right, nor will they be able to identify all the problems that exist within the public service ecosystem, which is where public feedback can be incredibly useful. But don’t expect that the service will simply follow the instructions as suggested. It will definitely be taken into consideration but the implementation will be very different to what people expect as the process will take into account the entire ecosystem, which many individual suggestions tend to avoid.
The public service works for your intermediary the Government which you have elected but it doesn’t work for you directly.