Vernon Mwaanga

Celebrating his 75th birthday this week, Vernon Mwaanga advised young people to work hard and watch their dreams flourish.

VJ said he had done his best in serving the country as a public servant.

“As a public servant, I learnt the essence of humility, a quality that I consider priceless. I also learnt the importance of integrity in public life. Discipline was instilled in me as was the importance of hard work. I was taught what public service was and I would like to believe still is not about serving self but serving the people. Service to humanity is in my opinion a sole price that we have to pay for the space we occupy on this earth,” said VJ. “I did my best to serve the people of my country when I was in the public service as a civil servant, not as an evil servant because there are two types of public servants. There are civil servants and evil servants. I would like to believe that I was a civil servant. And also as a leader, my best may not have been the best and it may not have been good enough, but then no man can do more than his best.”

Without trying to write a eulogy of a living man, of a good friend of our newspaper, we can with all honesty and sincerity state that for all his known weaknesses and transgressions, VJ has offered good and valuable service to our country.

In a country full of soulless – even corrupt – people in public service, VJ has done very well.

Those who have worked with VJ in public service are full of praise for him. They extol his humour, friendliness, optimism, ingenuity and collaborative spirit. VJ possesses most of the skills and values one needs to thrive in the public service.

VJ did not go very far in school but working with highly educated people he distinguished himself by by penitence, resilience and kindness. VJ is a nice man to work with. Too often, we equate kindness with being non-assertive or even being a pushover. But although nice, VJ is not a pushover.

There are many people brimming with brilliant ideas. But those with the kindness to create inclusive, powerful ways to design, shape, deliver and evaluate those brilliant ideas are the ones we keep wanting to connect with and learn from.

To succeed in public service one needs to have the ability to see through people. The public servant is in a unique position – he or she is bound by the machination of many people. He has to deliver to unknown faces. One has to see through the veils, as there are many masks people wear. For a public servant, this is very important – that they understand which mask they are speaking to. VJ understood that and it solved a lot of mysteries and heartbreak.

In addition, VJ is a hard worker with a good imagination, teamwork and an open mind.

The face of government is changing. We need to rethink public service overall. What type of public servants do we need for this complex and changing future and the changing needs and lives of citizens? It needs a rethink – not just of skills and services and programmes, but the type of talent and skills we should look for.

In VJ, one found a lot of fairness.

We believe that what makes a good public servant, particularly in terms of politicians and political office-bearers, is the quality of operating from a premise of ideas and principles, not individual interests and partisan agendas.

Civil vocation and commitment require the constant desire to improve society’s quality of life, current situation and future opportunities. Everybody looks for the best for their families – but a public servant looks for the best for the whole society and country. They need tenacity and consistency to achieve practical results to improve people’s lives; to build that vision of a better society.

VJ is not known for corruption. We are every day hearing accusations of corruption against those in public service. And, at the core, there is almost always a public servant who could not resist some form of bribe. Obviously, a bribe has to be offered before it can be accepted. But this is where integrity as a value for those in public service come in.

We would say one in public service should always be mindful of the “servant” in him or her. In our context, a government position often is seen as a status position, and not one of serving the public good.

The most effective public servants we have come across are those that challenge, constantly. They challenge their own ideas and biases, they challenge the way it has “always been done” and they challenge senior thought leaders.

The really effective ones collaborate with partners who will challenge the status quo, also. Challenge and collaboration lead to innovation, and that is what will help us all to solve some of the most pressing issues of our time.

VJ’s public service, in some way, symbolised all this.

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