Mbabane: Talk of civil servants living in appalling conditions!
Fire-fighters at the various fire stations live in such deplorable conditions that do not befit the status of civil servants.
A visit to the station in Mbabane revealed buildings that are fitted with old and broken furniture and antique that has not been in use for years. The staff kitchen is fitted with an old four plate stove and an empty fridge. The cupboards are broken and falling apart and according to sources within the service no one has bothered to have them fixed or replaced.
The dormitories where the officers retire at the end of each days’ work are fitted with broken wall wardrobes. The ablution area consists of broken and lidless toilet seats and sinks. “Our work is more physical than anything and on returning from our duties the first thing we need is a proper shower or bath to get rid of the dirt that builds up whilst we are out in the field, but it is sad that such is not at our disposal despite addressing the matter with the management,” said the source within the service.
It is also plain to see that the dormitories should not be inhabited by human beings, let alone civil servants whose employer is the biggest in the country. The bunk beds are broken and suspended on cement blocks. “Look at mattresses on the beds and rule if they should be used by a service that is said to be essential,” said the source, pointing to torn apart mattresses laid on the numerous bunk beds.
A similar scenario was found in the ladies’ dormitories where the beds, toilets, sinks and shower rooms are all in inhabitable conditions. The shower floors are covered with old, peeling off tiles, which can cut one’s feet if they do not walk cautiously. And it is clear to see that the walls have not been painted in a long time. The ceiling is open and the remains can fall off at any-time. It is also plain to see that the fire-fighters do not bother to clean the place up as made evident by mice droppings, some left on vacant bunk beds. “You see, we sleep with mice here!” stated the source without mentioning why they do not bother to clean up.
The source wondered why they were treated differently from the other government departments like the police and the correctional services, whose environments are well kept and neater. “We have it in authority that the police and the warders are well cared for by their managements and their places of work are renovated from time to time,” said the source, adding that their plight was attributed to the management which refuses to put first things first. “We believe that to perform to the optimum level at work one’s surroundings must be given the topic priority, such as what we do not see here,” said the source. “The management here in Mbabane must wake from its slumber and start setting things in the right place,” said the clearly irate source.
He said the public deserved to know what is happening at the work stations and the dormitories which they call their home after each day’s work. Asked if officers didn’t have an option to commute from home to work the source said some officers’ homes were far-off from the stations and they didn’t have a choice but to live in the dormitories. “Had it not been for the distance many of us would be at home and relying on the housing allowance which itself is meager,” said the source, adding that for the housing allowance they get E650.00 monthly.
We buy our own uniforms
It was gathered that despite that the fire service is a uniformed department the firefighters have not been bought working gear for a long time. The workers shared that they have had to use their own clothes, bought from their own pocket, whose designs are close to that of the service. “Look closely and do not be deceived by the similarity of the clothes, and you will notice that they are way different,” said the source, adding that it is the same with the shoes. The source shared how that his own shoes had lasted for six years and for all those years the service did not bother to care. He shared that from time to time he has had to stitch his shoes due to being old and had been used in hard situations. “Management did not even think of compensating us the money we used to buy the clothes,” said the source. He said had it not been for the love of the country and the people they served they would have left the service and sought alternative places where they would eke out a decent living. “We suffer here and the public should know that,” stated the source.
Over E20 million Call Center unused
It has emerged that the fire department has a white elephant in an over E20 million world class control and call center, which has not been used for over ten (10) years. Independent News was taken around the locked building and looking through the windows one makes out of the high tech machinery, which according to sources within the service is the best the department has ever had. They shared that on installing the machinery some fire-fighters were trained on its use but it is also fair to say that ten years later they have forgotten about all the lessons. “It is ten years later and it should not be surprising that those who were trained to use the machinery have forgotten,” said the sources. They said there aren’t even refresher courses all to get the firefighters to know what to do in the event the center is opened. What also worries the sources is that the building and the purchase of the machinery was at the expense of the tax-payers’ money, which otherwise could have been diverted to other worthy causes like the purchase of medical supplies for another essential department like the health sector.
“From what we have gathered as firefighters there is nothing wrong with the control center and all that’s needed is to use it,” said the sources. They shared that the machinery allows the operators to see an accident or a fire break from far off and they can act promptly, saving on time.
Its’ government’s fault, not the service’s – Fire Services PRO
The Eswatini National Fire and Emergency Services Communications Officer, Herbert Shabangu has attributed the poor living conditions of firefighters in the country to fiscal problem with which the country is faced. Shabangu mentioned that the junior officers’ complaints were real but the service should not be blamed. He said everybody knows of the crippling economic crisis hitting the country, which has resulted in major governmental operational problems. “It is true that the furniture is old and should be replaced but where will the money come from?” asked Shabangu. He said they depend on the services provided by the Public Works Department (PWD), which fits the furniture to government departments but PWD has reported there is lack of the necessary equipment. “The PWD reported that as a service we should purchase our own equipment, and they will only come to do the fittings, but, where will the money to do that come from?” asked Shabangu. He said as management they have engaged the junior officers on the lack of funds to cover the needs of the service but they (officers) put their ears to the ground. He said the officers should understand that as management they are also controlled from somewhere where the word is final. “All the problems within the service are ascribed to government, which has reported that it does not have money,” said Shabangu, adding that as management they are in the same shoes as the junior officers whereby they have gone from pillar to post trying to see how they can put things in order at the various stations.
Officers will not be compensated
The Fire Services Communications Officers stated that junior officers will not be compensated for the money they have used to purchase their working gear. Shabangu said officers should come to understand that the fiscal position with which government is faced is not self-inflicted but came uninvited, and hence, no one should take the blame. “We must all pray that the economic situation of the country comes to an end and everything comes back to normal,” stated the communications officer. He said officers should be glad that they at least have a job and stick to it, not forgetting that there are those out there who aren’t as privileged. “What matters is that as the fire service we get paid every month while others are needy and would be glad to be in a position where they have a job.
The Communications Officer also mentioned that the Big-Bend fire station is understaffed. He said at the station there aren’t any officers at all, while only three (3) are at Siphofaneni. He said this is due to the ministry of public service ceasing the hiring of civil servants until the fiscal situation has stabilized. “We have had to seek firefighters who are resident around Big-Bend in places like Matsetsa to reinforce the workforce there, all to keep the station running,” said Shabangu.
Occupational Health Act
NAPSAW 1st Deputy General Secretary, Thabile Zwane, differed with the views of the service’s communications officer and said it is hard to believe that the government does not have money. Zwane said everybody knows of projects involving millions of Emalangeni that the government has undertaken, some of which are not as important, citing the multimillion Emalangeni ICC hotel in Ezulwini. She also cited the multimillion Emalangeni loan sourced by the ministry of finance for the building of the new parliament.
Government has also recently proposed the purchase of cabinet ministers, worth millions of Emalangeni, yet, the fiscal problems existing at the fire services departments have lingered for years, said the deputy general secretary.
“It doesn’t make sense!” exclaimed the deputy general secretary.
She said those resources used for those projects should have been set as priorities for the protection of not only the fire service but other civil servants. She said for the fire service protection is primary and all other projects should be halted and the focus re-diverted, adding that officers are exposed to danger each time they out in the field. She cited the Occupational Health Act 9 (1), which provides for the safety and health of persons at work and workplace, and for the protection of persons other than persons at the workplace against hazards to safety and health arising out of or in connection with the activities of persons in the workplace and to provide for other matters incidental thereto.
Zwane stated that as junior officers affiliated to NAPSAW they bear the obligation to exercise their right to remove themselves from the dilapidated conditions existent at the fire stations country-wide. However, she did not mention if this is what they were mulling to do as junior officers, but rested hopes that management would engage government and things would change.
On the junior officers purchasing their own uniform despite that the government is the duty bearer when it comes to such, Zwane said government needs to deem it right to compensate the officers the money spent on the uniforms.