Mark Heywood, writing in Maverick Citizen on 7 April 2021, raised a serious concern around financial reporting, accountability and transparency, but more importantly whether anyone in government or positions of leadership and influence is actually paying attention. (As an aside, my opinion is that Heywood’s piece is critical reading and the work undertaken again points out how simple it is to connect the dots, provided you are interested in meaningful outcomes that serve the citizens of this country.)
The challenge perhaps to Heywood’s lingering question of “is anyone in high office really going to do something about it?” is that it is unlikely we are going to receive meaningful or even satisfactory conduct from those in high office.
Each day, hundreds of millions of rands are entrusted to civil servants and elected representatives by the citizenry: just one example in Gauteng has highlighted how broken the system of reporting and account is, when the provincial treasury and department of infrastructure development are unable to navigate “rudimentary mathematical” calculations.
The broader issue confronting South Africans is not only whether those in high office are attempting to confront not only these errors, but also instances of malfeasance and corruption, as well as the need that public funding and spending must be properly allocated, committed, and thereafter reported and accounted for.
At the heart of this challenge is the availability of elected representatives such as the president or premier or MEC of a province to properly engage with the substance of issues, or whether they have been dragged into factional alliances and strife.
We are confronted with elected representatives who are constantly focused on internal party-political shenanigans, and this is true across the political spectrum – and the work of service to the people is often simply lip service or the paying of fleeting attention.
The availability of our elected representatives is crucial to providing meaningful service to the citizenry, and also in providing direction to the government that they have been entrusted to lead or guide. Unfortunately, reports by Maverick Citizen and elsewhere have highlighted how our various levels of government have often been found wanting, whether it comes to the erection of border fencing, the fumigation of school and government facilities or the procurement of personal protective equipment.
In many instances, South Africans are confronted not only with cases of corruption, malfeasance and irregular expenditure, but also with the sheer incompetence of government to properly serve the needs of its people. There have been many instances since March last year where Covid-19 has revealed the extent of this incompetence and myopic thinking, planning and implementation.
The work of demanding more from those in high office is critical, especially where that incompetence continues to hobble South Africa’s ability to serve the needs, interest and aspirations of its people.
The efforts nationally to build coalitions of concerned citizenry will be crucial to confronting the flaws in the system that seem unwilling and unable to confront the structural challenges that confront our generation.
However, the coalition-building will need to do much more than simply demand accountability and a recommitment to the norms and values of South Africa’s Constitution. It will be essential that these coalitions begin to confront how our system of governance, implementation and service has collapsed across the country – from rural communities to cities and across provinces and in the various spheres of government.
The fraying of our institutions, democratic values and subversion of government has not only been caused by malfeasance, corruption and self-interest, but also by the sheer incompetence of those entrusted to serve, the over-reliance on factional party-political interests and our inability to demand more from each other.
The efforts of accountability cannot simply be reduced to accounting for public spending, but also our recommitment not only to meaningful efforts to confront the triple threat of deepening poverty, entrenched inequality and staggering unemployment, but also to ensuring more is demanded from both civil servants and elected representatives.
While we avoid these fundamental questions and issues of our generation, we will continue to rob South Africans of a better future, and will continue to expose the country to the internecine conflict and agenda-setting by those more interested in their own narrow interests and brands. The conversations about accountability are critical, but more pressing is the need for us to begin reshaping our democracy.
The current crises swirling in South Africa rage across sectors and regions and continue to cause fear, lack of confidence and uncertainty of the future. These crises are fundamentally rattling our institutions, democratic values, organisations and communities, as well as the party-political machinery, and enable the divergence and instability that continues to threaten the citizenry.
South Africans have much to be fearful of, especially given the continued violence that is meted out, but these crises create a unique opportunity for us to fundamentally reshape our country. DM