South Africa’s new national government and nine new provincial executives have taken office following recent elections. They all have a huge job to do, and it cannot be business as usual.
The country is at a turning point following the nine years of former President Jacob Zuma’s ruinous administration. It needs strong, principled leaders in all spheres of government to put the country on a path of economic growth and to improve the quality of governance.
Many of the current governance failures are linked to corruption or state capture. This includes malfeasance in state-owned enterprises such as Eskom, the power utility and Transnet, the rail and port company. There are also other serious governance problems in some national government departments and provinces and in most of the municipalities.
The main governance problems are non-compliance with legislative requirements designed to keep the running of government clean and free from corruption. These include the Public Finance Management Act and the Municipal Finance Management Act.
The biggest challenges include a lack of oversight and accountability, poor appointments in key positions, tolerance of corruption, and poor management and technical skills.
All these problems can be fixed if some basic steps are taken. These can be narrowed down to a list of seven. The focus should be on improving governance and weeding out corruption. The list would include: bringing those involved in corruption to book, setting clear targets for each minister, imposing a proper accountability structure and appointing an ethics officer. Accountability will also be improved if the involvement of communities is improved.
The added ingredient is leadership. An important first step would be for President Cyril Ramaphosa and the nine new premiers to show commitment to ensuring integrity and to improve transparency and accountability.
South Africa performs badly in the global governance context. The country scores 43% and is 73rd out of 180 countries on the latest Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. The index focuses on public sector corruption. It draws on surveys and assessments by experts.
It’s also gone backwards from last year in the latest Ibrahim Index on African Governance. South Africa is in 7th position with a combined score of 68%, which is slightly down from 2017. Mauritius is in the first place with 79,5%.
South Africa’s weakest score (33,5%) on this index is on personal safety. Another problem area is transparency and accountability where the country scored just 57,4%.
The index defines governance as the provision of the political, social and economic public goods and services that every citizen has the right to expect from their state. It also factors in the state’s responsibility to deliver to its citizens.
One of the significant ways of improving accountability and governance would be to ensure that the work of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture results in the successful prosecution of perpetrators.
Other practical steps that should be considered are:
Setting clear targets for each of the new ministers and members of the executive councils. This must include regular public reports on their performance;
Adopting a good governance programme that focuses on enhancing integrity, transparency and accountability;
Sourcing the best expertise in the public and private sectors to fill key senior management positions;
Appointing a senior manager as “chief ethics officer”. This could be the secretary to the national cabinet and secretary to the cabinet in each province;
Strengthening the oversight role of the nine provincial legislatures and Parliament. This could be done by ensuring compliance with the accountability requirements in the various pieces of legislation;
Ensuring the effective use of information technology to enhance good governance; and
Creating an enabling environment for more constructive community involvement when it comes to delivering public services.
Practical measures like this would help improve the quality of governance. It would also contribute to improving South Africa’s score on the Ibrahim Index.
Why governance matters
Poor governance compounds the already huge task facing the newly elected executives. South Africa has huge economic and social inequalities. This means that it needs a new pragmatic approach that uses the skills and expertise of all citizens, beyond what the government is able to provide.
This implies the development of innovative solutions to some of the country’s biggest problems. These include a lack of adequate housing, poor education and a lack of safety. And every day ordinary South Africans feel the brunt of dysfunctional municipalities. These need to be turned into well-functioning entities that serve their communities well.
The “co-production” method, which entails using the combined expertise of both the private and public sectors in the design and delivery of public services, should be used on a much larger scale. A good example of successful co-production is Partners for Possibility, which makes a significant impact in improving education.