Secrecy and Corruption are Anti-Democratic
Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson once made the point that corruption and maladministration were the "antithesis of the open, accountable, democratic government required by the Constitution."
He said they were "inconsistent with the rule of law and the fundamental values of our Constitution. They undermine the constitutional commitment to human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms. If allowed to go unchecked and unpunished they will pose a serious threat to our democratic state."
It stands to reason that closed, secretive, unaccountable and unresponsive government encourages corruption and maladministration in the public sector. For instance, the lack of transparency around the procurement of arms has been identified as the main reason that such deals are often dogged by corruption.
Both the majority party in government, the ANC, and its trade union ally, Cosatu, are aware of the need to address corruption in the public sector. At its national congress last year, Cosatu acknowledged that corrupt public representatives "tarnish the image of government".
It undertook to support the requirement that members of political parties in government, including the ANC, should, for instance, "fully declare individual assets to avoid undesirable practices and adverse publicity that tarnishes the image of the alliance".
It encouraged greater vigilance and monitoring. It also undertook "together with government" to put in place strategies to monitor the private and public sector to ensure anti-corruption policies were adhered to.
The ANC has also said at a national conference that its cadres should play a central role in encouraging "whistleblowing" and exposing acts of corruption and unethical conduct especially among public officials.
It has made the commitment to lead by example in dealing effectively with any of its members engaged in corruption.
Both the ANC and Cosatu need to pursue these undertakings more rigorously. Other political parties and Parliament should also be more active to foster greater accountability, openness and responsiveness. Members of the ruling and opposition parties who are paid salaries to sit in Parliament and provincial legislatures should be working much harder to track the expenditure and performance of government.
Writing in an Institute for Security Studies monograph, David Chuter said: "The virtues of accountability and transparency are not things which are forced upon a reluctant government by an altruistic group of crusaders - they are part of what good government should be anyway. These virtues, and similar ones, should be practised by government because they are right, not because there is no alternative."
It is this culture that, particularly the trade unions, should be encouraging in government. Without it, it is members of the working class and the economically disadvantaged who stand to lose the most from failed public services.
With acknowledgement to the Daily Dispatch.