South African citizens cannot only vote, they can also participate in law-making and policies, says the writer. File picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)
South African citizens cannot only vote, they can also participate in law-making and policies, says the writer. File picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Active citizenry is required to hold politicians to account

By Zelna Jansen Time of article published Jan 22, 2020

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The ANC January 8 statement lists a number of priorities for the ruling party to deliver on this year.

The first on the list talks to citizens holding public office bearers (politicians) to account. This is mentioned in relation to the loss of the public confidence and trust in public institutions such as state-owned enterprises (SOEs) due to mismanagement, state capture and corruption.

Particular reference is made to the crisis at Eskom and the impact this has had on the economy and transformation.

This is a welcome statement, particularly in the light of revelations of alleged corruption from the various commissions of inquiry.

The encouragement of active citizenry in the decision-making processes in government institutions and holding elected political representatives accountable, could be seen as an acknowledgement that better accountability and oversight measures must be put in place to avoid state capture, corruption and wasteful and fruitless expenditure.

The principal element that assures good governance is the accountability of politicians and public officials. They must be obliged to inform about and explain what they are doing with the funds for which they are accountable.

However, how is it possible for citizens to know of and hold politicians accountable?

South Africa's constitutional democracy is both representative and participatory in its nature - meaning that, other than citizens voting every few years, citizens can also participate in the making of laws and policies and when oversight is conducted in Parliament and the nine provincial legislatures and municipal councils.

Another key feature of South Africa's democracy is that it is also based on the doctrine of the separations of powers. This means that there are three branches of government, namely, the legislature (Parliament, nine provincial legislatures and municipal councils), the executive (government) and the judiciary (courts).

These branches function independently of each other. There may be a degree of overlap in functions. The purpose of this division is to ensure not one institution holds all the power and to create a system of checks and balances.

The doctrine is important as the political party with the most votes governs the country through the executive and the legislatures either at a national, provincial or local level.

Checks and balances between the legislature and the executive come in the form of the executive reporting to the legislatures on how it has used the monies allocated to it.

Academics, business and policymakers accept that good governance and accountability are necessary preconditions for successful economic development. This view is echoed in the ANC’s January 8 statement, that is: “An active citizenry is vital for our country to succeed."

* Zelna Jansen is chief executive of Zelna Jansen Consultancy, a lobbying and advocacy firm that brings people together to find solutions.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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