Public protector selection process starts off badly

Posted in Blog

 by Mukelani Dimba*

 20 July 2016

“Omnishambles!” This is how a colleague described the beginning of the parliamentary selection process for the next public protector after the end of advocate Thuli Madonsela’s term at the end of October 2016. The ad hoc committee on the appointment of the public protector met on last week on Wednesday, 13 July 2016 to compile a shortlist from 64 nominations that had been received.  

The public protector is an important constitutional body, a pillar for upholding accountability in the management of public resources. Given its centrality in upholding the constitutional order and state accountability, the process for appointment of the public protector is provided for in section 193 of the constitution. The section provides that the public protector must be a fit and proper person, a South African citizen and that the appointment must be made by the president upon recommendation by the national assembly. The constitution requires that a committee of parliament should make a recommendation and such recommendation should be approved by the national assembly before submission to the [president. Sixty percent of members of the national assembly should vote in favour of the recommended candidate before the recommendation is submitted to the president.  More importantly, the constitution provides for the involvement of civil society in the process of selection of a candidate. 

The constitutive law on the public protector, the Public Protector Act no 23 of 1994, does not provide granular detail on the process that must be followed on the appointment of the public protector, it is left to parliament to develop rules and procedures for the workings of the ad hoc committee and other modalities pertaining to the recruitment and selection process.

It became clear very early when the committee met on Wednesday last week that no such rules and procedures existed and that the process was headed for troublesome times. Despite her good intentions, the chairperson of the ad hoc committee, Dr. Makhosi Khoza, battled to establish a process for smooth navigation of what without a doubt will be highly contested exercise and outcome. A process should have been designed to provide for timeous distribution of application documents to all members of parliament in the committee before the shortlisting meeting commenced, the process of assessing all nominations against agreed criteria, engagement with public comments on the candidates and a determination of the type of interviews to be done. 

When the committee met on Wednesday last week none of these essential navigational tools were in place. Members of parliament from the opposition parties complained that they had not received some of the essential documents to be able to engage with the shortlisting process. For example, while all CVs of candidates had been distributed to all MPs, not all assessment questionnaires completed by the candidates had been distributed to all MPs. MPs only had public comments from Corruption Watch but not the other public comments submitted.
 
It was at this point that the process descended into a farce. The meeting had to be adjourned twice to allow parliamentary support stuff to print all the outstanding documents. Opposition MPs also yielded too early on their original concern that even if all the documents had been then been made available at the meeting, they would not have had time to digest the content of those questionnaires and public submissions. They allowed the process to proceed, and at that point it was merely a name-recognition contest.
 
There was no assessment of all the candidates against a set of criteria for that had earlier been presented by the committee’s researcher. MPs simply began to shout names of candidates that they liked. The rules were made on the trot and changed at a whim. For example the committee agreed on a shortlist of 10 candidates and that all candidates that had not submitted the questionnaires will be disqualified.  An hour later four of the candidates that had not submitted questionnaires were then included in the shortlist and final list became 14 instead of the agreed 10. Furthermore, the shortlist of 14 is not a reflection of candidates that best meet the criteria and it is not based on consideration of public comments on the candidates. It is based merely on each MP’s preference. For example, if Prof. Pierre de Vos were to ask the basis on which he did not make the shortlist, it is doubtful if any of the MPs in the committee would be able to give him a credible answer.
 
The committee is proceeded with undue haste. This will have an effect of undermining the public participation imperative to this process. This is an important process and should not be rushed; a weak process will lead to a weak result: a weak Public Protector. Our country cannot afford such an outcome during this moment of great upheavals in the governance of many critical public institutions. 

*Mukelani Dimba has a cameo role as the director of the Open Democracy Advice Centre.

Interrogating power, information and distortion

Posted in Blog

By Gabriella Razzano

The role of non-governmental organisations in advancing access to information is a vital one. Often, such organisations act as powerful advocates in the pursuit of information - particularly from the state - on behalf of citizens. However, this role is not necessarily as cut and dry as we would like it to be.

The Good Governance Learning Network has just released a fantastic publication entitled: "(Re)claiming Local Democratic Space: Perspective from civil society on local governance in South Africa".

And within this publication ODAC took the opportunity (from page 26 to 33) to critically examine the potentially profound role non-governmental organisations can play in accessing information, but also how they need to remain cognisant of the power they yield in such situations to prevent distortion. You can read more here.

 

Crime stats decision hailed

Posted in Blog

 

Quarterly release of crime stats hailed

09 June 2016

The Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) welcomes the cabinet decision that crime statistics will now be released quarterly. South Africans are currently denied real-time access to information regarding the extent of crime in their neighbourhoods.

ODAC has always held the position that is not sufficient to have crime statistics released only annually and that information related to incidences of crime must be made available in real-time and available at local levels such as local police stations. Regular access to information on incidences of crime locally is critical in enhancing the people’s ability to take proactive steps to protect themselves from,  and prevent further occurrence of, those crimes. It will unlock the ability of the citizens to better understand the types and extent of crime in their local areas and therefore be able to support law enforcement agencies and community groups in fighting crime more effectively.  The challenge of creating and sustaining safer communities is not government’s challenge alone, but a challenge that should be tackled by government agencies working in partnership with communities they are meant to serve. The basis for such a partnership building trust and is a free flow of information is its cornerstone. 

While the cabinet’s decision on quarterly release of crime statistics does not provide the basis for availability of crime statistics in real-time and hyper-locally, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction.

Released by: Open Democracy Advice Centre

Contact: Mukelani Dimba

Cellphone: 082 699 6586

 

ODAC disappointed with the closure of the World Bank’s Access to Information Unit

Posted in Blog

Cape Town, 7 June 2016

The Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) has expressed its disappointment with manner in which the World Bank handled the closing down of key departments that have been at the forefront of advancements on transparency and accountability in public institutions. According to ODAC’s executive director, Mukelani Dimba, “ODAC had expected the World Bank to walk the talk on stakeholder engagement and consultation before such a far-reaching decision was made”. Dimba also pointed out that it will be difficult for the World Bank to persuasively claim to be a partner in the fight against corruption while at the same time weakening its own capacity to support anti-corruption campaign work globally by felling these two important departments.

The Governance & Inclusive Institutions department and the Public Integrity & Openness department were very vocal and very present World Bank champions of the global campaign for transparency and accountability. They were a critical partner to the civil society campaign against secrecy in the conduct of public affairs and management of public resources. Failure to be open about the World Bank's plans to shut down these critical departments and lack of engagement with stakeholders that were likely to be affected by such changes is unfortunate given the World Bank's publicly stated support for civic participation and consultation. 

ODAC has called on the World Bank to review its decision and engage the transparency and accountability sector on its future direction for supporting the global campaign for access to information.

ODAC is a signatory to a letter written by the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) to the World Bank President. The letter (you can read it here) calls on the World Bank to review its decision regarding the two departments.

For more information: Mukelani Dimba, ODAC – Transparency in Action at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Malawi and the OGP

Posted in Blog

- By Gabriella Razzano

Since its inception in 2011, the Open Government Partnership has been held up as a progressive and visionary initiative for forwarding transparency. Participation has grown dramatically: the eight founding countries in 2011, are now with sixty-nine participating countries in 2016. However, with the focus on growth and building the institution as it has been, surprisingly little direct research has been done in asking a very simple question: How feasible is participation in the OGP for different country contexts?

ODAC, with the support of the Department for International Development, sought to explore this question in the context of Malawi: a country that has just completed and submitted its first National Action Plan. And in taking a step back to explore a more fundamental question about the OGP and Malawi, we were able to gain some interesting insights.

The first was that the 'strength' of a country's National Action Plan mustn't be understood in terms of what makes nice and neat indicators, but instead in terms of what that country's needs are if transparency is to be made real. Review mechanisms such as the African Periodic Review and others have highlighted the need for Malawi to build the institutions it already has in place; yet "institution building" doesn't necessarily look like the more 'exciting' open data focused projects other countries have chosen to highlight. This in fact, though, is where change needs to happen.

The second key point relates: if a country wants to change, the question should become: how can the OGP help create real change? It becomes clear that, for a country like Malawi, peer learning and exchange - an ambition central to OGP's ethos, but sadly sometimes not focused on - will be the main way that the OGP can assist Malawi in its transparency journey.

There were also lessons specific to the Malawi OGP context, such as how the government might improve the involvement of Parliament given some its legislative-type commitments; or how civil society should encouraged to use the OGP as a platform for its already fine work in the country. However, the most specific lesson was one that is perhaps obvious, yet frequently over looked - the OGP will only be useful for change when we consider the country context first, before engaging on any other activities that look outside before inside.

Click on image to download.