Public Protector denounces the misunderstanding of contemporary checks and balances
Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela on Friday decried the apparent misunderstanding of constitutional institutions such as her office, arguing that, under such circumstances, the potential of such institutions to help transform the state in pursuit of good governance would not be fully utilized.
She was delivering a speech on the last day of a two-day conference, focusing on ways to make the national development planning work, at the University of Stellenbosch’s School of Public Leadership in Cape Town.
“I have noted that many are still stuck in ‘pre-constitution thinking’, where unique (sui generis) institutions such as my office, that are neither courts nor tribunals, are not fully understood,” she said. She explained that many people still understood checks and balances to be limited to courts, Parliament and the executive.
The Public Protector said failure to adequately understand the powers of additional checks and balances such as institutions established in terms of Chapters 9, 10 and 11 of the Constitution was one of the governance blunders that had to be corrected for purposes of enhancing good governance and national planning, with a view to improving service delivery and sustainable development.
Giving an example of the recent debate on her provisional report on security upgrades at the President’s private residence at Nkandla, the Public Protector explained that she agreed with the argument that the power to decide on security matters was that of Cabinet and Parliament.
“But the power to determine whether or not that power [to decide on security matters] has been exercised in accordance with the law belongs to my office, other competent bodies and ultimately the courts,” she said. “That is the impact of the additional checks and balances that the framers of our Constitution added in order to reinforce our fledging constitutional democracy.”
Other governance failures, the Public Protector said, included poor communication between the people and those they have asked to govern on their behalf. This, she said, has led to a growing trust deficit.
Poor planning, incorporating insufficient consultation, feedback on consultation, prioritization of matters not meeting constitutional needs; poor execution, including failure to stick to plans; corruption; and leadership and skills deficit were additional governance failures.
She mentioned more challenges such as inadequate systems, including institutional policies and standard operational procedures and inconsistencies in the enforcement of the law and policies marked by unacceptable levels of impunity and a fragmented integrity sector.
The Public Protector said the better life promised by the Constitution could be better and speedily achieved through enhanced good governance and development planning. This would enable those who are able fend for themselves to do so while ensuring that those who can't look after themselves are taken care of.
She advised that enhanced good governance included ensuring clean governance, noting that at the core of clean governance were zero tolerance to corruption and an unwavering commitment to the rule of law.
The Public Protector applauded the University of Stellenbosch for creating a platform for a well-timed debate on good governance and national planning, noting that South Africa was on the eve of celebrating 20 years of democracy while, in a year’s time, the country would be reporting with the rest of the world on the achievement of Millenium Development Goals.
She ended her talk with the Chinese proverb that says: "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The next best time to plant a tree is now.”
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