Public Protector says constitution envisages complementary and not competitive oversight

Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela on Tuesday called for synergy and seamlessness in oversight processes in pursuit of the constitutional architecture of complementary oversight to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

She also appealed for strengthening of state institutions through additional skills and financial resources in pursuit of chapter 14 of the National Development Plan(NDP). She said complementary oversight paradigm requires better coordination of overlaps to avoid cracks resulting in impunity and duplication thus resulting in oversight inefficiencies.

Addressing delegates at the opening of 15th APAC Conference held at Sun City, the Public Protector spoke about “The place of ethics and values in the fight towards strengthened transparency and financial accountability in the public sector”. Public Protector Madonsela said in South Africa, oversight is complementary and includes vertical and horizontal accountability within a multi-agency framework for public sector accountability.

Public Protector Madonsela quoted European Ombudsman Diamandouros and said “In the public sector, ethics seek to address the fundamental issues relating to the civil servants’ duty to act as a steward for the public. Stewardship refers to the core values which should guide the judgement of public servants in the performance of their daily tasks and in their relations with the public. Most importantly, ethical considerations provide the standards of accountability that can be used to scrutinize the work of civil servants”.

She said ethics is essentially about doing the right things in the right way and that values of an organization or society determine the right way. She said in South Africa the right way is determined by the Constitution which lays down the vision of society as one that is inclusive and offers an improved quality of life and freed potential for all while laying down the basic entitlements of all persons in the form of human and freedoms.

During her presentation, Public Protector Madonsela also unpacked the link between ethics, transparency and financial accountability. She said ethics is principally an inside out job whereas policing comes at the end of failure of ethics. She stressed that the success of ethics principally relies on self-leadership and self-regulation.

“Independent oversight bodies such as the Public Protector, Auditor-General, Public Service Commission and the South African Human Rights Commission reinforce integrity system within the state before matters are taken to court. Accountability involves giving an account of conduct, justifying action or inaction and making amends where required. Ethics, transparency and financial accountability are mutually reinforcing and transparency enhances ethical conduct even at the level of self-regulation,” she said.

Public Protector Madonsela said when ethics, transparency and accountability fail, service delivery also fails. She added that financial accountability is an important part of good governance which is enhanced by and requires transparency and ethical conduct. She also stated that whistle-blowers also form an important pillar of transparent governance, ethical governance and effective financial accountability.

She told the conference that together the Constitutional provisions create the foundation for a constitutional democracy based on the rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution. She said a Good Governance and Integrity Self-Assessment Matrix is a great tool for ethical governance. She also mentioned chapter 14 of the National Development Plan that puts emphasis on the link between good governance and effective service delivery and gives public accountability a priority.

Public Protector Madonsela also used the opportunity to share with delegates case studies related to her topic. After indicating that transparency, ethics and accountability are core elements of good governance, Public Protector Madonsela mentioned a collaborative investigation undertaken by her office, the Auditor-General, Public Service Commission at the request of SCOPA in the North West Province She used this as an example of what can be achieved through collaborative as opposed to competitive oversight. She went on to mention that through collaborative oversight, the investigation successfully uncovered unconscionable and irregular expenditure amounting to R15 on an internal disciplinary inquiry for only three (3) officials. The stressed the need for collaboration between Parliament, constitutional bodies, the Executive and others in ensuring seamless and effective oversight.

In response to case studies mentioned, one participant express a concern over mentioning cases without details saying that it unintentionally makes other people look bad. The Public Protector explained that she left out details precisely to illustrate a general point and not necessarily embarrass parties involved.. Another delegate asked how she felt about recent public attacks on her particularly being called an agent. The Public Protector then responded by saying she welcomes criticism and proper engagement based on facts as this is part of accountability as a public office bearer. She however mentioned that insulting her is prohibited and that lies, including fabrication of false documents making malicious allegations on spying are prohibited.. but lies and insults are unwarranted.

When asked why there was discussion on corruption in the private sector, the Public Protector explained that she has no jurisdiction when there is no state action involved. She further explained that her office gets involved if there is state action, even if some of the alleged wrong doers are from private sector persons or entities.

In conclusion, she said “Together we are stronger, more effective in reducing service and conduct failure. Impunity exploits cracks” She further said the country’s constitutional democracy is anchored in the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law and that putting the people and Constitution first is required of all who are entrusted with public power and control over state resources. She said the same is required in the performance of oversight by the complementary oversight bodies.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, 24 September 2014, the Public Protector will address the Access to Justice outreach event in Bizana, Eastern Cape.

The Public Protector’s address will focus on “Overcoming the barrier- Access to Justice by women and for women.”

The event is organised by the South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA) as part of its ongoing access to justice campaign.

Her address is scheduled for 09:30 at KwaMzizi Township in Bizana

For more information, contact:

Kgalalelo Masibi
Public Protector South Africa
(012) 366 7006
079 507 0399

Published Date: 
Tuesday, September 23, 2014