Press Release: Innovative regional project promoting social accountability in public services begins second phase

Written by Julie Middleton on the 16th of October 2019

An innovative project, holding governments across southern Africa to account for providing quality public services in health and agriculture, has started its second phase.

Launched in 2016, the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance has worked at the district and national levels in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, and regionally in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Following a successful first three years, the PSA Alliance is now expanding its reach to include Zimbabwe.

Reflecting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda, the multi-stakeholder regional project builds the capacity of state officials and parliamentarians to more effectively manage public funds. The PSA Alliance supports efforts by civil society organisations, small-scale farmers and the media to hold their leaders to account for the provision of gender-responsive public services.

The PSA Alliance is led by ActionAid International together with Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) and SAfAIDS, and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

Anne Jellema, acting secretary general of ActionAid, says: 

“The first phase of this project demonstrated the inspiring changes that happen when citizens hold government to account. In Tanzania and Zambia, more young people are benefiting from sexual health services, while in Mozambique, better agricultural support is helping farmers grow more food. The project also incubated a new parliamentary budget office in Malawi that could make a major impact on corruption and waste. We look forward to even bigger achievements in phase 2.”   

 Jay Kruuse, director of PSAM, says:

“Social accountability is essential to democracy. Government has a responsibility to manage public resources effectively. Citizens have a right to demand explanations and justifications for how public funds are used. The PSA Alliance has made great strides in assisting both sides to fulfill their accountability roles. We look forward to the next four years.”

In the area of health, the PSA Alliance seeks to improve HIV and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services for adolescents and young people, with a focus on adolescent girls and young women (AGYW).

Rouzeh Eghtessadi, acting executive director of SAfAIDS, says:

“We applaud the commitment of SADC Member States to provide comprehensive SRH services to adolescents and young people, as reflected in the SADC Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Strategy (2019-2030).

 “However this strategy can only be effectively realised where national governments ensure their domestic policies align with the strategy, commit to prioritising and funding quality, affordable, accessible and available SRH services, manage the funds accountably and transparently, and institute service delivery practices which are free of stigma, judgement or discrimination, and are gender sensitive.”

In the area of agriculture, the PSA Alliance focuses on the provision of agricultural public services (including input and extension) for smallholder farmers.

Joseph Mzinga, regional coordinator of ESAFF, says:

Smallholder farmers, the largest food producers in Southern Africa, have been consistently left out of regional and national agricultural planning and budgeting.

“The 2004 Dar es Salaam Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in the SADC Region has been long neglected by SADC leaders, including at the recent SADC Summit. As a result, agricultural support programmes have historically failed to curb food insecurity, as seen in the decline in regional food production in the 2018/19 crop season.

“Agricultural support must be responsive to the needs of smallholder farmers – particularly through ensuring they promote agroecology and community-based seed systems.”

The second phase of the project is being launched in each of the five project countries throughout October and November 2019.

-Ends-

 For images and interviews about the PSA Alliance contact Julie Middleton, consortium project manager at ActionAid julie.middleton@actionaid.org or +27 82 403 6040.

 For more information on the project ‘Strengthening Social Accountability and Oversight in Health and Agriculture in Southern Africa,’ visit http://copsam.com/psa/, or email psaalliance@actionaid.org.  To follow the PSA Alliance on Twitter or Facebook – see @PSAAlliance.

 The PSA Alliance consists of: PSAM – Public Service Accountability Monitor, Rhodes University – www.psam.org.za; SAfAIDS – www.safaids.net; ESAFF – Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum – www.esaff.org; and ActionAid – www.actionaid.org.

The original document can be accessed here 

“Photo Caption: Smallholders farmers doing social accountability monitoring activities after advocacy for ditch cleaning in Marracuene district, Mozambique (March,2018)”

Invite for Satellite Sessions on male accountability for health rights & social norm change

Dear friends,

 

Please join us for the following sessions on October 15 at the COPASAH Global Symposium 2019 copasahglobalsymposium2019.net

 

*Oct 15, New Delhi, India Habitat Centre, Mahogany, 11.30-1.00 pm: Men’s Accountability Towards Gender and Social Justice

A number of civil society groups have developed methodologies for increasing male accountability in areas as diverse as family planning, health, sexualities and violence against women. The session will present a spectrum of experiences from across India on efforts for increasing male accountability on issues of equity and equality, with a focus on improving outcomes for women and girls and marginalised groups.

 

Chaired by Satish Kumar Singh, Centre for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ), the session will discuss increased utilisation of public health facilities for reproductive health care by engaging with men (Dr Shashikant Ahankari, Halo Medical Foundation, Maharashtra), men’s accountability for maternal health rights (Devendra Bhadauria, Dharti Sansthan, Madhya Pradesh), digital interface with adolescents and young men on gender and SRHR (Adarsh, Manjari Sansthan, Rajasthan), and impact of men’s involvement in family planning and reproductive health (Pravesh, SAHAYOG, Uttar Pradesh).

 

* Oct 15, New Delhi, India Habitat Centre, Silver Oak 2, 4.30 pm-6.00 pm: Men as Agents of Social Norm Change

Male engagement is crucial for removing barriers towards gender and social justice. Men’s involvement in programmes and policies aimed at bringing gender and social equality is increasingly recognised but practices of engaging men are still relatively new. Hence it is important to have platforms that bring together relevant experiences and strategies.

Chaired by Dr Shashikant Ahankari, Halo Medical Foundation (HMF), the session will explore men’s role in violence prevention (Lora Prabhu, CEQUIN, Delhi), role of men as partners and fathers (Rajiv Ranjan Sinha, Srijan Foundation, Jharkhand), male engagement in addressing violence against women (Anchita Ghatak, Parichiti, West Bengal), and campaigning to involve men in changing discriminatory social norms (Rimjhim Jain, CHSJ, Delhi)

For more information, you can view the attached poster for Men’s as Agents of Social Norm Change  and a poster for Men’s Accountability 

 

Our Right to Safety: Women Human Rights Defenders’ Holistic Approach to Protection

Originally published on the  By AWID and Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD-IC) on this site.

This publication provides a reflection on the complex situations of women who face threats and violations as a result of their work defending human rights.

The investigation asserts that both the violence experienced by women human rights defenders, as well as the impact that such aggressions have on their lives and activism, makes it necessary to adopt protection mechanisms that address the different needs and realities of WHRDs. Similarly, it moves away from the concept of protection that focuses solely on the physical aspect, towards one that also addresses the need to create an enabling environment for WHRDs to carry out their work safely.

The ideas and recommendations included in this publication were developed through a consultation process that reflects the experiences of women human rights defenders from various regions.

Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) are women active in human rights defence who are targeted for who they are—because they are women as well as for what they do—because of their work defending human rights.

This publication is divided into five chapters addressing different aspects of security and protection of WHRDs:

Chapter one analyzes the risk factors and violations faced by WHRDs, in particular the use or threat of sexual violence and the use of gender and sexual stereotypes against WHRDs. It also explores the concept of integrated security and how many WHRDs understand this concept.

Chapter two explores a wide range of protection measures that have been discussed with WHRDs in the course of this research, including initiatives addressing individual, family, collective and institutional security, as well as measures addressing structural violence and digital security.

Chapter three elaborates on the responsibility of States to protect WHRDs and the strengths and potential pitfalls of several State initiatives that are currently in place.

Chapter four describes some of the regional and international human rights mechanisms that have been put in place to protect defenders.

Chapter five provides a set of recommendations for States and other institutions to develop gender-specific protection initiatives.

You can also access the full paper here

GPSA Forum: Register now and submit your session proposal

The Global Partners Forum on Social Accountability and the Challenge of Inclusion is coming up soon on November 19-21, 2019.


Registration and call for session proposals are still open. If you haven’t done it yet, register now.

The 6th Global Partners Forum is organized in partnership with the World Bank’s Human Rights and Development Trust Fund, Open Society Foundations and the Public Service Accountability Monitor at Rhodes University.

Attendance to the Forum is free and open to all. A limited number of sponsorships covering travel and accommodation are available for participants from GPSA partner organizations. To apply for this sponsorship, be sure to register by September 1, 2019 and mark ‘yes’ to the respective question on the form.

The Forum is, as in past years, a co-creation between the GPSA and its Global Partners. We invite you to take part in building the Forum agenda and sharing your experience in social accountability. Submit your session or speaker proposals by September 1st.

If you have questions or comments, please reach out to us at gpsaforum@worldbank.org. For more information on the Forum theme, read the Forum Brief, and for general information, program updates, and logistics, consult the GPSA Forum web page.

The Impact of Social Justice Activism and Community Development Work on One’s Emotional and Physical Well-Being: Personal Reflections

Written By Lindokuhle Vellem and originally posted here.

It is the destruction of the world in our own lives that drives us half insane, and more than half. (Wendell Berry cited by Macy & Young Brown, 1998)

Working with marginalised communities, what I refer to in this article as spaces of scarcity¹, is a fulfilling vocation, where one gets to witness and experience the liberation and emancipation of communities that have been forgotten and somewhat excluded from mainstream economic trajectories within society and even from political activities. As fulfilling as it may be, the job comes with its own challenges. Often, in building capacity, empowering, standing with and pushing against, as some of the activities one often engages in as we work in these spaces of scarcity, we have to make sure that they come out whole on the other side. That is easier said than done because the work takes a toll on one emotionally.

To read more, you can access the full article here.

Abductions and Disappearances of Government Critics Continue Unabated in Tanzania

By Tundu AM Lissu.

Once again, we must bring unfortunate and regrettable news from Tanzania. We must, once more, ask the world to focus attention on the deteriorating human rights situation in my country.

On Monday July 29, Erick Kabendera, a well-known investigative journalist, who has worked for some of the major news organizations in this part of the world, was snatched from his home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial and economic hub. He was taken at gunpoint by heavily armed men, who had been brought to the area in unmarked cars and without any identification.  Yesterday the Dar es Salaam Regional Police chief confirmed that Mr. Kabendera was being held for questioning in an undisclosed location. There was no prior information nor charge or arrest warrant against him; and the regional police chief did not give any reason for holding the respected newsman.

For all intents and purposes, it appears that Mr. Kabendera was abducted, and is now being held illegally.

Mr. Kabendera has been associated with some of the major exposés of human rights abuses and political repression in Tanzania in recent years. His investigative pen, for example, exposed the theft of Zanzibar’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015. How the Magufuli regime, and its henchmen, must have hated this courageous and principled man.

But Erick Kabendera is not the only victim of President Magufuli’s reign of terror. He is, on the contrary, one of the many in an increasingly long list of opposition leaders and activists, journalists, bloggers, businessmen and civic and religious leaders who have been targeted because of their political opinions. In this past month alone, a close associate of Zitto Zuberi Kabwe, a prominent opposition leader and lawmaker, was also abducted from his Dar es Salaam home. He was later found dumped in Mombasa, Kenya.

What is more, two weeks ago, a personal assistant to Bernard Membe, Tanzania’s former minister of foreign affairs (who is currently embroiled in an increasingly acrimonious war of words with Magufuli’s faction within the ruling party) was also abducted and disappeared for a few days before being released unharmed after a public outcry.

These abuses committed by the Magufuli regime will only worsen if left unchecked. The crimes of this regime must not only be exposed and denounced — they must also be deterred and punished. It is therefore high time for drastic actions to be taken. Financial sanctions, travel bans and visa restrictions should be imposed against all senior officials in the intelligence and security apparatus, as well as the ruling party political establishment and their families. Ideally, these individuals would be prevented or restricted from traveling or moving money and other assets abroad. These brazen human rights abusers would be made to understand that their state-orchestrated violence and terror against innocent civilians and the political opposition will not go unnoticed nor go unpunished by the international community.

The time to act is now, before it is indeed too late.

Honorable Tundu Lissu is a Tanzanian Member of Parliament, as well as the Attorney General and Central Committee member for CHADEMA, and the Chief Whip of the Official Opposition in Tanzania’s Parliament. Hon. Lissu is a longtime activist for democracy and human rights in Tanzania, and a practicing attorney. Between 2016 and July 2017, he was repeatedly arrested, unjustly detained and charged in court with arbitrary crimes due to his criticism of the ruling government. In September 2017, Lissu was targeted in a failed assassination attempt, suffering 16 bullet wounds The attack remains unsolved and no suspects have been identified nor any arrests made.

This article first appeared on Vanguard Africa.

Treasure Island: Leak Reveals How Mauritius Siphons Tax From Poor Nations to Benefit Elites

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has revealed a large scale investigation which reveals how multinational companies used Mauritius to avoid taxes in countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas.

Mauritius Leaks is an investigation into how one law firm on a small island off Africa’s east coast helped companies leach tax revenue from poor African, Arab and Asian nations.

Based on 200,000 files, Mauritius Leaks exposes a sophisticated system that diverts tax revenue from poor nations back to the coffers of Western corporations and African oligarchs.

Some of the key findings:

  • Law firm Conyers Dill & Pearman and major audit firms, including KPMG, enabled corporations operating in some of the world’s poorest nations to exploit tax loopholes;
  • A private equity push into Africa backed by anti-poverty crusader and rock star Bob Geldof benefited from Mauritius’ treaties that divert tax revenue away from Uganda and elsewhere;
  • Multi-billion dollar U.S. companies Aircastle and Pegasus Capital Advisers cut taxes through confidential contracts, leases and loans involving Mauritius and other tax havens;
  • Officials from countries in Africa and Southeast Asia told ICIJ that tax treaties signed with Mauritius had cost them greatly and that renegotiating them was a priority.

For the full report and revelations go to the ICIJ website

 

 

Why Uganda needs new laws to hold police in check, and accountable

By: Sylvie Namwase, Post Doctorate Researcher under the DANIDA funded project on militarisation, sustainable growth and peace in Uganda., University of Copenhagen

In May this year Uganda’s Constitutional Court made a ruling that offered a welcome development for domestic justice for victims of police violence, as well as an opportunity for police reform.

The Court declared a provision of the Uganda Police Act unconstitutional and void. The provision allowed police officers to use unlimited force when dispersing crowds with no liability for deaths or injuries.

This is a big win for Uganda. The country has a record of police killings as a result of excessive force used during mass protests for which there is almost never accountability.

The decision is indeed a milestone. But it isn’t likely to have any major effect unless there is pressure for new laws in Uganda that set international standards on the use of force and firearms during crowd control. Previous milestone decisions by Ugandan courts have either been ignored by the state, or have been circumvented through other legislation.

The courts have acted before

In 2008 the Constitutional Court nullified a provision of the Police Act which granted powers to the Inspector General of Police to disperse public assemblies if he or she believed they might cause a breach of the peace. The Court ruled that the Inspector General’s discretionary powers were excessive and effectively rendered freedom of assembly under the Ugandan Constitution illusory.

But in 2013 the Ugandan Parliament passed the Public Order Management Act. This gave the Inspector General powers to regulate the conduct of all public gatherings. It also required all conveners to notify the Inspector General of planned public meetings in advance. And it granted the Inspector General powers to bar the convening of a meeting at any venue if it was in the interest of crowd and traffic control.

This effectively revived the Inspector General’s powers to limit freedom of assembly. The Inspector General has used this discretion to bar the public assemblies and activities of some political opposition and civil society groups. These decisions have been based on broad and unsubstantiated claims of security interests and crowd control.

For example, the Inspector General has banned music concerts by prominent opposition Member of Parliament and musician, Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine. This has included concerts on his private property.

When it comes to the excessive use of force, Uganda has a multiplicity of laws that empower the police and other security agencies to carry out arrests as well as to control and disperse crowds. The laws place no limits on the use of force or the use of firearms. This means that, despite the Court’s ruling, loopholes for the use of excessive force persist within Uganda’s legal framework.

For example, the provision of the Police Act nullified by the Constitutional Court exists in the same substantive terms under the Penal Code Act. This allows the police to disperse riotous assemblies by all means necessary without legal consequences for any deaths or injuries.

Other gaps in the law exist in the Criminal Procedure Code Act, The Prisons Act, and The Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces Act.

What needs to be done

Uganda needs a comprehensive regulatory framework to govern public assembly. This framework would balance law enforcement and human rights interests, including protecting the right to freedom of assembly. Without this framework the enjoyment of this right will continue to be subject to the political interests of the regime in power.

The same dynamics apply when it comes to excessive force used to disperse public gatherings organised by political opposition groups or those opposed to the regime.

A clarity and harmony of standards is especially important as there’s an increasing blurring of police and military roles in the country.

Uganda has an active civil society and a liberal constitutional provision for public interest litigation that can enable this.

As a practical way to ensure the Constitutional Court’s most recent decision doesn’t become another forgotten milestone, civil society organisations such as the Uganda Law Society can do two things. The first is to undertake a comprehensive mapping of all laws related to use of force in the country and determine where they fall short of constitutional and human rights standards.

The second would be to engage the police, parliament and the judiciary to map out a regulatory statutory framework. This would lay down more detailed standards on the use of force by all mandated to use force when controlling crowds.

These standards can be drawn from the wealth of relevant international guidelines. These include the 1979 Code of Conduct for law enforcement officials, the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of force and Firearms for Law Enforcement Officers, and the African Union Guidelines for Policing of Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa.

Reforms along these lines aren’t relevant only to Uganda. Recent civil uprisings in Sudan and Algeria show that people are increasingly seeking change through public protest. This underscores the need to get clarity on standards police should be obligated to apply against protesters. And to crystallise a legal basis of criminal liability for excessive force at both national and international levels.

The clarity of legal standards would ensure that citizens can advance democratic and human rights in Africa using peaceful means.The Conversation

Sylvie Namwase, Post Doctorate Researcher under the DANIDA funded project on militarisation, sustainable growth and peace in Uganda., University of Copenhagen

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Defending Civic Space: Four unresolved questions

Article By Thomas Carothers, Director, and Saskia Brechenmacher, Associate Fellow, Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The trend of closing civic space crystallised at the beginning of this decade. In response, concerned international actors — including various bilateral aid agencies, foreign ministries, private foundations and international nongovernmental organisations — are working to address this problem. They have carried out many diagnostic efforts and gained greater knowledge of the issue. They have initiated a wide range of measures to limit or counteract it, from setting up emergency funds for endangered activists and supporting national campaigns against new civil society restrictions to pushing international bodies, like the Financial Action Task Force, to take better account of the issue.

Despite these efforts, the negative trend persists. Every year, more governments take formal and informal measures to reduce the space for independent civil society. Attacks on the legitimacy of international support for civil society continue to multiply. Shared learning amongst those actors intent on closing space seems to be increasing at a faster rate than learning amongst those fighting back. Furthermore, new dimensions of the problem keep emerging. In some countries, a rise in nationalism or religious fundamentalism has led to new attacks on minorities and progressive civil society groups by both state and non-state actors. Autocratic governments are now using new technological tools to amplify their repressive tactics and illiberal narratives, both domestically and across borders. More generally, while the issue of closing civic space initially appeared to be a discrete challenge, consisting primarily of restrictive NGO laws and a backlash against cross-border civil society funding, it now appears to be just one part of a much broader pattern of global democratic recession and authoritarian resurgence.

This sobering reality requires the international community of concerned actors to think hard about how to strengthen their responses. In some ways, relevant actors already know a lot about the types of efforts that are useful, such as the value of supporting national coalitions to resist restrictive measures. But on a surprisingly wide range of issues, considerable doubt and debate persists. Some of the uncertainty concerns small to medium-sized issues. For example, some civil society funders feel that making their assistance more transparent will help reduce suspicion and pushback, while others fear that greater transparency will only facilitate repression. And while some hold that pushing local partners to build wider constituencies for their work is key to resisting attacks on the legitimacy of civil society, others argue that constituency-building will always be a limited strategy as many civic causes inherently appeal only to certain communities.

Beyond these important operational and programmatic debates, a number of larger questions remain unresolved in the minds of many funders:

Closing or changing? Is the overall phenomenon best understood as a global trend of closing civic space, or of changing civic space? In other words, should it be understood as a more multidimensional and politically varied development than implied by the closing space narrative? Some critics argue that the “closing space” discourse assumes a largely homogenous civil society that primarily consists of professionalised NGOs and, in so doing, misses how civil society is changing but not necessarily shrinking in many places. Such changes include an expansion of space for conservative civic movements, a transformation of activism into more fluid and informal forms, the multiplication of large-scale protest movements, and the emergence of new types of digital activism. If change, rather than simply closure, is the more accurate lens, what does this mean for how international actors should adjust to this new global environment?

Symptoms or root causes? Is it more effective to focus on a relatively bounded agenda of promoting a positive enabling environment for civil society, or should funders approach the issue at a much higher level, and more broadly fight backsliding on democracy, pluralism and human rights? Some concerned actors have the sense that responses to date have been mostly reactive, and that simply anticipating, resisting and adapting to new restrictions risks missing the root causes of the problem. Yet, if root causes and drivers are to be addressed more proactively, do we agree on what these are, and how to ensure that a broader focus does not end up diluting action or having a paralysing effect?

Global versus local? How can funders most effectively support local-level responses to the problem while taking into account its transnational and global dimensions? Many concerned international actors agree that effective responses need to be primarily located at the national level and be driven by local civil society. At the same time, the problem of shrinking civic space has clear transnational and global dimensions. Governments worldwide are using a similar playbook and engaging in repression across borders. Certain illiberal narratives also appear to be spreading transnationally through concerted cross-border actions. For funders, this raises the question of how to best integrate the global dimensions of the trend with their country-specific strategies and ensure their various efforts add up to a coherent whole.

To blame or not to blame? Lastly, have aid providers done enough to ensure that they are not contributing to shrinking civic space? Aid providers continue to debate the extent to which they are exacerbating the problem by imposing, for example, certain organisational models on the civic sector in aid-receiving countries that make civil society less domestically rooted and sustainable. Local civil society organisations still often cite current funding models — especially the ever-growing pressures for detailed monitoring and evaluation — as one of the biggest barriers to do their work effectively, independently from government restrictions. Some funders have made concrete changes in their funding practices to try reaching a wider range of more informal civil society actors, rather than the same usual suspects. Others face internal bureaucratic barriers that make greater flexibility difficult.

Ultimately, mounting a larger, more effective and more coordinated response to the still-growing trend of closing civic space is a fundamental challenge for international aid and policy actors committed to democracy and human rights. Facing these various unresolved questions and working together to arrive at consensus-based answers to them is one part of the task.

 

By Thomas Carothers, Director, and Saskia Brechenmacher, Associate Fellow, Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Originally published on the OECD Development Matter blog

South Africa needs a functioning parliamentary budget office: now’s the time to fix it

Article by Seán Mfundza Muller, Senior Lecturer in Economics and Research Associate at the Public and Environmental Economics Research Centre (PEERC), University of Johannesburg

South Africa’s Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) is in complete disarray. In the 10 years since it was established by law, and the five years it has been in operation, the Office has failed to adhere to key principles of institutional and political independence, technical credibility and transparency. For these and other reasons it has failed to give parliamentarians, and the public, a credible alternative analysis of South Africa’s public finances.

With the swearing-in of a new Parliament and president, there is a chance to change this for the better. The first six months will be crucial. They will determine whether the Office can be set on a path that will lead to a proud institutional legacy. If not, the institution will be a waste of public money that generates mediocre and politically compromised analysis – in which case it should be euthanased.

South Africa’s parliamentarians may look further afield for inspiration. For example, the history of the American Congressional Budget Office illustrates what’s possible. Its founding director, Alice Rivlin, who died last week, was not just an accomplished bureaucrat. She was also an economist of calibre in her own right. And the legacy she left in the form of the US Congress’s budget office is one of a technically and politically credible institution that plays an important role in that country’s democracy.

Parliamentary budget offices have been established in many countries. They can play a valuable role in any democratic system by providing impartial, expert advice to parliamentarians about public finance issues in a transparent manner. This strengthens oversight of government’s public finance decisions by parliamentarians and civil society.

South Africa’s is in urgent need of reform. The Constitution envisages a fundamental role for Parliament in holding the state to account and ensuring the voices of citizens and civil society are heard beyond elections. With the current state of the economy and public finances, there are few areas more in need of credible, robust oversight.

The Parliamentary Budget Office could play a major role in ensuring that this happens. But to do so it must be a technically credible institution that is entirely independent of political influence. Unfortunately, the first opportunity to do this was squandered – resulting in 10 lost years.

Dysfunctional

The creation of South Africa’s own parliamentary budget office by the Money Bills Act in 2009 was an important step. But the process of its establishment was flawed from the start. And those failures have recently been compounded and concealed.

One thing that is clear is that since its establishment the PBO has been in thrall to political influence – most notably from factions within the majority African National Congress (ANC). Such political influence also appears to have obstructed any clean-up of the office.

The problems around the appointment of a credible director illustrate this well.

In 2018 the ANC in Parliament rushed through, with no public consultation and no serious consideration of his performance, a reappointment of its first director. A few months later, shortly after the completion of a forensic investigation into a range of alleged irregularities, he resigned.

The director’s post has now been vacant for almost nine months with no attempt to fill it. Initially Parliament said a series of acting directors would be appointed to give internal deputies a chance – a terrible argument. But even that has reportedly not been done, leaving the post vacant and Parliament arguably in violation of its own law.

The committees responsible argued that they wanted to let the new Parliament choose its own director, but that implies the post will be filled based on political considerations which it should not be. Furthermore, while the reappointment of the previous director was brief, it allowed him to reappoint staff whose contracts would have ended. This deprived any new director of the opportunity to appoint staff untainted by the institution’s recent history.

Meanwhile, the Parliament spokesperson has sought to obscure the existence of the forensic investigation. The final report is yet to be placed in the public domain and there is no indication that any action has been taken.

Another big challenge is the fact that under the previous director an informal advisory board was created that was composed of only ANC MPs. This was arguably illegal at the time. Recent amendments to the Office’s founding legislation have ill-advisedly formalised this politically homogeneous structure in law and given it the power to appoint an acting director.

Concerns were raised about this during the public consultation process, but inexplicably ignored. The implications of that are now becoming apparent.

The former house chairperson who oversaw the original, invalid board, Cedric Frolick, was expected to be replaced by Nomvula Mokonyane. Both have been implicated in corruption during the State Capture Inquiry.

While it has recently been reported that Mokonyane has withdrawn from Parliament of her own accord, it remains to be seen who will replace her. If anyone deeply implicated in corruption oversees the appointment of an acting director it could sound the death knell for the Office.

On the positive side, under law the multiparty committees of finance and appropriations retain responsibility for recommending a new director. Who the ANC appoints as chairpersons of these four committees will be important – for the Office and public finance oversight more generally. Another potential positive is that the new Speaker, Thandi Modise, has a better reputation for non-partisanship than her predecessor.

While the Speaker has little direct responsibility for the budget office in law, within the political structures of Parliament they can either hamper, or enable, committee chairpersons in acting in accordance with their legislated duties to oversee a functional and nonpartisan Office. But at this point it is unknown whether Modise was complicit in past inaction and the active shielding of the Office and its director from accountability.

If the new Parliament is to do better, the appointment as director of a technically credible economist who is robustly independent and of the highest ethical repute will be crucial. Implementation of amendments to the Money Bills Act, which explicitly establish the Office as a juristic entity, will also be important.

Civil society and the public at large should pay close attention to both matters in order to ensure that the institution is not compromised a second time. The experience of other countries suggests that if the ANC under President Cyril Ramaphosa ensures the Office is established credibly, it could turn out to be one of his most valuable democratic legacies in decades to come.The Conversation

Seán Mfundza Muller, Senior Lecturer in Economics and Research Associate at the Public and Environmental Economics Research Centre (PEERC), University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.