23 August 2020
Public trust in government has been declining steadily over the years, shows a recent survey
Public anger has correctly reached a peak following media reports of allegations of malfeasance in the awarding of tenders to supply the government with personal protective equipment that run into millions of rand.
Such allegations reinforce waning public trust in government institutions that we have seen growing over the year.
Unlike Kenya, which recently introduced the Lifestyle Audit Bill, South Africa has no such legislation. Nothing compels politicians to undergo lifestyle audits to ascertain if their lifestyles match their declared sources of income.
This is where the question of ethics and the regeneration of public morality comes in. For the eroded public confidence in the government demands much more than just compliance with the letter of the law – it now desperately requires leaders to close the trust deficit that has formed between those who govern and the citizens who elected them.
That is why the announcement by Gauteng Premier David Makhura that he would voluntarily subject himself and his 10-member executive council to lifestyle audits should be
welcomed. The move by the premier is a step forward and raises the bar for public representatives in the province.
The premier made this pledge in his State of the Province Address in July last year, to crack down on fraud and corruption and restore public confidence in government and its leaders.
The Human Sciences Research Council’s SA Social Attitudes surveys show that public trust in the government has been declining steadily over the years. This growing trust deficit can only be arrested by tangible action on the part of government leaders.
The move by Makhura demonstrates the Gauteng government’s commitment to clean and accountable governance.
Residents who are looking up to the government for health care, housing, water and sanitation find themselves frustrated as they continue to live in poverty while those who are in the government are seen to be misusing the same funds meant to improve their situation.
The question, which is rightfully being asked, is when will all this stop and will lifestyle audits even help to curb unethical behaviour in the public sector?
The cases of alleged corruption paint a damning picture and a narrative that politicians live in luxury at the expense of the residents. Serving in the government as a politician and/or an administrator is seen as a stepping stone to luxurious life.
The audits will go a long way towards warding off perceptions of unethical conduct and self-enrichment on the part of those who are entrusted with the stewardship of our public
finances. It should also set a good example for the entire public service. After all,
ethical leadership and clean governance remain important for the delivery of quality services to Gauteng residents.
In 2014, Makhura introduced the open tender system, which was not necessarily a legal requirement but a voluntary move to open the procurement process to the public for transparency.
The introduction of the system significantly improved transparency, accountability and increased the number of clean audits achieved by various departments and entities of the provincial government over a five-year period.
The provincial government continued to demonstrate its commitment towards clean governance through the appointment of civil society-led Gauteng Ethics and Anti-Corruption Advisory Council.
There is no legislation that forced the hand of the provincial government to appoint this council, but it was another voluntary act aimed at subjecting the government to scrutiny by civil society and to help build an ethical culture against fraud and corruption in the provincial administration.
The investigations by the Special Investigations Unit at the request of Makhura on the procurement of goods and services for COVID-19 relief show that his government can and will take decisive action against any malfeasance.
The lifestyle audit should not be underestimated as it is a highly effective tool to identify people who, based on an extravagant lifestyle, may potentially be engaging in illicit activity. It is also one of only a few tools available to establish whether a tip-off on potentially fraudulent activity is true or not.
It is now time that the programme of promoting ethical and accountable governance by Makhura becomes the norm rather than the exception across the three spheres of government, its many entities and all organs of the state before it is too late.
- Sema and Lebotha are Gauteng government communicators. They write in their personal capacities.