Feb 26, 2013

Accountability: Our civil duty

Greetings J

This past week, I had the opportunity to further my knowledge in the sources that one could utilise in understanding the functions of the public institutions from the view of a wildly respected service provider known as the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM). Established, in 1999 this organisation works to improve public service delivery through the use of accountability monitors. There is also a concern for the use of public resources. Through these accountability monitors PSAM works to progressively protect, and realise the constitutional rights that citizens are entitled to. Within PSAM there are three core elements of focus within the organisation where employees are allocated. The two areas of focus include: monitoring and advocacy programme and regional learning programme. In a climate where public institutions appear for to fall short in the fulfilment of their duties, a very close relationship with organisations such as PSAM is key in being an active citizen and thorough journalist.
As part of understanding the intentions and missions that centre the work of PSAM it is helpful to understand and familiarise yourself with the social accountability system in relation to the state. This is a plan which attempts to structure the process of accountability. The fundamental spheres of this process being, 1) Planning and resources management 2) Expenditure management 3) Performance management 4) Public integrity and finally the last being, 5) Oversight. These processes are fully explained here; such a break down can help any citizen or journalist to unpack the effectiveness of any policy or programme set up by the state.
What became quite apparent in the discussion that occurred around the work of PSAM is that there is very little knowledge of what it is that the structures of local government, municipal councillors, and ward committees are obliged to do.  The results found in the Eastern Cape from the 2011 Census which documented 25% of homes in the region going without electricity., proving a need for accountability and proper management of the public institution in charge of generating power. In such instances there needs to be distinct follow up in the work of various committees and the recommendations particular committee’s may make. Examples include the municipal committee which is required to approve budgets, charge service fees for water and elect while also making sure are actually given the service. Minutes to meetings and access particular documentation are requirements that journalists should and have to be aware of. In getting to know the kind of ward councillors that head up the committees, in depth information about their interests must be put forward in a declaration. It is key that such information is made accessible in order to ensure that any working relationships with specific companies won’t result in the misuse of state funds for personal use
Corruption seems to be a prominent buzz word in our public sphere. The role of the journalist has really become far more complex in that one needs to aware of the key sources that can help identify the operation of corruption. Take for example the constantly sought after tender. According to the constitution, the process of giving out tenders (otherwise known as procurement of goods and services) needs to be awarded on a “fair, equitable and transparent” basis. When a possible tender is available there has to be a public declaration for the opportunity to receive the tender. If the information for the tender is not public or adequately advertised this can be the first port of call in questioning how fair or transparent the process has been. Quite often there can be a conflict of interest in such transactions as stakeholders involved with the tender could easily ensure that that the tender is given to someone who has the ability to provide benefits for the stakeholders. Therefore by using the Promotion of Public Access to Information act one is able to see particular documentation that would help such an investigation.
In the efforts to try promote a public sphere with adequate information there are a number of sites which are focused on the supply of information and other independent organisations who work to track the actions within the state.
These include: www.infogov.co.za
Organisations such as SALGA work to represent and promote the interests of local government and encourage local government to fulfil its particular mandates. COGTA is an organisation which works to develop national policy law for local government and monitors its implementation. In line with the financial management and the auditing of municipal issues we have the employees of the Auditor General of SA who issue a report on such issues.
With the use of all these organisations who help flesh out the basics in terms of the duties expected and the other organisations who work to follow up the work of varying public institutions it is clear that the public sphere and the role of the citizen can be shifted, given the adequate tools.
from the creaks of the cottage :)

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