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26/03/2018 11:34 SAST | Updated 26/03/2018 11:34 SAST

Government's Lack Of Accountability Gives Way To Repeat Performances

Very few of our leaders can go through the eye of the needle of true accountability.

Ziyaad Douglas/ Gallo Images/ Getty Images

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Public accountability is a farce

No one is in prison for the Life Esidimeni crisis that saw the demise of 144 people, the listeriosis outbreak, or the deaths of children who drowned in latrines. This is the state of accountability in South Africa. Our politicians have not grasped the concept of accountability. Very few of our leaders can go through the eye of the needle of true accountability.

In the Life Esidimeni saga – MEC Qedani Mahlangu and her officials had to resign and lose their jobs – the Gauteng premier has only paid lip service to the issue of accountability. In other words, he has said repeatedly that he takes full responsibility, but unlike Mahlangu, he has not felt any pain in any way. I have a lot of time for Makhura and I think he is doing excellent work in Gauteng – but I am puzzled about his understanding of "taking full responsibility".

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Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu testifies at the Life Esidimeni arbitration public hearing on January 22, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

I would like to know what the implications of this "taking full responsibility" truly are. The former deputy chief justice has asked the police to do their work. Will this "work" include investigating how the political chain of command failed the 144 families? Must our politicians wait for this before they can truly take responsibility? Should the Minister of Health wash his hands off the tragedy as a localised crisis, or must he also have a case to answer - both for the listeriosis crisis and the shame that is Esidimeni?

The taxpayer so far seems to be the only one feeling the pain. Some R200-million will have to be paid to the grieving families – rightly so, because of the utter neglect that happened in the face of political and administrative failure. How can this be okay? How can this be what accountability should mean?

The lack of accountability gives way to a repeat performance. Look at Bathabile Dlamini's time at Sassa – this was a result of politicians believing that they can use the court system as a toy because they don't need to foot the bill. It looks like the courts are about to teach Ms Skeletonyana big lessons and force her to go through the eye of the needle of accountability.

Daniel Born/The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Former Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini at the first Sassa Anti-corruption Conference on November 4, 2013 in Centurion.

Without such a lesson, our politicians will learn nothing – they will be less and less circumspect in taking decisions that have implications for citizens. Look at the pit-toilet drowning – the crude crisis repeated itself when yet another child drowned in a pit toilet. This happens when Section 27 is still in court trying to get the government to take responsibility for the Limpopo latrine death.

The ANC must take its own integrity committee seriously.

Since that first entity, there have been no major movements to fix that situation. Only upon another death do we see the president making a pronouncement about this being fixed in three months – an unrealistic promise that sounds exactly the same as what Mbeki promised back in 2006 in his state of the nation address, promising that he will eradicate schools under trees in six months.

It is a decade and a half later, and no claim can be made that there are no schools under trees. This example shows that politicians believe that words are enough when it comes to accountability, and that action does not always count for something in this regard.

On average it has taken some six years to fix sanitation problems reported at schools. What will make politicians take this poor turnaround seriously? Clearly, it's the stench of death. Like in this case – I cannot trace any government departments springing into action after the Limpopo latrine death. Now that another death has visited us, the president rushes to announce a three-month deadline for something that government has failed to do over two decades. This is a terrible shame.

We need to stop the habit of recycling corrupt politicians from one post to another before they are considered to have repented.

What needs to be done:

· The ANC must take its own integrity committee seriously. Clearly, by now it should have summoned the entire Gauteng leadership and the ministries of health education and social development to account for the tragedies that have happened under their watch. The outcome of this engagement will then be a concrete punishment for these leaders, so that they understand that the implications for the ANC are dire. Without this, there is no hope for anyone taking responsibility.

· There must be a deliberate focus on how the court system is used to appeal decisions of the courts, especially on frivolous decisions that do not benefit society – such as the waste of public resources we have seen in cases involving parastatals like the SABC.

· We need to stop the habit of recycling corrupt politicians from one post to another before they are considered to have repented. The public is tired of half-hearted "taking of responsibility" by politicians. It rubs salt in the wounds of the public whose resources are plundered.

· A new habit of falling on the sword is crucial for refining our attitude towards a new moral framework that must define the so-called new dawn. If this habit existed, some of the current ministers hanging on to their jobs would have done the honourable thing and not wait to be fired. No need to call them out, as this is now exhausting – they know themselves, and should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to put the ANC in electoral harm's way.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

These basic considerations may go a long way in restoring public confidence to the very notion of accountability.

For now, the notion of politicians taking responsibility is a laughable proposition, if all the examples cited above are anything to go by.

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