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It is with heavy hearts that we learned of the passing of the outgoing Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA) Kimi Makwetu. Makwetu was a phenomenal and honourable man who diligently and tirelessly served the country in upholding good governance.
His office worked closely with Good Governance Africa (GGA) on governance and service delivery projects that examined audit outcomes in municipalities.
GGA would like to extend our condolences to Kimi Makwetu’s family, the national audit office and the nation at large for such a great loss. We are grateful for all the governance work that he contributed to during his time in office. We are the poorer for his loss but trust that his legacy will shine on as we continue the quest for better governance across our nation and continent.
We would also like to wish the incoming Auditor-General, Tsakani Maluleke all the best in her mandate “to strengthen our country’s democracy by enabling oversight, accountability and governance in the public sector through auditing, thereby building public confidence”.
The managing of any crisis tends to be defined by the extent to which suitable measures are available and implemented to address the potential impact of any such eventuality. Adjoined to the process is the degree of oversight being exercised to realise the anticipated outcomes. Furthermore, the appropriateness of the measures contemplated also depend on the nature of the actual disaster, the frequency of its occurrence, the response time to activate applicable measures, and resources to mitigate the consequences. The use of these approaches can be generalised to various incidents, with the most recent being the Covid-19 health pandemic.
The managing of any crisis tends to be defined by the extent to which suitable measures are available and implemented to address the potential impact of any such eventuality.
This article reflects on the South African government’s managing of key aspects of the Covid-19 health crisis, particularly the financial risks associated with millions earmarked for social relief and procurement of related goods and services. It is argued that despite clear early warning signals, a large portion of these funds were allegedly misappropriated due to ineffective controls and a lack of accountable managing of financial resources. This appraisal is important to improving early warning and better our understanding of how past governance experiences or trends in a crisis can inform the next one.
Some theoretical context
Early warning is articulated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as “the strategy adopted to reduce the impacts of disasters and which is based on visual observations, past experiences and cooperation to mitigate losses from upcoming hazards” and “the provision of timely and effective information, through identified institutions that allows individuals exposed to the hazard to take action to avoid or reduce their risks and prepare for effective response”. As past global financial crises and warnings of banking failures have demonstrated early warning studies are also applicable to the finance disciplines.
With early warning located in a crisis pre-planning process, accompanied action steps entail the need to (1) identify the most significant risks leading to the crisis, (2) the most important scenarios for each crisis, as well as (3) the importance of selecting the appropriate measurement for each indicator. Of concern is that there are instances where early warning is ignored, even when the severity of a situation can, in all likelihood, be realised. For example, in the case of the 2011 Somali famine, the fear of potential food insecurity was registered months in advance, with the eventual outcome being disastrous.
As past global financial crises and warnings of banking failures have demonstrated, early warning studies are also applicable to the finance disciplines.
The correlation between early warning and financial risks is enunciated in literature on public sector fraud management, as it informs that with such risks being a reality during any disaster, certain associated principles should be acknowledged, namely:
- that there will always be fraud due to opportunism or lack of oversight systems to monitor and detect any such
- that the detection of fraud is a governance achievement
- that there is need for cooperation to combat fraud and corruption
- that fraud and corruption incidents also evolve, and
- that prevention is the most effective way to combat such risks (Cheeseman, 2020).
These principles are also underscored by the Basel Institute on Governance as it promotes the need for, among others, the establishment of enforcement controls that are underpinned by transparency and accountability as primary standards.
The South African Covid-19 crisis management case
Section 195 of the Constitution (108 of 1996) provides the primary governance framework for public administration as it obligates that:
- a high standard of professional ethics [that] must be promoted and maintained
- efficient, economic and effective use of resources must be promoted
- public administration must be accountable
Closely related to the issue is the applicability of the Disaster Management Act. Section 7(2)(k) of the Act extends the provision of a governance framework to matters of financial assistance. Furthermore, section 17(1) outlines specific governance expectations, such as the inclusion of early warning systems, while under section 39(2), a disaster management plan is required to provide for appropriate prevention and mitigation strategies. The inference made is that the latter strategies include supply chain management matters since the procurement of essential goods and services is noted in the text. In considering the ensuing early warning indicators, the potential financial risks (i.e. the possibilities of fraud and corruption materialising) became self-evident.
Closely related to the issue is the applicability of the Disaster Management Act. Section 7(2)(k) of the Act extends the provision of a governance framework to matters of financial assistance.
Public procurement as an identified high risk business activity
In addition to the outlined public sector fraud principles, the first “red flag” can be located in the 2019 assessment by the Eastern and Southern African Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG), as it cautions that corruption exists at all levels throughout the procurement value chain. It further states that the meddling in the tendering process was found to be prevalent among Politically Exposed Persons and procurement officials. For background purposes, the ESAAMLG was established through the incorporation and adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding by a Council of Ministers of Eastern and Southern African states in 2018. Its primary objective is to implement the 40 recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force on combating money laundering and terrorism financing activities. The groups’ assessment acknowledges that (a) the health sector is considered as the most prone to procurement fraud due to the specialised nature of items that are procured and the many steps involved in the dispensing of medical products, which can create opportunities for corrupt activities, and (b) that Politically Exposed Persons, public procurement officials, suppliers, agents of suppliers, and political party members are among the actors considered as perpetrators of procurement fraud. The assessment aligns with the fact that as a key economic activity, public procurement represents, for example, approximately 14% of Gross Domestic Product. In 2016, the South African government spent R500 billion (15-20% of Gross Domestic Product) on goods and services. By 2019/20 it reflected an estimated 15. 6% thereof.
…the health sector is considered as the most prone to procurement fraud due to the specialised nature of items that are procured and the many steps involved in the dispensing of medical products, which can create opportunities for corrupt activities.
The second and most direct warning is credited to a letter by Transparency International wherein, on 13 May 2020, it highlighted to Southern African countries that public procurement was identified as one of four priorities under the Covid-19 pandemic that should receive government attention. In its open letter, the entity recommended that “Governments monitor, deter, and take relevant action against individuals and companies involved in unfair trade practices, including price hiking of essential goods […]”. Supplementary to the latter warning is the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) on record as having stated that the multi-billion rand Covid-19 relief package is managed in an environment with many control weaknesses.
Risk control measures applied
The following timeline reflects some of the overarching governance measures announced after the relief budget was availed:
The eventual outcome
The managing of the health crisis can be regarded as suited for an evaluation in how the pandemic tested the robustness of the governance regime of public institutions. Subsequent revelations and events highlight that despite the outlined early warning signals, and control measures adopted, millions earmarked for social relief and for procurement of goods and services were allegedly misappropriated. Some of the initial outcomes resulted in a media statement on 27 July 2020, informing that the Presidential spokesperson was granted special leave. Flowing from this development was similar leave granted to, and followed by the ultimate dismissal of the Gauteng Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) for Health, Bandile Masuku. Extended criminal investigations directed at various other senior public servants, public officials and private businesses linked to the alleged wrongdoings were also initiated. . The AGSA was also tasked, under a Presidential directive, to conduct an extensive audit on the matter with the first report released, calling for:
[…] oversight structures to use this report to direct their oversight actions and call accounting officers and authorities, as well as executive authorities to account for the implementation of the Covid-19 initiatives and the management of the funds entrusted to them
The managing of the health crisis can be regarded as suited for an evaluation in how the pandemic tested the robustness of the governance regime of public institutions.
Insofar as the political fallout, along with increased public opinion for action in curtailing these wrongdoings, it is the belief that a scandal of this nature tends to amplify renewed calls for ethics as a governance standard in public administration. With overall oversight clearly compromised, the manner in which the pandemic was managed underscores the theoretical inference that any weak governance regime is characterised by a combination of actions (or decisions) that reflect as “illegal and unethical, illegal and ethical, or legal and unethical” due largely to either intent or structural governance deficiencies. Hence there is a need for a sustained and effective governance approach that exhibits strong work ethics and controls.
With sufficient warning indicators evident prior to the commencement of the financial disbursements, effective control and accountable managing of financial resources are central to the current fallout in how the crisis was managed. Therefore, the breaches of compliance standards must be a consideration in any review on expected governance expectations. If not, the questions as to how and why governance lapses occurred could be repeated. Also, how consequence management is applied as a deterrence in addressing governance deficiencies is an important consideration.
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Dr Lincoln Cave holds a Doctorate in Public Management and a Master’s in Security Studies. He is a diplomat and writes in his professional capacity as a Certified Ethics Officer. Dr Cave is also an Associate Member of the Institute of Commercial Forensic Practitioners (ICFP) and a Supporter of the Ethics Institute of South Africa.
Tanzania’s incumbent President and presidential candidate of ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) John Magufuli (C) waves as he arrives to give a speech during the official launch of the party’s campaign for the October general election at the Jamhuri stadium in Dodoma, Tanzania, on August 29, 2020. – Voters will also select new MPs and ward councillors when they go to the polls on October 28. (Photo by ERICKY BONIPHACE / AFP)
It has been a week since Tanzania held its general election. As the dust settles, a closer examination of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) response and validation of the election outcome is necessary. According to the National Electoral Commission (NEC), incumbent President John Magufuli won 84% of the vote, while opposition leader Tendu Lissu received 13%. As tends to happen after any election, the attention shifts from the NEC’s announcement of the results to the various election observer reports. These election observer reports are an important part of the election verification process, as they tend to either endorse or raise pertinent questions about the validity of the election outcome.
SADC did not deploy a physical SADC Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM). Instead it held a series of virtual engagements with key electoral stakeholders in preparation for the election due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. After the success of the re-run Malawi election, it was expected that SADC would adopt lessons learnt from the Malawi experience regarding the “home-grown ownership” of their election process during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the lessons were not heeded and instead, the status quo was perpetuated. Recently, the SADC region has experienced several contested elections marred by controversy, leading to some seeking judicial recourse.
The most turbulent have been those in the Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Malawi and Zimbabwe. Despite calls from both opposition and other electoral observation teams claiming electoral malfeasance and irregularities in the election process itself, SADC followed its tried and tested formula of endorsing the election outcomes, seemingly based on a provision that the election itself was held.
Controversial SADC Election Endorsing Statements
SADC has a chequered past in relation to issuing endorsing and congratulatory statements to the victors of contested elections, despite claims of electoral irregularities being highlighted by several stakeholders throughout the election process. For example:
i. The then SADC Chairperson, President Hage Geingob of Namibia, issued several congratulatory statements:
Comoros: “The Southern African Development Community (SADC) congratulates the people and government of the Union of Comoros, and the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), for the peaceful elections for president and governors of the country, which were held on 24 March 2019.”
DRC: “On behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and on my behalf as the Chairperson, we congratulate the President-elect of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mr Felix Tshisekedi, following the national elections that were conducted on 30 December 2018 and the ruling of the Constitutional Court on 19 January 2019.”
Malawi: “Congratulations H.E Peter Mutharika @APMutharika on your re-election and swearing in as President of the Republic of Malawi. Namibia looks forward to deepening ties with Malawi in the interest of shared prosperity in the SADC Region.”
ii. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, in his capacity as the then SADC Chairperson, issued the following congratulatory message:
Zimbabwe: “Congratulations to His Excellency Emmerson Mnangagwa on his election as President of Zimbabwe. We urge the people of Zimbabwe to accept the outcome of the election, or follow the legal route should they wish to challenge it. We look forward to great working relations with you.”
iii. Finally, President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana, in his capacity as the Chairperson of the SADC Organ, issued the following message:
Tanzania: “Following the General Elections held on 28 October 2020, SADC applauds the people of the United Republic of Tanzania (URT) for once again demonstrating their commitment to democracy by exercising their right to vote in a calm and tranquil manner, a progressive build-up to the 6th multiparty elections since 1995.
On behalf of SADC, and indeed on my own behalf, I wish to take this opportunity to once again, commend the President-Elect of the United Republic of Tanzania, Dr John Pombe Magufuli on his resounding electoral victory and wish the incoming government a peaceful and successful term in office.”
What is clear from these SADC election statements is that there is a certain line and/or template that is used by SADC when it comes to congratulating election victors, despite calls from various stakeholders calling for an election outcome to be verified or nullified because of certain documented irregularities during the election period and on the election day itself. When examining Tanzania as an election case study, the pre-election period was fraught with claims of irregularities including intimidation of election contenders, election violence, human rights abuses, NEC partiality, election campaign suspensions, limiting election observer participation, restricting media freedoms and a host of other incumbency abuses.
All these claims were highlighted and shared by numerous stakeholders at various times throughout the election period, and it is fair to assume that some of these same stakeholders were part of the SADC virtual stakeholder engagements. So even though there may not have been a physical SADC presence during the election period, their virtual engagements should have shed some light regarding any perceived electoral malfeasance or irregularities which SADC should have taken more seriously.
Instead, in a pre-election statement issued on 27 October, President Masisi stated:
“I wish to commend the people of the United Republic of Tanzania for the peaceful and exemplary manner in which they have conducted themselves during the election campaign period, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, I urge all citizens to maintain the same spirit as they cast their ballots.”
Unless Masisi was ill informed, which in itself is worrying and unfortunate, it is rather difficult to believe his statement was sincere. The challenges experienced in the election campaign period were much more than simply the COVID-19 pandemic. His failure to acknowledge or address documented electoral malfeasance and irregularities seems to be part and parcel of SADC’s inability to hold member states accountable for their non-adherence to good governance practices, therefore indirectly endorsing incumbency abuses. This hands-off type approach does not bode well for the expansion and manifestation of good governance practices in the region.
SADC as an organisation should learn from other election observation teams who participated in the election process in Tanzania and are largely agreed that there was indeed electoral malfeasance and irregularities. The following are observations from other election observation teams:
- Tanzania Elections Watch – The Panel of Eminent Persons, drawn from East and Southern Africa, issued a statement differing in tone and substance from that of SADC. They condemned the violence that had escalated leading up to voting day, and also raised concerns over the heavy-handed force shown by security forces and the restriction of communication services ahead of the election. Their election day report stated: We are concerned that the incidents reported so far in the process bear questions on the credibility of the electoral process.
- Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa– Tanzania’s political environment has undergone several pertinent changes. Under the current government, the holding of political rallies and public gatherings has been severely limited by the Tanzania Police Force (TPF). While the Mission noted conflicting reports on the existence of an official ban on such gatherings, the effect has been the same whether such a decree existed or not.
- The United Kingdom’s Minister for Africa – The UK is concerned by widespread allegations of interference in the country’s elections, including pre-filled ballot boxes and party agents being denied entry to polling stations. We are also deeply troubled by the reports of violence and heavy-handed policing in the elections, including the arrest of opposition political leaders.
- The US Embassy in Tanzania – Irregularities and the overwhelming margins of victory raise serious doubts about the credibility of the results… as well as concerns about the government of Tanzania’s commitment to democratic values.
In short, if the SADC leadership fails to correct their long-held tradition of non-interference, this path will serve to further widen the gap between itself and the citizenry of member states who expect, as seen in Tanzania, an adherence to principles of good governance. If they continue to perpetuate the status quo and create this schism, the trust and respect for the organisation and the ability of the regional leadership will continue to wane to the detriment of all, and any well-intended regional good governance practices. The SADC leadership should formulate and implement means to safeguard against driving a trust deficit between the citizenry and the SADC entity.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the eulogy during the funeral service of South African anti-apartheid figure Andrew Mlangeni in Soweto, South Africa, on July 29, 2020. – Mlangeni, 95, was the last surviving Rivonia trialist, spending more than quarter of a century imprisoned on Cape Town’s notorious Robben island before his release in 1989. (Photo by Jerome Delay / POOL / AFP)
There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” We have former United States president George W Bush to thank for this misconstrued adage. This is the state that we South Africans find ourselves in regarding some government officials’ attitude and behaviour towards the citizenry; those who have been caught have transgressed the best interests of good governance.
The recent misuse of a state aircraft to carry an ANC delegation to Zimbabwe is a case in point. The delegation was led by ANC secretary general Ace Magashule to discuss the economic, social and political crises in Zimbabwe. July saw anti-government protests in that country, to which the state responded by arresting journalists and opposition figures. This prompted international condemnation and calls for the South African government to intervene.
President Cyril Ramaphosa sent former parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete and former ministers Sydney Mufamadi and Ngoako Ramatlhodi in August to “engage the government of Zimbabwe and relevant stakeholders to identify possible ways in which South Africa can assist Zimbabwe”. But this was not to be. Zanu-PF did not invite any other organisations to “engage with” the South African delegation. This drew criticism from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and others who were excluded from the talks.
A second South African delegation saw the ANC and Zanu-PF holding discussions at party to party level. The ANC delegation included senior ANC leaders such as Lindiwe Zulu, the minister of social development. They arrived in Harare on 8 September, having hitched a ride with Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who was making an official trip to Zimbabwe on a South African Air Force National (SAAF) plane.
The South African National Defence Union defended the minister’s decision to offer her ANC colleagues a lift in a SAAF jet, saying that we are living in unique circumstances under lockdown. The defence department said the ANC delegation’s trip just happened to coincide with the minister’s official trip and there was nothing more to it. But, have people’s expectations of government accountability dropped so low that such explanations suffice? I unpack relevant questions and events regarding the infamous trip to Zimbabwe that require clarity.
When Magashule was asked if the party had improperly used state resources to conduct ANC business, he promptly responded: “No”. A short while later he changed his tune and said the ANC would pay back the costs incurred. This change of heart maybe him realising that the delegation did indeed abuse state resources. But it was probably an attempt to try to do damage control after the public outcry.
In Chapter 6 of the document Guide for Members of the Executive, under the section International Travel, clause 1.3 states: “Ministers and deputy ministers should approach the president in writing to request approval for the intended visit and in the event of a planned official visit abroad, such request should be at least two weeks prior to departure. Such a request, in the case of a minister, should be accompanied by a request for the appointment of an acting minister.”
Did Zulu travel in her personal capacity as an ANC leader or not? Either way she would have had to seek approval from the president to appoint an acting minister, which would have meant her inclusion in the delegation would have been discussed even if she was going in her own capacity. It is strange that her inclusion in the delegation can be written off as a mere oversight.
Newly appointed Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (R) is sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng at Sefako Makgato Presidential Guesthouse on May 30, 2019 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP)
The minister was on an official trip for which the president had given permission and for which she was entitled to use an SAAF aircraft.
Is it not natural to assume she would have had a discussion with either the president or her husband, Charles Nqakula, who is the national security adviser to the president, about the purpose of her visit and who she would ferry to Zimbabwe?
Misuse of an SAAF jet
In Chapter 7 of the government handbook, clause 1.2 states: “Air transport provided by the South African Air Force or any other government department may not be used by members for party political engagements, unless such transport enables the member concerned to fulfil important official engagements before or after the party political engagements.”
This is probably the reason the president found it was “an error of judgment to use the plane to convey a political party delegation”.
It is puzzling that as the president of the ANC, he would not have been kept abreast of the developments regarding the delegation to Zimbabwe.
And it seems fair to assume there would be some liaising between the ANC officials and officials in the presidency regarding the business of international relations.
South Africa’s ports of entry were closed under Covid-19 regulations, except for those designated by the minister of home affairs to undertake (a) the transportation of fuel cargo and goods; and (b) humanitarian operations, repatriations, evacuations, medical emergencies, movements for diplomatic and international organisations and staff and other exceptions.
It is unclear which ministry gave official permission for the trip. In terms of the lockdown restrictions the ministry of transport authorises travel out of the country. When questioned about authorisation, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula did not commit to an answer but rather stated that because the delegation travelled in a SAAF jet, it did not need permission because the air force “controls the skies”.
An ANC statement on 15 September stated: “We profusely humble ourselves where we went wrong during the lockdown and will reimburse the government for the costs incurred on behalf of our delegation. Our delegation is under quarantine in line with our lockdown regulations.” But the Sunday Times reported that Magashule insisted he did not believe the delegation had abused state resources. Is the statement not a hollow apology perpetuating the sense of foolery to which we have become so accustomed?
The report further stated that at least two members of the delegation — Zulu and former minister Nomvula Mokonyane — did not go into the stipulated 10-day self-isolation period required under lockdown regulations after international travel.
Ramaphosa issued Mapisa-Nqakula with a formal reprimand. He imposed a three-month salary sacrifice, starting from 1 November, which will be paid into the Solidarity Fund that supports the country’s response to the pandemic. And he told her to ensure the ANC reimburses the state for the cost of the flight.
Although Ramaphosa’s swift action is commendable, two points require clarity:
l It was a long while before an amount was set for how much the ANC must pay back. It has since been established that the repayment will be R105 545.56. But the question is: if the ANC does pay their share of the cost of the flight, does it mean a political party has subsidised the government’s official business activities?
l Although Mapisa-Nqakula will lose three months’ salary we should not be overly empathetic. The minister will not face the realities so many South Africans have to deal with, including the fear of losing their homes. According to Chapter 8 of the handbook under the section Accommodation, she will still enjoy the benefits of living in her official residence at no cost. The “punishment” for breaking Covid rules is divorced from the deprivations faced by most South Africans.
The president said the minister’s error of judgment was not in keeping with the responsibilities of a minister. He found that Mapisa-Nqakula:
- Did not “act … in the best interest of good governance”, as required by the code for executive members;
- Failed to adhere to legal prescripts warranting care in use of state resources; and
- Acted “in a way that is inconsistent with [her] position” as required by the executives’ guide.
For any society, it is important that officials are held accountable when they transgress the principles of good governance. It is also important that the punishment meted out will act as a deterrent for future transgressions, otherwise the foolery will continue.
South Africans should expect more accountability from government officials. If not, we have ourselves to blame and the correct version of the adage will ring true: “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”.
This article first appeared in the Mail and Guardian here