Public Protector Advocate Madonsela calls for public accountability based on stewardship in the exercise of public power
23 Mar 2012
Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela last night delivered the third Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge Memorial Lecture, where she said accountability makes abuse of power less likely.
She said Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge were murdered by a state that refused to be accountable, to act with integrity or to be responsive to all its people.
“I believe they did so in the hope that the state that was to replace the apartheid state would be one where people’s demand for accountability would never be viewed as an irritation” she said.
The Memorial Lecture this year titled: "The Constitutional Importance of Ensuring Accountability to the Public” is an annual lecture organised by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Law School, the previous speakers are Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke and retired Constitutional Court Judge, Albie Sachs.
In her speech, the Public Protector argued that in a constitutional democracy everyone in power was accountable to the people as the owners of public power given to those in public office on the basis of trust, with the understanding that such power would be exercised in the interest of the people.
The Constitution then becomes the terms of reference the people have set as boundaries for those they have entrusted with public power and the basis on which accountability will be exerted, she said.
The Public Protector stated that stewardship was central to the accountability of those entrusted with public power, while accountability was in turn central to responsive service delivery.
She added that this would have resonated with the Mxenges who devoted their lives to rendering the state accountable with a view to ensuring that the state did not violate people’s human rights.
The Public Protector told of an indignity she witnessed in Braam Fischerville in Johannesburg last Saturday, where people lived in streets with raw sewage, with the community alleging that calls to the City of Johannesburg to fix the problem had fallen on deaf ears. She applauded the community leadership for approaching her office and not taking to the streets in protest.
“The role of the people and community leaders is important if a Constitution based accountability is to be enforced. They need to empower themselves with information on laws, policies and how government works. I noted that this is the approach of the people of Braam Fischervillle. Their approach is more sustainable than public protests. The latter also have a negative impact on many aspects of democracy, including the very human rights,” she said.
Stating that when communities are empowered they ask the right questions to the right people using the right channels, the Public Protector argued that the human rights, particularly socio-economic rights guaranteed in the Constitution cannot be delivered optimally without public accountability based on a service ethos among those in public office.
She also highlighted the role of the media as a channel that enables people to engage in dialogue with those in public power to exact accountability. She said this was an essential part of democracy as a dialogue and ensuring transparency in public sector decision-making.
She called upon the people of South Africa to work with state institutions supporting democracy and government to transform the state to one that is accountable, operates with integrity and is responsive to the needs of all its citizens and residents.
“That state does not see the people’s demands for accountability as an irritation. That state is based on public office being handled on the principle of stewardship,” she said.
She called upon communities to stop public protests and follow the example of the people of the people of Bram Fischerville by exacting public accountability through the channels provided by our globally celebrated Constitution.
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Issued by: Public Protector South Africa
23 Mar 2012
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