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Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Des Van Rooyen. Picture Credit: Gallo Images
Van Rooyen suddenly withdraws his interdict

In another twist involving the public protector’s office‚ the Minister of Co-operative Governance an.

Honesty - not secrecy - is best policy of government

By unknown | Jun 17, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

WHETHER Jacob Zuma will fail or succeed as president will depend on how honest he is about government failures - if and when they occur.

WHETHER Jacob Zuma will fail or succeed as president will depend on how honest he is about government failures - if and when they occur.

If one has to give one collective explanation for why the Thabo Mbeki presidency fell apart, it would be his penchant for secrecy.

In his presidency, even the most basic information about the government's service delivery record, action or policies were treated as state secrets.

Government ministers lied, dodged or fudged how many low-cost homes were actually built, how many people were unemployed, crime figures - to even how many people got social grants.

Figures of success coming from the government almost never matched the reality on the ground.In the end nobody believed Mbeki on anything.

Even when he recorded delivery successes, it was dismissed as just more propaganda, lies and spin. Because Mbeki only appointed loyalists, who only told him what he wanted to know, he never really saw just how badly government had failed.

That is one reason why Zuma's presidency must appoint people who will tell him to his face when he is failing. Honesty is about owning up to government mistakes and failures. Saying something and then not owning up to it, claiming to being misquoted, is not honest.

Unless voters get honest information from the government, they cannot effectively participate in the democracy. If government is not honest about what is really going on, it is difficult to identify the nature of problems affecting the country, and how to resolve these problems.

Government secrecy also impoverishes public discussion of policy alternatives, which is crucial to separate the poor policies from the better ones.

In the end poor policies that result in delivery failure become the norm.

In the absence of information from the government, public debates start to focus on personalities and side issues. Without real information of what the government is really up to, ordinary people cannot effectively participate in democracy, and cannot hold their local representatives accountable.

It is also easy for representatives to lie about why there is no delivery: they can blame the legacy of apartheid, white opposition parties and racists, when it is they who are incompetent.

But secrecy also means a small clique of leaders, with access to information, can manipulate information in such a way that it appears that only they are capable of leading, even if they are incompetent.

Corruption thrives in secretive governments.

In a culture of secrecy, information about a tender or procurement from government, that should be competitive and in the open, is traded by a civil servant for a kickback.

And since the information from government is bought, those with money can influence government decisions, but those without cannot.

The failure of most African liberation movements is their culture of secrecy, which may have been necessary when they fought liberation wars, but undermines good governance when they are in government.

The end result of secrecy is that, in frustration, people either become cynical or rise up in anger - like they did in Khutsong.


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