Mon Oct 24 20:41:11 SAST 2016
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.


By Ido Lekota | Mar 04, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

HE recent call by Cosatu for a lifestyle audit of public officials has caused reverberations in the public and private sectors.

HE recent call by Cosatu for a lifestyle audit of public officials has caused reverberations in the public and private sectors.

Several civil society organisations, including Cosatu affiliates, have come out in support of the call, saying it is a step in the right direction to fight corruption in the public sector.

Making the call Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said there should be a "lifestyle audit" of all cabinet ministers, directors-general and deputy directors-general "to determine why some of them could afford to have more than one mansion and holiday homes and take expensive holidays".

In the wake of the saga around how ANCYL leader Julius Malema made his millions through government tenders, there has also been a call that the "lifestyle audit" should be extended to politicians who do not hold public office.

This week Business Leadership SA chairperson Bobby Godsell also came out in support of the call for lifestyle audits in the public sector.

Interestingly Godsell offered to undergo one himself - although he operated in the private sector.

Lifestyle audits did not question people's right to wealth, Godsell told the Cape Town Press Club last week, "but sought to investigate how they acquired their money".

A week ago President Jacob Zuma expressed his reservations about the issue. He pointed out that the government was in the process of developing mechanisms to hold public officials more accountable when it comes to how they acquired their wealth.

"Within government, we have measures in place that regulate members of the executive as well as public servants with regard to the disclosure of business interests, gifts and assets," Zuma said.

"We are always looking at ways to make these measures more effective and that is why we recently appointed an inter-ministerial committee to fight corruption."

He went on to say that the lifestyle audit call was too vague when it came to how it was actually going to be conducted.

The one institution that has the legal powers to institute lifestyle audits against any taxpayer is the South African Revenue Service (Sars).

Does the call by Cosatu then mean that someone will have to instruct Sars to conduct a lifestyle audit on the identified officials?

If so, how is the public going to access that information because as far as the law is concerned information about one's tax returns is private and confidential.

In grappling with these matters it is important to highlight that the debate about how public officials acquired their wealth is not unique to South Africa.

Countries such as the US and United Kingdom continue to explore mechanisms of how to make public officials more accountable - when it comes to their lifestyle.

For example, last year British MP David Drew introduced the Amendments to the Parliamentary Standards Bill in terms of which MPs were expected to make public their tax returns and details of any assets and shares they own.

In the US, though tax information remains private, politicians are expected to make their tax returns public.

Pressure on politicians to comply is often exerted by civil society organisations, including the media. During electioneering candidates also use failure to disclose tax information as ammunition against their political opponents.

The effect has been that politicians do disclose their tax return information.

For example, US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, as well as other politicians, disclosed their tax return information in April last year.

Explaining the move, Obama said he was willing "to sacrifice privacy for the sake of transparency".

This is probably the route South Africa should follow. Public officials (and those in positions of power to influence how public resources are utilised) should make their financial information public.

They must do so because they believe in open, transparent government that is accountable to the people.

And because they believe openness and accountability are not platitudes - they are essential elements of our democracy.


Login OR Join up TO COMMENT