SA Reconciliation Barometer, Volume 4 Issue 3: Public Values Entrenching Moral Governance
Over the past year several publications and public interventions of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) have dealt with the issue of ethical governance. For example, the previous edition of this publication paid attention to the strengthening of public institutions, while the recently-released Transformation Audit had the topic of ‘Money and Morality’ in the public sphere as its main theme. This emphasis is no coincidence. The Institute believes that we find ourselves at a critical and formative juncture in our development as a young democratic state. The public norms and standards that we set for ourselves today will inevitably shape the character of the South Africa our children will inherit.
It is, therefore, critical that we remain conscious of how public values evolve in our society. Those that will stand us in good stead must be prioritised, while those that threaten to corrupt the governance – and unavoidably also the soul – of this country must be discouraged with the strongest possible measures. This view is not a case of gratuitous moralising – it is the essential engagement that any nation has to have with its future. The surge in material prosperity that the country has experienced in recent years has bolstered government revenues and placed it in a position to allocate unprecedented amounts of money to social reconstruction, welfare, and poverty alleviation. Yet many at whom these funds were directed never saw it, because as benefits that accrued from public revenue windfalls increased, so did the temptation for public officials to derive private gain from it. Arguably many of these transgressions occurred in the vacuum where an entrenched public morality ought to have been.
Boom and bust cycles are economic realities and whether South Africans like it or not, we should be prepared for the day when the good times end. When they do end, will the country have fully exploited this present cycle of growth to the advantage of the most destitute? And will there be a value system in place that would, firstly, guarantee efficient delivery in the absence of excess revenues and, secondly, serve as a buffer from the full impact of bad governance and corruption? Seen from this perspective, the presence of ethical governance becomes an insurance policy that few states can afford to be without.
This edition of the SA Reconciliation Barometer features contributions that not only take stock of the impact and challenges of questionable governance practices to date, but also reflect on the values that ought to be entrenched in our society. Saki Macozoma and Jeremy Cronin, both members of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, consider the need to prioritise public values for our young nation. Judith February and Perran Hahndiek from the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) look at the highly publicised ‘travelgate’ affair and the impact that it has had on the confidence citizens place in the most visible symbol of democratic governance in this country, while the IJR’s Sue Brown reflects on the issue of money and morality in the public sector. Some key findings about public opinion on government’s commitment to clean governance, as suggested in the IJR’s annual SA Reconciliation Barometer Survey, are also provided.
Because we are, today, laying the building blocks for tomorrow, debate on these issues cannot be deferred to a more convenient time in the future. We trust that this edition of the SA Reconciliation Barometer will contribute to keeping this debate alive.
Project coordinator: SA Reconciliation Barometer