The Multilevel Government Initiative (MLGI) of the Community Law Centre at the University of the Western Cape launched its ‘Talking Good Governance’ (TGG) blog yesterday. TGG aims to deepen intellectual debate on good governance by making current research accessible to the public and policy makers.
The quality of governance we receive matters to South Africans. Every five years, we go out in large numbers to vote for political representatives, and faithfully pay our taxes, expecting good governance in return. By good governance we mean clean and uncorrupted government that serves and is capable of serving the people of the country, public officials that respect the rule of law and account for their actions transparently.
"In our constitution and legislation, we have all of the institutions we need for good governance. Promoting good governance is a common and explicit commitment in government policy, the National Development Plan, and the policies of the major political parties. Good governance thus lies at the core of the social contract between state and society, says Valma Hendricks from the Community Law Centre.
The question, therefore, is whether we are realising those ambitions in practice, whether good governance matters.
Over the past two decades, there has been a fundamental transformation in the basic structure of government at all levels. South Africa is a democratic constitutional state. A comprehensive legal regime governs all aspects of management and administration in the state. Sound financial management, ethical leadership, and accountable government are core values in the constitution.
Hendricks says, notwithstanding the many positive developments the quality of governance remains a matter of deep public concern. So-called service delivery protests are almost daily occurrences, widespread, and increasingly result in violence. Corruption and maladministration have put down roots at all levels of government. Non-compliance with standards of financial management in departments and municipalities seems to be the rule, rather than the exception. "These problems are acknowledged and well-documented in government reports and documents, such as Towards a 10-year review (2004), the state of local government report (2009), the consolidated reports of the Auditor-General, and the National Development Plan and its diagnostic report (2011/12)."
Dr Derek Powell the head of MLGI describes the three main objectives of TGG: “First, we want to apply big data and statistical analysis to understand the factors that affect the quality and performance of our governance institutions in the national, provincial and local spheres.”
Secondly, we want to make that research available in a way that promotes thoughtful, informed public debate and evidence-based engagement on issues of policy and institutional reforms in the state, he explains.
Thirdly, we want to promote inter-organisational research collaboration, by encouraging scholars and analysts from other institutions working in the field of good governance to write about their research on TGG.
The state is a complex system, consisting of many different institutions and practices. For reformers or students of complex systems there are no perfect solutions, policies are never free from the law of unintended consequences, and no policy-maker or analyst can ever predict the future with absolute certainty.
“We have launched Talking Good Governance to encourage thoughtful intellectual debate about good governance that engages with complexity, argues from hard fact, and avoids opinion unsupported by facts,” says Powell.
Talking Good Governance forms part of the MLGI's ongoing Law, State and Development Analytics (“big data”) project, which employs advanced interdisciplinary and statistics-based methods to analyse complex problems of governance at the intersection of the law, the state, and human development in South Africa, the African region, and the BRICS countries.