South Africa entered the Open Government Partnership (OGP) at its inception in 2011, making comprehensive commitments to openness and transparency (see http://www.ogp.gov.za/?q=node/16). Last week, the international OGP partners met in Pretoria, and in October South Africa is set to take over as the chair of the OGP.
The Right2Know Campaign, the Khulumani Support Group, Afesis-corplan and the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) would like to note our disappointment with South Africa’s engagement with this process in the context of increasing surveillance, intimidation and censorship of activists and the media, and in particular with the unsubstantial engagement with South Africa’s extensive civil society. The hypocrisy of Zuma’s government leading an international partnership of governments towards openness and accountability is not lost on us.
Please see below the open letter sent to the Deputy Minister Ayanda Dlodlo (South Africa’s government representative to the OGP) highlighting our concerns. We note that, if these concerns are not responded to by the time that South Africa takes over as chair of the OGP, we will explore the option of launching an official complaint.
Dear Deputy Minister Ayanda Dlodlo
Is the South African government open?
While the South African government asserts that it is committed to a genuine partnership between civil society and government in efforts to push transparency and openness in the country, our organisations have a different experience of the practice of our government.
On Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 July, the OGP will be meeting in Pretoria, in anticipation of South Africa becoming the chair of the OGP in October this year. We would like to note the hypocrisy of this position.
After 4 years of attempted engagement with our government, we have in fact seen that South Africa has taken several steps backwards in respect of its stated commitment to transparency. We note in particular that:
• Activists are increasingly under secretive surveillance by state security officials (see http://www.r2k.org.za/2015/04/28/publication-big-brother/);
• The Film and Publications Board is proposing a set of internet censorship regulations to limit internet freedom and the free flow of information;
• The right to protest is under threat across the country, with local government adding unlawful requirements to the Regulation of Gatherings Act, along with the targeting and killing of protesters such as in the Marikana massacre and the at least 40 other protesters killed since 2011. This has resulted in police denying permission to protest at very short notice, and justifying force against protesters based on flawed use of the law;
• There are real and growing threats to media freedom, independence and diversity, including state-corporate collusion in which Multichoice, a subsidiary of Naspers (the largest media conglomerate in SA), has effectively won over the Department of Communications and struck a wholly unacceptable deal with the public broadcaster which will give it control over the SABC’s archives – a major public asset.
• The criminalisation and intimidation of whistleblowers has been seen where whistleblowers have lost their jobs, come under surveillance, and have even been assassinated, along with the grave threat presented by the Secrecy Bill, which remains unsigned by the president, and which provides very little public interest defence to anyone who comes into contact with classified information;
• The secrecy surrounding large-scale procurement, including a potential nuclear deal involving mega-funding from the state with almost no disclosure around the procurement process, with a history of repeated denials and with poor prospects of accountability to the tax payers. Efforts to enhance government integrity have also been eroded. Law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities face severe and ongoing leadership and operational challenges with a widespread inability to meaningfully confront corruption especially within the public sector; and
• Evidence of collusion between public and private entities which provide benefits largely to the politically-connected, as can, for example, be seen where state officials are large stakeholders in major multinational companies such as Lonmin, thereby entrenching inequality.
The commitments entered into by the South African government have been included into the plans of the Department of Public Service and Administration. However, there has been an absence of support from most other state departments. This represents an inability of the state to prioritise its commitments to the OGP which include commitments to:
• Explore the feasibility of establishing a single agency mandated by Government to develop a comprehensive and publicly accessible portal of environmental management information;
• Enhance the involvement of civil society at every stage of budgetary processes;
• Develop a Citizen Participation guideline for Public Sector departments;
• Approve guidelines on sanctions for corruption-related cases;
• Enhance national integrity through institutional capacity-building in relation to the practise of open government;
• Formalise partnerships with civil society organisations in all nine provinces to establish Service Delivery Improvement Forums (SDIFs) at local level to provide timely citizen report cards on service delivery levels at community level;
• Develop and implement an accountability/consequences management framework for public servants.
The government has yet to form a credible partnership with civil society overseeing the OGP in South Africa, where civil society is broadly represented and given equal engagement in the partnership. This was a finding of independent research undertaken by the Independent Research Mechanism of the OGP.
We call upon the South African government to either demonstrate a commitment to the realization of a genuine state-civil society partnership that takes the OGP seriously, or to withdraw from the OGP. If these concerns are not addressed we will explore the option of submitting an official complaint to the steering committee.
Khulumani Support Group
Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM)