Officials ignorant of the law

The Executive Members Ethics Act and the provisions of the Code of Ethics are not being implemented consistently by Members of Provincial Executive Councils (MECs) and the Presidency, says a new report by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa).

The Presidency promulgates the Code of Ethics. In a nutshell, it requires Cabinet ministers and MECs to regularly disclose their financial interests, business dealings and any gifts they may have received.

The report, Government Ethics in Post-Apartheid South Africa, compiled by the Political Information and Monitoring Service (Pims) of Idasa, was released on Thursday.

The report finds that the dates on which ministers and MECs first disclosed their financial interests vary from province to province. In terms of the code they had to disclose their interests by September 28 2000. Most disclosures were first filed last year. The Northern Cape is the only province that started disclosures earlier (2001), although not within the time limit of the code. The North West only made its first disclosures this year.

“This highlights the fact that all provinces failed to adhere to the provisions of the Code of Ethics 2000. This raises questions about the seriousness with which various implementing offices treat the code,” says the report.

It also points out: “The strength of disclosure laws relies heavily on the extent to which the public can access the records. More often than not, implementing agencies do not have the capacity, resources or time to review the records and establish potential or actual conflicts of interest.

“There are no review mechanisms. This means that after receiving various records the various MEC agencies responsible for implementation could not verify or check disclosed information against members’ activities over the past year or so,” explains the report.

It also hightlights a lack of awareness among government officials about the law. “It is only when the officials are aware of the law and its provisions that they can implement it properly and provide the public with accurate information without hesitation.”

As an example, while the report recognises that members of the Cabinet and deputy ministers disclose information as provided by the Act, Idasa was not able to access the information because of a misunderstanding between the organisation and the Presidency.

After requesting the president and deputy president’s disclosure forms, Idasa was not able to secure copies of the documents. It is still awaiting a response.

The official delegated to monitor Idasa’s review of the disclosure records did not know how the record system operated.

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