Why ANC provincial departments have contempt for you

by The Editor

FEATURE: Annual Reports go directly to accountability and transparency. If they are produced by a government timeously and made easily available to the public and press, it says something about that government’s commitment to those two principles. What follows is an assessment of the extent to which annual reports are available on provincial department websites. In undertaking it, it became apparent that not only were the reports scarce, but that some 18 websites just didn’t work at all. To find out which ones, read on.

Why ANC provincial departments have contempt for you

By: Gareth van Onselen

16 April 2012

This is really little more than a short story.

I tried recently to ascertain the extent to which provincial government departments had spent money on ‘entertainment’ – a standard line item in every annual report.

In order to do this, I would need a copy of each respective annual report, for each provincial government department, for the 2010/2011 financial year – in other words, the latest rounds of annual reports, tabled around the middle of last year.

That would seem like a perfectly reasonable undertaking. Not only is every public entity required by law to make their reports easily available to the public (to whom they are ultimately accountable) but every provincial department has its own dedicated website – the natural home, you would think, for such reports to be housed.

Well, the long and the short of it is that any such analysis is virtually impossible, such is the dire condition of provincial government department websites, on the one hand, and the scarcity of such reports on the other.

The only province without a report missing or website broken, and where every annual report could be found in an easily downloadable form was, you guessed it, the Western Cape – coincidentally, also the only province not controlled by the ANC.

Outside of that, however, the situation really is bleak.

50 (58%) of the 86 ANC provincial departments did not have their reports available. Of the 36 that did, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the files were so poorly formatted and of such size (I had to download some in excess of 140MB) that it is fair to say no one without high-speed broadband would be able to access them. In contrast, all 12 Western Cape departmental reports are easily available both on the respective websites and in a central repository.

But, perhaps even more disturbingly, a significant number of provincial department websites were simply broken, the URLs leading to error messages (or, in one case, blocked because of a virus threat – I haven’t linked to that).

18 in total – the equivalent of almost two entire provincial administrations.

But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. They are:

1. Gauteng: Department of Community Safety (page cannot be displayed)
2. Eastern Cape: Department of Sports, Art and Culture (error/under construction)
3. Eastern Cape: Department of Human Settlements (URL cannot be retrieved)
4. Limpopo: Department of Education (virus attack)
5. Limpopo: Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (URL could not be retrieved)
6. Limpopo: Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (URL could not be retrieved)
7. Free State: Department of Agriculture (file directory not found)
8. Free State: Department of Co-operative Governance (server could not be found)
9. Free State: Department of Social Development (server could not be found)
10. Mpumalanga: Department of Agriculture (URL could not be retrieved)
11. Mpumalanga: Department of Social Development (directory listing denied)
12. North West: Department of Health (could not connect)
13. North West: Department of the Premier (domain not registered)
14. North West: Department of Social Development (under construction)
15. KwaZulu-Natal: Department of Arts and Culture (not authorised?)
16. KwaZulu-Natal: Department of Social Development (URL could not be retrieved)
17. Northern Cape: Department of Agriculture (URL could not be retrieved)
18. Northern Cape: Department of Economic Development (connection reset)

Outside of perhaps Gauteng (which, despite have one broken site, has a good set of web pages) the rest are so badly maintained, their records so poorly managed, that in practical terms they might as well be broken anyway.

Here the Northern Cape deserves special mention.

For every other province I was able to scrape together four or five reports, not so the Northern Cape. I couldn’t find a single 2010/2011 annual report anywhere on its site. If there was a departmental website, the report wasn’t uploaded (indeed, there wasn’t even a section dedicated to annual reports) but, in two instances, the departments didn’t have sites at all, a step up from being broken, I suppose. Not that it was going to let the rest of its provincial colleagues down on that front mind you, obliging with two broken departmental sites of its own.

And these were just 2010/2011 annual reports, go any further back than that and your chances of success diminish rapidly. How is it that in 2012, after 18 years of democracy, it is so painstaking to find something so fundamental as an annual report?

If perchance you are a member of the public, interested in the performance of your provincial government, well, good luck to you. On the upside, if you are able to scrounge together the relevant information, at least you will be able to compare it to what is happening in the Western Cape.

Members of the public are one thing, the fourth estate is another. The media is required to carry out oversight and annual reports go to the heart of that endeavor. No annual reports means less oversight, and so accountability is denuded of its worth.

A final word on transparency, the other principle affected by this sort of general ineptitude. Quite rightly South Africa is currently outraged about the Secrecy Bill and its implications. But, make no mistake, classified or unclassified, the issue is largely irrelevant if the respective government department cannot get it together to upload its defining annual document to its own website – that is, if it is able to make to the website work in the first place.

It’s a kind of disdain for the public.

And accountability and transparency are the weaker for it.

But actually, it’s about you, the public. Easy access to annual reports is your right. It’s how you know what it happening to your money. Provincial departments have duty to you in this regard. On the evidence it would appear ANC controlled departments have little more contempt for that right.

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