ERROR: ANC-run provinces do not compute

by The Editor

FEATURE: Some four months ago – more than 120 days past – I documented how the websites for 18 ANC-run provincial departments were broken. I recently revisted them all again, to see if anything had changed. Nothing had. In fact, 19 are now broken and, of them, 15 have been broken since April (possibly longer). As in April, the only exception was the DA-run Western Cape Government. Its websites not only worked perfectly but were the most user-friendly. That tells you much about the attitude of those governments to transparency and accountablity; for access to government information is your right. To see which didn’t work and why, read on. [GRAPHIC included]

ERROR: ANC-run provinces do not compute

By: Gareth van Onselen

6 September 2012

[Right click on image and select ‘view image‘ for full graphic.]


On 16 April this year, in trying to locate provincial annual reports, it became apparent that a range of provincial department websites were not working – 18 of them, in fact. ‘The server could not be located’, ‘blocked as a virus threat’, ‘under construction’, ‘the URL was wrong’, you name it, a significant number of ANC-run provincial department websites had a problem. The exception was the DA-run Western Cape – the only province where every single provincial department had a perfectly functioning website.

You can read that original story here. I would suggest reading it before continung with this article.

That was four months ago – 140 days to be precise. You would think that a reasonable amount of time for those various problems to be fixed.

You would be wrong.

On revisiting all provincial department websites this week, it turns out this time 19 were broken to various different degrees and, of those 19, 15 showed the same errors that came up in April. In other words, nothing had been done about the problem for over four months (possibly much longer, given I have no idea how long each one was broken for before April).

The Broken Websites

The 19 currently broken provincial department websites are as follows, click and see for yourself:

1. The Eastern Cape Department of Health
[‘The system cannot find the path specified’] Working in April.
2. The Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements
[‘ERROR Requested URL could not be retrieved’] Broken in April.
3. The Eastern Cape Department of Sport, Arts and Culture
[‘Under Construction’] Broken in April.
4. The Free State Department of Co-operative Governance
[‘The requested URL could not be retrieved’] Broken in April.
5. The Free State Department of Public Works
[‘Can’t find the server at’%5D Working in April.
6. The Free State Department of Social Development
[‘Can’t find the server at’%5D Broken in April.
7. The Gauteng Department of Social Development
[‘Can’t find the server at’%5D Working in April.
8. The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture
[‘You are not authorized to view this page’] Broken in April.
9. The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Social Development
10. The Limpopo Department of Education
[‘Malicious website blocked’ (Not linked to due to virus threat)] Broken in April.
11. The Limpopo Department of Economic Development
[‘ERROR Requested URL could not be retrieved’] Broken in April.
12. The Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture
[‘ERROR Requested URL could not be retrieved’] Broken in April.
13. The Mpumalanga Department of Social Development
[‘Directory Listing Denied’] Broken in April.
14. The Northern Cape Department of Social Development
[‘This site is down for maintenance’] Working in April.
15. The Northern Cape Department of Education
[No website] Broken in April.
16. The Northern Cape Department of Health
[No website] Broken in April.
17. The Northern Cape Department of Agriculture
[‘The connection to the server was reset’] Broken in April.
18. The North West Department of the Premier
[‘Site currently under construction’] Broken in April.
19. The North West Department of Health
[‘Can’t find the server at’%5D Broken in April.

Two of these sites fail intermittently – The Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture link and the Limpopo Department of Economic Development link. In one or two cases (the Free State Department of Public Works for example) there is an alternative link (a different web address) but you would only know that, as I do, by scouring the internet (I found them on the national government website) – the addresses given on the provincial website do not work. The overwhelming majority, however, just plain don’t work no matter how far backwards you bend to explain their shortcomings.

Some Insights

The ANC government places little emphasis on online communication. Its national websites are solid enough (if not dull, then mostly reliable) but, move a little further away from the centre, and its provincial online presence is nothing short of disgraceful. 19 websites might not work but, in a number of cases, those that do work might as well be broken, so sparse is their content and, when they do have content, so user-unfriendly their structure, they border on useless.

Some sites have annual reports uploaded as big as 140MB – you would need the patience of Job, not to mention the highest bandwidth speed available, just to contemplate downloading them. That is, if they have bothered to upload them in the first place. As I found in April:

“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 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.”

The latest round of annual reports (2011/2012) are due to be tabled in the next two months nationally and in the provinces. You can be sure they too will not be properly uploaded, if at all.

Style is by no means the be-all and end-all of online communication, but it counts for something. And on this front too, ANC-run provincial department websites are dire.

On all these grounds, the Western Cape Provincial websites stand alone – up to date, user friendly, cleanly and consistently branded – in short, basically just professional.

No doubt they can improve further still (in the relentless world of online communications, that is taken for granted) but I would suggest it is the only one even capable of meaningful improvement – the others would have their work cut out just to get the basics right. It boils down to basic customer service. You are the customer. The service is information. And you cannot get it. Like a waiter who cannot deliver food.

But don’t take my word for it, here are the landing pages for the nine provincial administrations (from where you can access the various department’s websites), as linked to by the national government portal, have a look at them yourself and make your own determination:

The North West Provincial Government
The Northern Cape Provincial Government
The Limpopo Provincial Government
The Mpumalanga Provincial Government
The Eastern Cape Provincial Government
The KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government
The Gauteng Provincial Government
The Free State Provincial Government
The Western Cape Provincial Government

KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are probably the best outside of the Western Cape but, even then, while the landing page might appear coherent, as soon as its up to date information you are after, it is hard work finding it by department. And outside of those two, next to impossible. I investigated only Annual Reports in April, but you can be sure the same standard exists with regards to other key public documents.

Transparency, Open Information and Accountability

In a democracy the government has a duty to provide – and citizens a right to be able to access – that information which informs those decisions made by the state. Likewise, a right to gauge whether any decision was properly executed. In an age where people are increasingly relying on the internet for access to that information (including, importantly the media, who report on it) a failure to make it available essentially constitutes a certain disdain for the public at large, and transparency and accountability in turn.

If you don’t know what your government is doing, you cannot hold them to account for the decisions they make. Nor can you assess the quality of their performnce. And Annual Reports, Performance Plans, Budgets, Policy, Legislation all need to be communicated to the public if the public is to understand and make judgements about delivery. No document is of real use if no one can access it.

And do not underestimate how important the internet is in this regard – very few people have the ability to go to a local legislature and get the information first hand. In an age of Secrecy Bills the internet is a critical space where public information can flow widely and freely. Certainly it is burgeoning and to ignore its influence foolish.

ANC-run Provinces do not Compute

Of the 18 websites that did not work in April, four now work:

• The Gauteng Department of Community Safety
• The Limpopo Department Sports, Arts and Culture
• The Free State Department of Agriculture
• The North West Department of Social Development

So, clearly, where there is a will, there is a way. Only that appears as random as it does strong.

And of the 19 websites that currently do not work, there are included amongst them some very serious departments. For example: two Education Departments (Limpopo and the Northern Cape); three Health Departments (Eastern Cape, North West and the Northern Cape) and no less than five Social Development Departments (Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape). Between them these occupy the Lion’s share of any budget. That they should be in a state of disrepair (even non-existent) says a great deal about how seriously those governments take accountability – not seriously at all.

Then again, if the Limpopo Department of Education cannot deliver textbooks – a core and basic responsibility – little wonder its website has been blocked by a virus warning for at least four months, the whole department seems infected by a virus.


I shall revisit the various websites in four months time. Likewise it shall be interesting to see, come the end of the year, how many the 2011/2012 annual reports are available on them. Any bets on what condition they will be in?

In an environment where we are constantly told as much money as possible should be spent on basic service delivery, many might respond to this analysis by saying the same. But accountability, transparency and communication is a basic service deliverable. It is also a fundamental democratic right.

Besides, every Department has a dedicated budget for such things regardless. What on earth is happening to that money?

It would be an interesting exercise, for example to see whether these sorts of online services are outsourced. If so, who got the contract? What their performance criteria were? How much the contract was worth and whether, in any instance, money has been withheld due to poor service delivery. Who is responsible? Has anyone been fired? And – were websites do not work – whether public money is being poured into such contracts regardless.

It is a sad state of affairs indeed when one is required to hold to account the very mechanisms designed to ensure accountability in the first place.

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