Accountability in the city and the province

Active Tense
11 Jun 2013, Cape Times
Paul Hoffman SC

The synchronicity in publishing Glenn Ashton’s letter (“Alliance between city and developers undermines rights”) and Len Swimmer’s open letter re land use planning (both on 10 June) has not gone unnoticed.

Both complain that there is a lack of accountability and a failure to accommodate public participation in our nascent democratic order. Neither gentleman cites the origin of these aspirational features of our new dispensation. I refer, of course, to section 195(1) of the Constitution, a measure in our supreme law that is all too often honoured in the breach by those in authority in the country at all levels of government. In that section the values and principles governing the public administration are set out in great detail. Among them are the words “People’s needs must be responded to, and the public must be encouraged to participate in policy-making” and “Public administration must be accountable”. The Constitutional Court has embraced and expatiated on both principles, the former in the Doctors for Life case over abortion rights and the latter, accountability, in the case brought by the Rail Commuters Action Group against Metrorail to improve the safety and security of rail commuters in Cape Town.

It is comforting to see activists invoking the rights of the public; knowing and claiming rights is of the essence of constitutional democracy. Converting passive subjects of a bygone authoritarian order into active citizens of a constitutional democracy is a basic project of the new SA. “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance” was said by JP Curran, a Irish orator, in 1790. The condition upon which CODESA has given freedom to the new SA also entails eternal vigilance.

Paul Hoffman SC

Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa

Leave a Reply