Chapter 9 institutions

By Gill Price Gill PriceOur constitutional democracy is founded on the principle of giving citizens a say on who should govern them. The constitutional right to vote takes place through regular elections where people elect their counsellor, mayor and even president.

This participatory democracy introduced in 1994 marked a definitive departure from our past where the majority of people were excluded from participating in the affairs of the country.

Importantly since then, public participation has featured strongly in local government where public officials are expected to solicit a diversity of views from communities and community organisations in matters of local government.

Our progressive Constitution also introduced the separation of powers aimed at strengthening our democracy, and is amongst a range of checks and balances to ensure that power is not abused and the public have many different recourses to access justice. It allows each branch of government - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary - to scrutinise the acts of another branch so as to prevent one branch from acting unilaterally.

Former Chief Justice Pius Langa captures the main objectives aptly when he stated that it is “to secure the freedom of every citizen by seeking to avoid an excessive concentration of power, which can lead to abuse, in one person or body”. These branches work in unison towards a higher purpose of upholding democracy by complementing each other in an equitable and balanced way.

Alongside these measures, the founders of our democracy also created Chapter 9 institutions, which are established as independent and impartial. They are mandated to ensure that organs of state live up to the ideals of constitutionalism and are held to account for their actions or inactions.

One of these Chapter 9 institutions is the Public Protector who is appointed for a non-renewable term of seven years. Last year, South Africans were invited to nominate suitable candidates to fill this critical post. Following extensive consultation, President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka for a non-renewable term of seven years and her nomination was supported by 60 percent of members in the National Assembly.

The Office of the Public Protector is one of many Chapter 9 institutions established to strengthen and support our democracy. The Public Protector is regulated mainly by two pieces of legislation such as Public Protector Act of 1994, and the Executive Members’ Ethics Act. The Public Protector is accountable to the National Assembly and must be accessible to all persons and communities.

Its main responsibility is to investigate allegations of abuse, and to rectify and redress any improper or prejudicial conduct in state affairs. In other words, it must ensure that all state organs are responsive to the needs of the people and deliver quality services in line with the Batho Pele principles.

The Public Protector can resolve disputes through negotiation, mediation, conciliation or use any other mechanism that can ensure a fair and reasonable outcome of the dispute.

The invitation for all South Africans to take part in nominating the next Public Protector demonstrates just how far our country has come since 1994. The openness is a reflection of our commitment to good governance and an open society underpinned by values of transparency, accountability and participatory governance.

History has shown that an engaged and active citizenry, which holds elected representatives accountable, goes a long way in strengthening democracy.

Gill Price is Director: Communication Resource Centre at Government Communication and Information System