The principle of political leaders being accountable to the citizenry is a key fundamental of democracy and is central to the values that underpin our Constitution.
But pundits argue South Africa’s structure of proportional representation using a closed list system diminishes accountability as the allegiance tends to lean heavily towards the party the official represents, rather than to the citizenry.
In South Africa, political parties wield more sway over their constituencies than they do in other jurisdictions.
Parties control geographic areas and blocs of people. In this manner, political organisations can win majority of votes even in areas where the voters are unhappy with those political parties.
So, how can we under a party system hold our politicians accountable?
To ensure the voice of the ordinary citizen is not lost, there needs to be a high degree of organisation by the country’s constituents.
The role of civil society and the media in these situations should be encouraged so that there is focused action and awareness of whatever grievances are at play.
Citizens should be familiar with the laws that govern the country, namely the Constitution and task themselves with knowing how to access chapter nine institutions such as the office of the Public Protector and the South African Human Rights Commission.
Citizens can also use their collective power to oust any incumbent government through the use of the electoral system.
Similarly, they can through their elected parties hold those in power accountable by way of applying for a judicial review, where they feel the state has over exerted its powers on the implementation of policies.
But even this process hasn’t always yielded favourable results.
The judiciary has, more than once in recent times, pronounced on the unsuitability of certain politicians to hold office and yet they remain in power.
This stems from South Africa’s law enforcement agencies’ inability to follow up and prosecute on matters where the law has been broken.
This basic disregard for the constituency and country’s laws is tantamount to flouting the Constitution, which should be viewed as treason.
At a basic level, being in contravention of the Constitution means that the office bearer has breached their oath of office and are no longer fit to hold such office.
Where such infringements are criminal in nature, politicians should face the full extent of the law brought to bear on them.
But very often it boils down to the appetite of the political party to hold its members accountable.
This is why institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) having the resources to duly execute on their mandate is paramount.
The NPA should be an independent body that is free of any political influence, with prosecutions being meted out without fear or favour.
In recent years we have seen the governing party skirt around issues of governance and accountability and considerable damage has been wreaked on state institutions by key players inside and outside of government.
The governing party needs to be introspective and own up to its shortcomings in ensuring party discipline.
It also needs to warrant that its representatives in Parliament and government understand the meaning of holding public office and who they are there to serve – the citizens and not the party.
• Suzanne Daniels is a legal and policy consultant