Driving Open Data to foster Accountability at Highway Africa

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As information becomes rapidly available, how can civil society make sense of it all? More importantly, how can civil society use the information to gain power and begin to hold those in positions of authority accountable?

This was the focus of a workshop run by the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) during the Highway Africa conference, held in Grahamstown recently. Highway Africa is an amazing event, which - while focusing on vital themes such as media freedom and Information and Communication technologies - has become the largest annual gathering of African journalists in the world.

Various technology tools have been built to not only enhance access to information but to also make it easier for users to interpret that information. During the workshop, two tools were showcased – WaziMap and Agenda Setter. The goal was not just to introduce new tools, but to showcase how technology and accountability fit together, and the active role civil society can play in ensuring a positive relationship between the two. So, what are they?:

“Wazimap, from the Xhosa word ulwazi for knowledge, is a joint project by Media Monitoring Africa and Code for South Africa that provides easy access to South African census and elections data.”

Agenda Setter is part of an “open source, easy-to-use toolkit of analytical software for African journalism observatories to keep media institutions honest, help improve media professionalism and promote quality journalism.” It helps users to track what journalists and politicians are tweeting about and compare gauge who between the two is setting the news agenda.

Attended by journalists and activists, the interactive workshop was divided into two segments – discussion and practical, with the former focusing on ATI and Open Data trends across Africa. The latter part was devoted to practicals - and practical skills learning kept the participants excited and invested:

 

This workshop is part of a broad series of activities ODAC will be undertaking over the next few months to contextualise the role of open data for accountability in the age of the Open Government Partnership. We will be completing this work with the assistance of Making All Voices Count and a variety of civil society partners.

Wellington Radu (MMA) and Levi Kabwato (ODAC) ran the workshop.

To track this specific workshop discussion, please see: #MMAODAC

SAA, whistleblowers and systems

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ODAC is pleased to note that Cynthia Stimpel, SAA’s group treasurer, who blew the whistle on financial irregularities at SAA, will be allowed to challenge her disciplinary hearing before an impartial arbitrator at the CCMA.

The experience of Stimpel in trying to blow the whistle replicates the difficulties experienced by many South African whistleblowers; she spent many months attempting to raise her concerns internally, with no resolution, before she was able to find external support. It was only through a systemised programme from the Organisation for Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) that her disclosure became protected in practice.

Effective whistleblowing mechanisms are a key part of good governance.  A healthy open culture is one where people are encouraged to speak out, confident that they can do so without adverse repercussions, confident that they will be listened to, and confident that appropriate action will be taken.  For this reason ODAC has drafted a Code of Good Practice on Whistleblowing which in the form of questions and answers sets out the principles and practices of effective whistleblowing.  This Code will assist employees to raise concerns safely and responsibly  and assist employers to provide effective whistleblowing mechanisms. Clear and simple systems are a key step to providing an enabling environment in which whistleblowers can flourish, informed and protected.

Hopefully in the near future employees like Stimpel will have access to simple whistleblowing procedures and mechanisms provided for by their employers. It is vital for an open and accountable society that acts of accountability such as her disclosure are lauded, and see resolution, rather than be met with the contempt she originally experienced.

Download a copy of the Code here.

Public Protector: No requirement for security clearance

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12 August 2016

The interviews for the Public Protector have given rise to serious concerns, says the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC). The requirements for the Public Protector position do not contain any requirement that the incoming applicant or incumbent should obtain security clearance to any particular level. This is the case in both the Public Protector Act and the Constitution. However, during the proceedings of the ad hoc committee on the appointment of the Public Protector, a letter was discussed by the committee, apparently sent to parliament by the Sate Security Agency. In the letter it states:

"It should be noted that although Mr. Malunga is a South African citizen he does not meet the security requirements required for the post applied for. This post requires security clearance to the level TOP SECRET. At this stage Mr. KS. Malunga only qualifies for a security clearance to the level of CONFIDENTIAL".

We understand the implication to be that only a person born in South Africa qualifies to have a TOP SECRET clearance. Mr Malunga was born in Zimbabwe. 

We note that Mr Malunga has been acting as Public Protector on more than 30 occasions, and is the deputy public protector currently. He has presumably had sight of all relevant documents, and is privy to all relevant conversations in the public protector's office. If he has no clearance, and this is necessary, which we think it is not, then why has he been allowed to continue in his position? If he needs clearance, why is this only being drawn to the attention of parliament now?

The Committee, in our view, cannot consider a requirement for the position which is outside the law, ultra vires and has not been made known to all applicants and the public prior to opening of applications for the position. We ask the committee to consider this before proceeding. 

 

 

Dasnois vindicated

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Dasnois vindicated: this time the headline is true.

Alide Dasnois was removed from her position of editor of the Cape Times by the new chief executive of the Independent Newspapers, Iqbal Surve, on 6 December 2013 at a meeting in Claremont.  She was fired from the company five months later, following a disciplinary hearing which found her guilty of misconduct, incompatibility and incapacity. She was ostensibly fired for publishing the news of Nelson Mandela’s death in a wrap around of the Cape Times, and not the front page.

In a landmark settlement of the case Dasnois brought against Independent Newspapers, the newspaper group conceded that it was Dasnois’ prerogative as editor to decide how to publish the news of the death of Madiba. They also acknowledged that Alide Dasnois was not motivated by racism, and that they (Independent Newspapers) retracted all allegations of racism made against her. 

 

After informing a court that Independent News agreed to end the dispute with Dasnois, they immediately recanted with a view to painting a picture of themselves as being vigorously opposed to any settlement and then being “vindicated” in court - when no such thing had happened. The Code for members of the Press Council provides that allowing commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting constitutes serious misconduct on the part of a news group and Alide Dasnois lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman.

The Press Ombudsman has now required the Cape Times to apologise to Alide Dasnois for stating as fact in its headline that Independent Newspapers had been vindicated. 

ODAC welcomes this decision, as well as the direction that the Cape Times, the Diamond Fields Advertiser and The Star must apologise to Dasnois for omitting to state in their coverage of the settlement that the agreement entailed that Independent Newspapers withdrew all allegations of racism against Dasnois, that she never intended to show disrespect for Mandela, and that her editorial independence was not in dispute; and publish the agreement between the parties in full.

Visit the Press Council website for the full finding.

 

Public protector selection process starts off badly

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 by Mukelani Dimba*

 20 July 2016

“Omnishambles!” This is how a colleague described the beginning of the parliamentary selection process for the next public protector after the end of advocate Thuli Madonsela’s term at the end of October 2016. The ad hoc committee on the appointment of the public protector met on last week on Wednesday, 13 July 2016 to compile a shortlist from 64 nominations that had been received.  

The public protector is an important constitutional body, a pillar for upholding accountability in the management of public resources. Given its centrality in upholding the constitutional order and state accountability, the process for appointment of the public protector is provided for in section 193 of the constitution. The section provides that the public protector must be a fit and proper person, a South African citizen and that the appointment must be made by the president upon recommendation by the national assembly. The constitution requires that a committee of parliament should make a recommendation and such recommendation should be approved by the national assembly before submission to the [president. Sixty percent of members of the national assembly should vote in favour of the recommended candidate before the recommendation is submitted to the president.  More importantly, the constitution provides for the involvement of civil society in the process of selection of a candidate. 

The constitutive law on the public protector, the Public Protector Act no 23 of 1994, does not provide granular detail on the process that must be followed on the appointment of the public protector, it is left to parliament to develop rules and procedures for the workings of the ad hoc committee and other modalities pertaining to the recruitment and selection process.

It became clear very early when the committee met on Wednesday last week that no such rules and procedures existed and that the process was headed for troublesome times. Despite her good intentions, the chairperson of the ad hoc committee, Dr. Makhosi Khoza, battled to establish a process for smooth navigation of what without a doubt will be highly contested exercise and outcome. A process should have been designed to provide for timeous distribution of application documents to all members of parliament in the committee before the shortlisting meeting commenced, the process of assessing all nominations against agreed criteria, engagement with public comments on the candidates and a determination of the type of interviews to be done. 

When the committee met on Wednesday last week none of these essential navigational tools were in place. Members of parliament from the opposition parties complained that they had not received some of the essential documents to be able to engage with the shortlisting process. For example, while all CVs of candidates had been distributed to all MPs, not all assessment questionnaires completed by the candidates had been distributed to all MPs. MPs only had public comments from Corruption Watch but not the other public comments submitted.
 
It was at this point that the process descended into a farce. The meeting had to be adjourned twice to allow parliamentary support stuff to print all the outstanding documents. Opposition MPs also yielded too early on their original concern that even if all the documents had been then been made available at the meeting, they would not have had time to digest the content of those questionnaires and public submissions. They allowed the process to proceed, and at that point it was merely a name-recognition contest.
 
There was no assessment of all the candidates against a set of criteria for that had earlier been presented by the committee’s researcher. MPs simply began to shout names of candidates that they liked. The rules were made on the trot and changed at a whim. For example the committee agreed on a shortlist of 10 candidates and that all candidates that had not submitted the questionnaires will be disqualified.  An hour later four of the candidates that had not submitted questionnaires were then included in the shortlist and final list became 14 instead of the agreed 10. Furthermore, the shortlist of 14 is not a reflection of candidates that best meet the criteria and it is not based on consideration of public comments on the candidates. It is based merely on each MP’s preference. For example, if Prof. Pierre de Vos were to ask the basis on which he did not make the shortlist, it is doubtful if any of the MPs in the committee would be able to give him a credible answer.
 
The committee is proceeded with undue haste. This will have an effect of undermining the public participation imperative to this process. This is an important process and should not be rushed; a weak process will lead to a weak result: a weak Public Protector. Our country cannot afford such an outcome during this moment of great upheavals in the governance of many critical public institutions. 

*Mukelani Dimba has a cameo role as the director of the Open Democracy Advice Centre.