Wits School of Governance Director of Executive Education and Adjunct Professor Themba Maseko said on Thursday that there is great need to fix government and ensure that citizens come first by addressing the scourge of corruption.
Maseko, who addressed delegates on day three of ActionSA’s maiden policy conference, was one of the first to take action to expose State capture during former president Jacob Zuma's administration.
He ultimately gave crucial evidence at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry.
Maseko told ActionSA delegates that there was an urgent need to build an efficient and ethical State that was also accountable to citizens.
"We need to change power relations between the haves and the have-nots because the majority of our citizens feel completely excluded from the economy and from the government. As a result of that, we are the most unequal society in the world, and unless we address this, we are not likely to run a successful country," he warned.
He said there needed to be better ways of insulating and professionalising the public service and making sure that those who were given the responsibility to manage and run government structures, including State-owned enterprises, were skilled and committed to achieving justice in society.
Maseko noted that South Africa was entering a phase of coalitions and he urged ActionSA leadership to dismiss “transaction coalitions” that are based on patronage and an "it’s our time to eat” mentality.
He said it was the duty of all political parties to ensure that citizens, and not the leaders of the political parties, were top priorities.
He said parties in coalition arrangements must not be there to “put their people in positions” especially those who may not have the necessary skills and capacity to govern.
He told delegates that coalitions must be about “it is our time to serve the people” and not about it being "our time for lining our pockets".
"Political parties like yourselves, in my view, have a responsibility to defend constitutionalism. Our Constitution, the supreme law, must come first and everything that we do must be done to fulfil the goals and objectives as stated in our Constitution. There are many who are beginning to argue that our Constitution is not serving our people. I think it is our failure to implement what the Constitution says that is a problem," stressed Maseko.
He warned delegates to guard against the view that Parliament must be supreme, as opposed to the Constitution.
He said this temptation must be resisted at all costs.
Maseko said political parties must support electoral reform, the primary objective of which was to give power back to citizens and ensure that every elected leader was accountable to citizens.
Maseko urged delegates to defend the judiciary, and warned that all attempts to undermine it would have the effect of giving too much power to political leaders, as has been evident in Zimbabwe.
"Political parties, like yourselves, have a responsibility to design impactful and appropriate policies. It is my hope that your conference has come up with policies that will take our country forward,” he told ActionSA delegates.
He criticised the fact that all political parties, including ActionSA, did not spend enough money on policy, research analysis and design, compared with money spent producing t-shirts and posters.
He said it was important for political parties to begin to realise that if they wanted to transform society, they must spend enough time designing policies and implementation plans that would transform and achieve objectives as a nation.
"Policies can feed the nation because if you design good policies, you will be able to solve many of the socio-economic problems facing our country and it is my view that posters do not feed citizens but sometimes do feed political gains," explained Maseko.
Maseko advised ActionSA to ensure that it professionalised by making politics attractive to young people, as many were often discouraged from participating.
"We need to make politics sexy again so that young people come in and bring skills. You can do this by making sure that as you elect leaders you make sure that you choose the best amongst yourselves to become your leaders, because at the end of the day, if all political parties don't select the most talented, many of our government structures will not be able to perform the tasks that they will be given," he said.
Money was running out in State coffers because there was a lack of sound and sustainable policies, which had crippled the country's economy, causing ongoing problems such as loadshedding, he said.
He told delegates that poor planning and corruption were huge issues.
"The problems that our society faces are structural in nature and deeply rooted in the political economy of the country. Unless and until we address these structural injustices facing the nation, our problems will persist. Fundamentally, we need to break with our colonial past as a country where a selected few control the economy and even more selected few control and run our political structures. Both of these forces are not accountable to citizens. The relationship and common interests of those two forces have full control over our citizens and power, to the exclusion of the majority," he stressed.
There was a need to strengthen the structures of accountability, he said, so that those who ran the economy could also contribute to growing it and those who run government were held accountable.