Dear Corruption Watch
Just before last year's election, the National Assembly was debating a bill to allow line ministers, rather than Parliament, to set salaries, allowances and conditions of service for chapter nine institutions.
Surely these institutions, independent and established by the constitution, should never be accountable to political appointees? It is through the instruments of democracy – and their accountability to us, the citizens – that corruption can be discovered and checked; political interference is anathema. What has happened to this legislation?
Dear Accountability Junkie
You are right to keep an eye on the potential interference of the government in the affairs of our chapter nine institutions. These institutions act as independent watchdogs in the protection of our constitutional democracy.
In May 2014, President Jacob Zuma assented to the Determination of Remuneration of Office-Bearers of Independent Constitutional Institutions Laws Amendment Act. The legislation will, however, come into force only when the commencement date is proclaimed.
There was an important rationale for the new act. The different chapter nine institutions are established and governed by separate acts that each laid down different procedures for the remuneration, allowances, and the terms and conditions of employment of officials. In practice, this caused several difficulties. The new act eliminates these disparities by amending all the founding acts and creating one uniform mechanism.
The new act does not allow ministers the final decision on these issues: the primary role is played by the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office-bearers. The commission will make recommendations to the president, who will take a decision after considering the recommendations and obtaining approval from the National Assembly.
You may be concerned that the act obliges the commission to consult with the responsible ministers before making a recommendation to the president, and this issue was raised in Parliament.
At present, the budget allocations of many chapter nine institutions are made by a particular government department – which gives the impression that the institutions are not financially independent. Parliament therefore decided it was appropriate to ensure that the relevant minister was consulted before making a recommendation that would have budgetary implications.
So, although there is a risk that the government could influence the salaries or benefits of officials to its own ends, the act governs only the remuneration of officials and not the overall funding of the institution. The government is obliged to provide "reasonably sufficient" funding to enable the institutions to carry out their mandate. Furthermore, the minister's views will not automatically prevail over the commission: parliament must also approve the decisions. These checks should prevent any undue interference by the government and ensure that officials of chapter nine institutions do not feel "accountable" to government departments.
We should, however, watch the work of the commission carefully to ensure that it performs its functions without fear or favour.
• This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times