South Africa came in at 70 out of 104 in the inaugural Chandler Good Government Index (CGGI) report.
The index ranks countries in terms of government capabilities and outcomes, which the Chandler Institute of Governance says is “essential for delivering prosperity and opportunity for citizens”.
SA had a healthy standing in some indicators, like strategic prioritisation (21), nation brand (22), and coordination (26) when compared to other countries. However it performed poorly in others, including personal safety (104), income equality (103), and health (100).
SA’s overall performance when measured against other sub-Saharan African countries was not impressive.
It was just ahead of Senegal and Ghana but behind Mauritius in 38 and Rwanda at 53.
The Chandler Institute of Governance notes that better governance leads to better outcomes for societies.
It for instance points to when the index is plotted against national GDP per capita in the Balkans, the region outperforms in the correlation between governance expectations relative to its income level.
“Recent reforms of the healthcare and education sectors, as well as improvements to the ease of doing business, have all enabled the region to deliver better opportunities and quality of life compared to what would be expected based on income alone.”
Of all 34 indicators used to develop the CGGI, the institute says the indicator with the strongest correlation with the overall good government rankings is anti-corruption.
SA ranks 48th on this measure.
The CGGI report notes that the Covid-19 pandemic looms over the performance of governments and that even developed economies were not free of people looking to take advantage of the crisis.
“Sadly, but not surprisingly, we’ve seen allegations of everything from cronyism to outright fraud in South Africa, UK, the US, and beyond,” says Professor Chris Stone from the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University.
With claims of corruption looming over governments, Stone says government leaders can still get the public to trust them.
“There is no question in my mind that governments can win back public trust. Even the most cynical members of the public are willing to invest their confidence if they see real effort.”
The SA authorities have been quick to clamp down on Covid-19 corruption, with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) saying earlier this year that it was looking to retrieve about R13.3 billion in alleged corrupt pandemic-related spending.
Stone nevertheless warns that leaders can easily miss this opportunity.
“However, we don’t often find evidence that governments are harnessing that confidence to build and secure trust for the longer term. More often, it’s like a ‘sugar high’.”
SA has done some of this, but will have to maintain its effort if it wants to see it pay off in the long term.
“After a scandal, some governments act swiftly to restore trust and get this short-term boost. The public gets excited. There’s a sense of movement but then the question is, can the government actually sustain it?
“Has the government changed the culture and blocked the systemic opportunities for corruption, or was this just a show? Is there the political will to continue for the long haul? Is there real change? That’s where South Africa is poised right now.”
Stone points out that SA is not alone when it comes to tackling graft.
“How will Italy, South Africa, and other countries fare in the wake of Covid? Will they use the opportunity to build public confidence in government integrity and sustain it in the long run? They definitely have a chance. Will they seize it?”