July 3, 2017

Opinion

Accountability and transparency of research centres can strengthen democracy

The Africa Centre for Evidence+ is a newly formed research centre at the University of Johannesburg, a publicly-funded comprehensive higher education institution in South Africa. Our vision at ACE is “to reduce poverty and inequality in our region by increasing the production and application of research evidence that is both useful and used”. One might rightly asks why transparency and accountability would matter so much for us.

Some of the explanation lies in our context. The realities of the South African context, both our past and present, and our commitment to our collective future, morally demands from us that we practice accountability and transparency. The apartheid history of South Africa has been recognised internationally as a crime against humanity. The effects of that violent history manifest in continued poverty, inequalities, high unemployment and widespread corruption in both the public and private sectors. For example, in the 2016 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index,+ measuring public sector corruption, South Africa scored 45 out of 100, scarcely more than the global average of 43. Both of these scores are on the wrong end of the highly corrupt scale.

Extremely unequal and exploitative practices are very visible in the private sector when looking at the pay gap between highest and lowest paid employees. According to a recent report+ the CEOs of the top 100 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on average are receiving a total pay package of R69 000 ($5 280) per day, yes per day! This whilst 60% of workers earn R4 200 ($321) a month.+ Thirty years ago the ratio of executive salary to worker in South Africa was around 50:1; it is now at 500:1. The grotesqueness of the wage gap is even starker if we consider that the unemployment rate, in terms of a broad definition, is just over 36%.+

As a research centre situated in South Africa we aim to make a difference to this situation through our production and promotion of the use of high quality systematic reviews, maps and other evidence syntheses. However, we realise that we should also make a difference through our own practices, and how we share information about ourselves. It is for this reason that we are transparent about our funders and the wage gap within our centre. Whilst we are hosted by the University of Johannesburg, we have to be self-sufficient in terms of funding.  To confirm our objectivity and reflection, we already have an ethical obligation to disclose who provides our funding. Additionally, as part of our commitment to nurture our young democracy in South Africa, we list on our website the organisations that we have done work for, and received funding from.

You can find out more about our funding here.

We feel that such practices of transparency and accountability will model what we expect at every level in all aspects of our society. As secretariat for the Africa Evidence Network, ACE further has that commitment not only to South Africa, but also the African continent.

We also indicate on our website the pay ratio at ACE; our director earns 4.14 times what the lowest paid researcher receives. A shortcoming of this calculation is that this is based on the direct cost to ACE, and does not include the indirect cost of making use of the services of, for example, a cleaner and member of security staff, who is paid by the university. In honouring South Africa’s Constitution in its commitment to ensure social justice, as citizens and organisations we have to conduct ourselves not purely in terms of a legal imperative but rather on a principled commitment to fairness and social justice. We consider that through practising transparency and accountability, and working with others on evidence-informed decision-making, we can together build a fair and just world.

About the author:

Carina van Rooyen:   Visiting academic at the Africa Centre for Evidence and lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg

Read more from: Carina van Rooyen

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