n Journal of Public Administration - Finger-pointing and second-guessing : executive versus legislative oversight

Volume 49, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



The legislature plays a pivotal role in the realisation of the ideals of democratic governance by, among other things, demanding transparency and enforcing accountability. Democratic governance entails government that is capable of accountability and responsiveness; and, in the South African context, these expectations include the notion of delivering "a better life for all". Legislative oversight contributes greatly to this requirement by ensuring effective monitoring and reviewing of the performance of government and state apparatus, on behalf of the citizenry. Additionally, legislative oversight is required to hold the executive accountable in order to ensure that its performance is consistent with approved plans and budgets. A commonly presumed function of oversight is whip-cracking, which involves riding on the executive, as it is prone to non-performance if no one is nagging it about its deficiencies. This function is rarely performed because its prescription assumes a superior level of dedication and/or knowledge of the legislative branch over the executive. However, the legislators rely on second-guessing when they are supposedly exercising their oversight function, while the executive resorts to finger-pointing instead of being answerable. This paper argues that a fundamental reason for the legislature's failure to hold the executive accountable is that the legislature is not disposed to pay good, careful and sustained attention to just about everything. With members who are distracted by numerous other matters and interested in the politics of most issues rather than the substance thereof, legislative attention is highly episodic.

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