New database of MPs interests
Cape Town - Esteé Lauder perfume, Nando's spices, expensive cellphones, and even sheep and cattle are some of the gifts received by South African ministers between 2004 and 2008.
Furthermore, 45% of national members of Parliament served as company directors, and 59% of them owned stocks in more than one company.
Members of the public who want to know which officials received which gifts or in which companies they have interests can now find this information on the website www.ipocafrica.org.
This website was launched in Cape Town on Tuesday by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). It contains a comprehensive database regarding the annual declaration of the personal interests of public officials - from the president to municipal council members.
Dr Collette Schulz-Herzenberg and Rosemary Vickerman of the ISS conducted research over two years regarding the financial and personal interests of politicians across all three spheres of government.
About 6 000 declarations of gifts and interests were collected between 2004 and 2008. It is the first comprehensive database of its kind in Africa, and one of few in the world.
According to Schulz-Herzenberg, the concept behind the database was to make the actions and interests of politicians transparent, especially so that the public could have more trust in the government.
At the launch, Kader Asmal, former minister of education, praised the ISS for establishing the database.
He also emphasised how important it is for public officials to declare their interests.
However, the research conducted for the database clearly indicated that there are serious problems with the declaration of interests.
Supervision of declarations
"A big concern is the supervision of the declarations. The whole system relies on public access to the information. If nobody (from the public) complains, this information is not verified," said Schulz-Herzenberg.
Asmal stated that in order to solve this problem, a national commissioner for standards in the public sector is required to revise the process and act swiftly against transgressors.
He also said that the confidential part of the parliamentary register, which allows information such as the scope of MPs' financial interests to remain confidential, should be scrapped.
"If we don't have access to the information, nobody can complain and transgressors can't be prosecuted."