Monitoring the Implementation of a Pro-Poor Budget will be the Real Challenge
In their article, ‘Public Opinion and Democratic Legitimacy’, which appears in the Journal of Democracy, April 2008 edition, Michael Bratton and his colleagues argue that support for democracy and its legitimacy among ordinary citizens in Africa does not necessarily depend on the ability of democratic regimes to deliver the material/economic goods and services. Instead, they argue that the more important factor in the ability of democracies sustaining their legitimacy and support among the populace is by delivering the political goods - that is, freedom of speech, respect for human rights, free and fair elections and others. They reckon that this is encouraging news. In other words, ordinary citizens in Africa are likely to continue supporting democracy even where their material and economic well-being decline.
Minister Manuel’s budget, however, seems to pay no attention to this view. Minister Manuel and his colleagues in the ANC might well be advised not to take heed of this wisdom given the expected crunch of the global financial crisis in South Africa. In any case seeing that this is the year of the election in South Africa, this puts paid to any prospects of the ruling party taking the view that material well-being and economic services are unimportant to South Africans. However, what the Minister and his colleagues in the ANC might do well to pay closer attention to is that a pro-poor budget, as was delivered on Wednesday, that seeks to deliver material well-being for citizens may by itself not be adequate. Effective implementation processes, through state institutions with competent and skilled administrative state functionaries, are crucial. But more important, and in addition to effective and efficient public sector implementing institutions, will be effective and sustainable oversight processes.
Over the years, South Africa’s real problem has not been failure to allocate substantive portions of the annual national budget towards social expenditure priorities. Instead, the enduring challenge has always been, and remains, ineffective implementation and delivery of services. Usually, government service delivery and policy implementing agencies are not geared towards overseeing and monitoring their own activities. That is the work of horizontal oversight bodies, particularly legislative institutions at provincial and local levels. However, given our virtual one-party system of government, combined with poorly resourced and often incompetent legislative oversight practices, these institutions have become ineffective, limp-wristed and ‘toothless’ watch-dogs that are easily whipped into line by the dominant party.
At this stage, the promise of a more people-oriented and accountable developmental state under soon-to-be president Jacob Zuma remains just that - a promise! This is where vertical oversight through popular vigilance and pressure on elected public representatives, as well as through direct civil society action, including the independent media, will become extremely invaluable. South Africa remains one of the few countries in the continent with robust and comparatively well-resourced independent civic organisations and social movements capable of analysing the activities of governments and exposing corruption, incompetence and wasteful expenditure of limited public resources.
Minister Manuel’s budget has allocated considerable resources towards economic and social expenditure priorities. For instance, R600 million was allocated towards delivery of free basic services, and an increase from R690 billion to R787 billion towards infrastructure investment and job creation at provincial and local levels. Considerable fiscal resources (R24.8 billion) will go towards health and education, including R932 million for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. An increase in social support grants for pensioners and children, an extension of the public works programme and R1.8 billion for rural development - all these allocations are a clear indication that the ANC government does realise that in addition to delivering the political goods and services, sustaining the legitimacy and support of South Africa’s democracy among the poor will demand delivery of material and economic goods and services. To achieve this, effective monitoring and oversight of the implementation of the budget cannot be overemphasised.
Obviously, Minister Manuel’s budget speech did not address institutional issues (i.e. administrative capacity, management efficiency, etc.). We therefore await the new government and its ministers to elaborate their programmes and plans for implementing the budget and for the elected legislatures at national, provincial and municipal levels to elaborate their plans to overseeing and monitor the work of government implementing agencies.
Dr Thabo Rapoo
Centre for Policy Studies