Seize the moment
NGOs are urged to act swiftly to influence and monitor the ways in which the budgets of key departments are used.
Protecting the poor, creating employment, investing in infrastructure, and promoting competitiveness and fiscal sustainability are the central goals on which the 2009 Budget were founded. These goals represent what development should be about in the South African socio-economic context. Overall, the Budget promises to deliver on these principles. What is more of an issue - as highlighted in Trevor Manuel’s speech - is whether the institutions and individuals entrusted with implementing these goals can faithfully deliver.
The largest adjustments to Budget spending plans go to poverty reduction - to be spent mainly on education and healthcare. This is what it should be in a country that has the shameful statistic of holding second place as the world’s most unequal society. But we concur with Manuel, who adds: “It’s what the money buys that matters.”
Those in the NGO world will agree with this statement, and vigilance will be required in the forthcoming years to ensure that the gains promised in this Budget are not squandered or ignored. The instigation of education and health ‘watchdog’ facilities, announced in the Budget, promise more rigorous monitoring of spending in these two areas. It is the NGO sector - a now prominent provider of social services to government - that must also monitor and contribute to these goals. NGOs and other providers should also push to see some of these financial resources channeled into the ‘soft’ side of training and education - such as to libraries and the disability sector.
Xolani Notshe of Imbewu Community Volunteers, an ECNGOC member organisation, was one of 2 363 people who have written to the Minister of Finance in the past year. His letter, which Minister Manuel referred to during his budget speech, stressed the importance of community libraries in contributing to developing much needed skills through education, which remains an important pillar for development.
We are proud to be citizens of a country where the government is increasingly committing itself to fighting the impact of HIV and AIDS, with a record number of 630 000 people enrolled in treatment programmes across the country. ECNGOC therefore welcomes the additional resources allocated to treatment rollout, whilst also putting particular focus on an improved regimen for mother-to-child transmissions. However, as the civil society sector, particularly NGOs and CBOs, bears the greatest burden in responding to the pandemic, the Treasury should have make pronouncements on how these efforts will be supported. This is particularly important in the current economic situation where external and private sector donor funding has dramatically decreased, thereby crippling the much needed contributions of these organisations. In addition, more money should have been put aside for campaigns to reduce the stigmatisation surrounding HIV and AIDS.
One of the shortcomings of the Budget is its failure to anticipate the ‘bigger picture’ impact that the economic crisis will have on the poor. Additional resources made to social grants, school nutrition programmes and municipal service delivery will not compensate for the sense of frustration and disillusionment people will feel. Government departments, the private sector and civil society must collaborate and work swiftly and in earnest to ensure that negative social outcomes of the economic downturn are anticipated and planned for. They must also be vigilant in bringing government to account on what is spent, how, and in a timely manner, in order to divert the impact of the hard times that lie ahead.
Eastern Cape NGO Coalition