Human Rights Institute of South Africa Comments on the 2008/9 Budget

Monday, 25 February, 2008 - 15:30

Congratulations should be extended to the Minister of Finance for preparing such a comprehensive national budget.

Congratulations should be extended to the Minister of Finance for preparing such a comprehensive national budget. Indeed, the national budget analyses all fiscal contingencies of our nation and the time taken in researching the global socio economic trends is greatly appreciated. Models drawn from there will assist the country in sharpening its national strategies for overcoming modern economic challenges. We also commend the Minister for his inclusive approach in tackling the budgetary matters of the country. Observation of our democratic values in his office is demonstrated by inclusiveness of citizens from the top to the lowest level of our country. To that extend we highlight a few anecdotes. The correspondence with the Minister by Mrs Monyatsi and Mr Makhale, the traditional doctor, is evident to that.

We would like to make the following comments:

The global economic situation, especially emerging market economies such as China, raises serious concerns for South Africa and how its economic growth impacts at regional level. The government should be vigilant when it comes to dealings that appear to enrich foreign traders at the detriment of the nation. They can do so by prioritising national needs over multilateral plans, especially if they could compromise national plans. Eminent economic growth with self-enriching motives exists to deflate national needs.

Lack of savings as highlighted in the Budget requires income to be generated from other fronts to lessen the economic strain the country is experiencing. The imports-exports trading scenario does not look good. If the value of our exports is insufficient to pay for our imports, and the gap is calculated at R3 billion a week, it simply means we are working at a loss in terms of what goes out and comes into the country. In this regard, we have a deficit and our agreements with our external trading partners need to be reviewed. Multilateral interests should not be profiting at the detriment of the nation. The government has to ensure that past economic injustices suffered by the majority of people of this country are not repeated. Our nation is confronted by diverse challenges, complicated by poor service delivery. The historically disadvantaged population is still waiting impatiently for the benefits of the new constitutional order.

Access to education has to improve, especially in rural communities. It is hard to believe that South Africa, in its 14th year of democratic parity, is still characterized by dilapidation of schools and bad living conditions of learners in rural areas. Our children in rural areas deserve far better than what’s been offered to them. How will the R18 billion budget for school infrastructure be allocated to the nine provinces? Will it be R2 billion per province? Provinces such as Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape are experiencing big challenges with unsafe schools and hazardous sanitation. Furthermore, equity principles laid down in our foundational democratic principles should not be perceived as mere lip service and far fetched ideals by the poor who are perpetually getting poorer.

It should be comforting that, although it is very difficult, South Africa is on a good footing to overcome turbulent economic storms. The sad part is that the enemy, crime, has been growing stronger and at prime time of our democratic rule. Crime is the worst killer of our national democratic principles and progressive national economic plans. It exists at both home and public levels. At home level, it is holding us hostage and at public level, it has actually been welcomed to be part of us. We talk crime, plan crime, eat crime, sleep crime, see crime, we live with it.

Excellent budget plans will always be venerable to devious schemes of crime, mainly inherent in our national departments.

We are very concerned as citizens of this country about the abuse of state funds. We therefore expect the government to account to us why crime is getting worse. Instead of addressing it, crime is entertained at the front doors of our national departments. Fearfully, and feeling prejudiced, our lips are zipped when we have to think and say anything about our Police. The budget allocation of R10 billion over three years makes provision for the expansion of judges, magistrates and prosecutors, including increasing the number of Police members to 200 000 by 2010/11. What is the exact amount going to each contingency, especially the Police? In addition, with only 1100 Community Policing Forums countrywide, this number is very low to augment law enforcement for a population of over 43 million affected by crime.

Reports of misappropriation of the poor’s money by key departments are concerning and need to be fixed. The worst of all is the Department of Home Affairs. It is not doing enough to act on the immense responsibility bestowed upon it by the nation. The next budget speech should elucidate concrete steps taken to deal with this problem.

We also share the same sentiments as taxpayers and citizens of this country that we have common obligations. It is absolutely correct to say that the people of this country owe each other as a united force to rescue the poor from their poverty stricken life styles and shocking livelihoods. But when our government is busy opting for lesser accountability towards its people, the challenges resulting from national problems and global economic turbulences are getting tougher.

An open and democratic society based on the principles of transparency, accountability, human dignity, equality and freedom should remain our trademark without compromise when dealing with national agencies and foreign partners. It is correct to say that our history of human rights dictates that we all work together towards eradicating poverty, including uplifting the poor from strife and meeting the Millennium Development Goals as part of our internal commitments as well as our regional and international obligations.

The next paradigm issue to touch upon is our justice system.

As a nation that was economically depleted by a painful past embroiled with flagrant violations of human rights, access to justice should be available to all victims. The independence of the judiciary, respect of the rule of law and impartiality of judicial officers are prerequisites of a democratic state, committed to account to all its citizens as taxpayers, especially for wrongdoing. Victims of all sorts, including the far remote and grassroots communities, should enjoy the confidence of our domestic codes and be awarded justifiable remedies. Our seriousness to improving the right to access courts can be judged by regional mechanisms to which South Africa is party.

We cannot be seen to be operating within human rights confines when we shy away from signing a declaration giving victims and NGOs access to bring cases of human rights violations to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. We need to showcase our enthusiasm in upholding access to justice as stipulated in our national, regional and international obligations so that we ambush the crime crisis efficiently.

Corlett Letlojane
Director
Human Rights Institute of South Africa

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