Participation Junction Comments on the 2008/9 Budget
Through Public Participation We Can Influence The Budget Cycle
The root of many struggles begins with a need for resources. In South Africa there are many competing needs i.e. different provinces, government departments all require money to meet the needs of their people. Furthermore, individuals as well as businesses and organisations have particular interests and expectations. It is a given that government cannot meet the needs of all interest groups equally, government therefore has to prioritise in terms of how its money will be spent. This means that some areas have reduced spending, while others are given more money than in previous years. The consequence of this prioritisation is usually that one or other group is not entirely satisfied with the final allocations. The decisions on how money is allocated is therefore of integral importance to organisations, communities and ordinary people.
The budget process is informed by various consultations and plans drawn up at all spheres of government, making the process accessible to Civil Society Organisations in many ways, from the Integrated Development Planning (IDP) process to the Budget Hearings at National Parliament. The budget cycle consists of two phases: the drafting phase (taking place over 12-18 months) and the legislative phase (taking 3-4 months). During the drafting phase the budget is compiled by various government departments. Each minister must present the budget to their department, and explain how they spent their budget in the previous year, and what they plan to do in the coming year. Each department with national responsibilities produces a draft budget and each provincial department compiles a draft budget for their areas of responsibility. The National Minister of Finance meets with the cabinet about the different options for the national budget and provincial level departments meet with medium term expenditure committees to negotiate about their allocation.
Because government cannot meet the needs of everyone, public participation in the overall budget cycle is important. Only through participation in these processes and via advocacy can we influence the budget. What, then, are the opportunities for participation?
At the national level finance portfolio committee meetings are open to the public and submissions are encouraged while at provincial level the hearings are open, but public input is usually limited. Separate committees also have hearings on education, health and welfare and present a useful opportunity for advocacy. At the local level, there are opportunities for participation in the annual review of the IDP and in municipal budget processes. These local processes occur when the national budget is being drafted and so feed into the national budget for the following year. Because participation in local processes happen several months prior to the national budget’s legislative phase, strategies and interventions need to be thought-through and well-advanced planning is required.
The mechanisms for civil society to engage in budget processes are in place, and given that struggle over limited resources will continue, we as civil society need to more effectively utilize these mechanisms. Participation Junction, in line with our vision of “a participatory democracy where grassroots activists successfully influence public policy development, implementation and review in the interests of sustainable development”, will continue to support organisations striving towards effective engagement in budget processes.