- The 8th CIVICUS World Assembly will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, from 18th to 21st June 2008. The theme for the World Assembly is ‘Acting Together for a Just World: People, Participation and Power’.
This focus is in response to the need to look at civil society's capacity to act in concert to realise shared goals while recognising there are allies in government, business, media and donor bodies who are working towards the same end and from whom strength can be drawn. The focus is on civil society accessing, engaging and participating in all forms and spheres of governance at the local, national and international levels.
Whether citizens are engaging national governments directly for better governance or working with business and local government for better social development and real change within their communities, the World Assembly will highlight the role of people acting together to gain power.
The year 2006 marked the beginning of a new approach to the CIVICUS World Assemblies; they will now be held every year, rather than every two years, and will be held in one location for three years. Thus the three CIVICUS World Assemblies held in Glasgow followed a common theme: “Acting Together for a Just World” - inspired by events leading up to the G8 Summit, which showed both the massive global commitment from ordinary citizens for a better and more just world, and the absolute necessity of continuing the struggle to achieve it. The 2008 World Assembly is the last of the Glasgow series.
Past CIVICUS World Assemblies have shown the creativity and dynamism that civil society can bring to address issues of justice and equity, including issues of poverty, HIV/AIDS, gender equality and youth empowerment, amongst others. The CIVICUS World Assemblies have served as venues through which civil society organisations (CSOs) can articulate and exchange information about important victories they have achieved and critical issues they, and the societies in which they work, face.
The upcoming CIVICUS World Assembly promises to fulfil the same role. As a dynamic venue for CSOs to create and strengthen connections with each other, the CIVICUS World Assembly allows for dialogue that can lead to innovative collaboration across national borders. Similarly, the CIVICUS World Assembly provides a platform for CSOs to interact and engage with interested parties from government and intergovernmental organisations and reflect on the state of civil society around the world.
The 2008 CIVICUS World Assembly promises to build upon the success of the previous CIVICUS World Assemblies and continue to strengthen civil society around the world. The CIVICUS Board and staff, together with our colleagues at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) look forward to greeting you in Glasgow! Be there to recharge your batteries, to learn new things, to make new connections and to explore joint projects across borders. A key part of the CIVICUS World Assembly is participant organised workshops, so look out for these in the programme.
For more information on the CIVICUS World Assembly go to www.civicusassembly.org
Kumi Naidoo is the Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
‘Researching with Communities: Grounded Perspectives on Engaging Communities in Research’ presents a range of personal and grounded perspectives from academics, researchers and practitioners on undertaking research in ways that promote and privilege the voice of the community, out of respect for local or indigenous practices in a culturally safe manner.
This book provides grounded exemplars, guides and discussion about the experiences of doing research respectfully and inclusively. It also draws on the perspectives of researchers and community practitioners and by providing a range of reflective chapters that explore what community-based research means in a range of settings and for a range of people.
For more information and to acquire the book at a cost of £24.95, click here.
A Citizens' Guide to Monitoring Government Expenditures is a guide that reflects the growing focus of civil society organisations on monitoring the results achieved by government expenditures. The guide offers an overview of government budget implementation, including budget execution, procurement, impact measurement, and auditing and legislative oversight processes. It also provides practical, tested tools that can be used by independent organizations interested in monitoring government expenditures.
For more information, click here.
The budget still failed to address major concerns around job generation and poverty alleviation strategies. The reality in South Africa is that the economy has been unable to absorb labour sufficiently quickly into the economy and as a result, the level of unemployment continues to increase. This in turn affects levels of poverty within the country which in turn impacts negatively on issues such as crime, for example. The assertion that the Government has created 1.5 million jobs over the past five years has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Many of these jobs have been temporary and we would like to see a breakdown of these jobs created and whether they have been sustainable.
The introduction of a poverty level index is to be welcomed provided the baseline is determined in a consultative manner. It would also be important to see how the index will be used not just to measure the level of poverty in the country, but also on how to address the issues of poverty in a pragmatic way.
The increased allocation for early childhood spending and feeding schemes is to be welcomed, but once again it is hoped that the programmes are carefully thought out and that sufficient resources have been allocated for monitoring to prevent abuses of the system. However, the budget of R121 billion indicates a recognition by Government of the present educational crisis.
The increase in social grants did not go far enough. The increase of the grant from R200 to R220 can hardly be regarded as pro-poor. One wonders if the Minister is really in touch with the poor of this country and how much it takes to bring up a child so that the child has a decent meal and is able to access rights such as schooling.
I did not see the budget show any significant deviation from the trend over the last couple of years, but I do feel that a more comprehensive strategy has to be developed around issues of poverty in this country and how it is addressed.
Is this budget a deficit?
On Thursday, 7 February 2008, came the promise of “Business Unusual”. On budget day, 20 February 2008, we got “business as usual”. Hardly surprising given that this budget comes in the penultimate year of a sitting Government, hardly a time at which to be uncharacteristically unusual - especially with money, and probably a time at which a steady course that tries to please everyone is best. That is an unenviable task even at the best of times, and all the more so during the most extraordinary of them.
These are decidedly extraordinary times. With the world economy apparently cooling, the weather globally warming and everything else seemingly remaining the same, business as usual, rather than business unusual, is what we ought to have expected. It may also serve to explain why the 2008/9 budget is one that looks slightly left, marginally right and mostly centre. It is probably a good thing that the budget is a bit of an ideological mix, underpinned by the imperatives of the developmental state. Conceptually speaking, that is its strength. It is, however, a pity that it hardly looks back.
Occasionally looking backwards and forwards is necessary. We all ought to be encouraged to do so, especially when it allows us to trace where we come from, where we’re going to, and indeed, where we are. Rising food prices, increased fuel costs, upward pressures on inflation, unemployment in the context of a relatively high growth path, a high accumulative and acquisitive path in some sectors of the private domain, collusion in supply side price fixing in basic foods (milk and bread), and a power crisis in unimaginably more ways, than one.
The expected reign of error since Jacob Zuma’s ascendancy to the presidency of the ANC has not materialised in this budget. Thankfully, Trevor Manual or his successor will have something left to announce next year. South Africa will not be spending its way into oblivion. Not yet at least, but neither - by all accounts will it be saved from the vicissitudes of the looming global recession. Its saving comes in the form of a modest surplus, which serves to allow the South African economy to withstand the shocks of a global recession. South African citizens on the other hand are unlikely to be saved in that way, especially if they happen to be poor and unemployed. The effects on them are likely to be a little more pernicious. So, while the increase in social grants is welcomed, it seems as if some of these may not keep pace with inflationary pressures. It thus, frankly surprises that the budget contains some rather over optimistic outlooks about maintaining a growth rate of roughly 4% and keeping inflation within the 3-6% band.
Considering supply side constraints - the shortage of steel, cement, electricity and other inputs - infrastructure-led growth prospects may prove to be more optimistic than realistic. Still it is possible, but then notoriously low productivity levels have to be bucked up, and quickly too. With prices going up, coupled with slower levels of growth domestically and internationally, high levels of poverty in the context of high profit accumulations and highly consumptive behaviour among elites, taming inflation to within the 3-6% band may prove to be more difficult than expected. In any event, the use of interest rate hikes as an instrument for inflation targeting is debatable, as is the efficacy of inflation targeting itself. One cannot fault the R12 billion expenditure increases for social grants, the R7.6 billion for improving public transport, rail and road infrastructure and the R8.7 billion for housing and water. Ultimately, the effect of this will depend on who gets the grants and how they use it. Allocative efficiencies in government are evident, instrumental efficiencies (that is how the allocations are used and deployed) are less so.
As ever, the perennial refrain: “we have good policy intent, we just need to actually implement them”, applies. The increases in Health and Education, modest though they are, are truly welcome. But throwing money at them, important in itself, does not necessarily mean that teachers come to school on time, and do what they are paid (modestly) to do, that is TEACH, and that learners will go to school to do what they are meant to, that is LEARN, rather than smoke, drink, stab and have sex. Pleasure and pain are not what schools are for. Nor are hospitals, throwing money at weaknesses in our systems of health and education can’t solve the culture of learning, teaching and care. Nevertheless, money can assist - especially when education and health cultures become more popular.
As popular of course are electricity supply, generation, transmission and distribution. It is a hard bullet to bite, but the investment made to Eskom (part of which it will have to pay back), large as it is, is necessary if untimely. Untimely, because it ought to have occurred five years ago. At that time, as reports indicate, Eskom had asked for this. Government refused. Issuing at around that time a request for proposals in line with an initiative to privatise the sector. The proposals it received in response (or lack thereof because of costs) left much to be desired. Nevertheless, three significant and glaring failures occurred.
The first was government’s ham fisted approach and lack of planning and foresight. President Mbeki has apologised for this. In the court of accountability, though, apologising is not that same as taking responsibility, and in the adage that is so popular with the man, “non among us” has since sought to ask him why government had taken the decision that it had. Presumably, it may have had something to do with keeping the capital account in check in line with GEAR’s prescriptions, but this may just be wholly incorrect. We were all seemingly happy and accepted the apology. But never quite held him and his government to account. Consequently, we remain in the dark about why government did not accede to Eskom’s request.
The darkness was precipitated in part by opposition parties, some economists and international financial institutions. Opposition parties, by their own defined standards ought to hold government to account, but did not. Moreover, as Members of Parliament they have full oversight functions, notwithstanding the occasional rampant majoritarianism that the ANC tends to display. Parliamentary Committees on which opposition parties sit have full supervisory and oversight functions. On the minerals and energy committee, surely, it ought to have occurred to Members, opposition and otherwise, to have asked more probing questions. Highly paid Eskom executives too, failed the first module of lobbying and advocacy 101. They could have asked any MP, including opposition party members, to raise these thorny issues five years ago. But they didn’t either. Nevertheless, we now have an allocation to them of R60 billion.
A necessary R60 billion to underscore the further transfers to DTI and public enterprises for industrial strategies and job creation. This kind of industrial stimulation and expansion is necessary for absorptive capacity for low, semi and unskilled labour. It is a decidedly good idea for the interim. But the nature and quality of job creation in this area is unsustainable in the long run, vital as it is for the moment. There must be a future focus on diversifying aspects in the economy especially with regard to areas in which South Africa can build comparative advantage. The commercial and financial services sectors are important sectors to focus on. They, however, require high levels skills and so while the funding for internships and other skills programmes are necessary and vital, we may need also to focus on incentives for retaining high levels skills, rather than allow them to fly, like the mooted adjustments to the exchange control regime.
This is an idea I have never been quite comfortable with. They are obviously very welcome in some other quarters, but I really do fear capital flight, an ever-real prospect, that some may base on the mythical figment of a “shift to the left”. It is a measure that obviously signals confidence in the economy when such a regulatory measure is undertaken, but it may well undermine the ability of a developmental state to direct surpluses in the economy to more productive sectors of its choosing. I concede that this may be an unfounded fear, but while it signals confidence in the economy it may undermine our own confidence as a society and further undermine our developmental state from pursuing productive investment goals for public benefit rather than for the good of private myopic interests who use the spectre of capital flight as a disciplining measure against the State.
This analogy can be extended to the rate cut for corporate taxes. Some might argue that this is neither here nor there. However, having retained the 1% rather than reducing corporate taxes by 1%, may have helped to serve redistributionary goals as part of a pot of funds that could have served to incentivise recruiting, retaining and or acquiring the kind of dearth of skills in the public sector that we so often bemoan. It could have served to bolster ASGISA and JIPSA.
Still, there is a lot to say for this budget and the policy trajectory of left, right and centre that it signals. It is a balanced budget. Not up a GEAR. It has not cut public spending, but nor has it been reckless. It has maintained a prudent balance between savings and expenditure. Bolstering development and stimulating enterprise. Helping the poor but not creating dependency. In answer then to my own question, this budget is not a deficit. It is a surplus. Even Trevor Manual says so.
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.
The Peoples Budget Coalition (PBC) believes that today’s budget defers the dreams and aspirations of the poor until the storm has subsided. Measured against our expectation that the budget would invest substantial resources towards reduction of poverty, inequality and unemployment, it does not live up to the challenges facing our society.
In contrast, the rich will benefit from the budget, especially the reduction in company tax and revision of exchange controls. When it comes to allocations to the poor, for example on social grants, the scale of the increase is miniscule. While the overall budget growth is 4% in real terms, this is slower than in previous periods and reduces the level of total expenditure.
The budget cannot be faulted on identifying key priorities facing our society but falls flat on the challenge of scaling up resources to address these pressing challenges. Further, the budget does not live up to the President’s message of ‘business unusual’ or the ANC’s call for an intensified war against poverty.
The PBC supports the Minister when he says that we are collectively in this together. However, given the inequalities in our society, some of us can escape economic shocks. The rich can opt out while the poor and the working class only have this economy and the role of the state is to buffet the poor against the vicissitudes of economic turmoil.
Social Grants and Social Services
The PBC believes that social grants play an important social and economic development role in cushioning the poor against economic shocks and drawing them into economic activity. We are however disappointed by the small increases in the state old age pension and child support grants. If we use recent CPIX figures of 8.6% released by Statistics South Africa, this turns into a decline in real terms.
There were signs that government would increase the age of qualifying for the child support grant to 18 years, but the Minister announced that the eligibility age will increase only to 15 years in January 2009. Again we are going to live with the reality that those children above 15 years and adults above 18 years do not have income support. It is for this reason, that we reiterate our proposal for a Basic Income Grant.
While the PBC supports the adoption of a poverty line we have serious reservations about the introduction without effective and meaningful participation. The poverty line is not a technical exercise but a political process to make choices about what is the minimum breadline or standard of life below which no human being should fall.
We welcome the increased allocation to provinces to provide free basic services.
Job Creation and Industrial Policy
For the first time in many years the Minister has spent some time discussing job creation and industrial policy measures. Job creation measures identified by the Minister include increased employment in the public service and a raft of industrial policy interventions amounting to R2.3 billion for DTI and R5 billion for industrial investment. The PBC welcomes this infusion of resources but believes it falls short of the scale required to support structural change of the economy.
We welcome the increase of internship allowances as a step to incentive skill formation among the youth. We do not support the wage subsidy proposal because, firstly, it creates a dual labour market and displaces existing workers and, secondly, it is open to abuse if the beneficiaries are exempted from the protection of labour legislation.
Budget Process Reform
We reiterate our call for the introduction of a Money Bill Amendment to give Parliament the right and power to amend the budget. In addition, the budget process must be open to people’s participation prior to the minister tabling this in Parliament.
Eskom’s corporatisation and structure is a major problem to basic service delivery. This business model of delivery will impact on the poor significantly. We criticise the fact that the R60 billion injection is not considered as a grant and thus will have to be paid back by Eskom. This is a severe shortfall in the total amount required by Eskom, which requires R340 billion for infrastructure investment to expand electricity supply and roll-out plans to communities who remain without basic services. We are certain that these costs will be passed on to the consumers and thus hit the poor. Does this mean that the consumer will have to continue to foot the bill? Investment in renewable energy is insufficient measured against the urgent need to diversify our energy sources.
The "new" levy raises serious concerns regarding the additional costs this is going to place on households at the expense of prioritizing universal access. This should be viewed in conjunction with the fact that electricity tariffs are already set to rise by a minimum of 14% (likely to be higher in many municipalities).
Government has indicated that it will increase education expenditure to provinces by R18 billion over the next 3 years. This will primarily go towards building, maintaining and improving equipment for schools. The PBC hoped that in line with some of the more recent indications to increase the number of no-fee schools, a pronouncement would have been made of education allocations going towards increasing the number of no-fee schools. The PBC in its previous publication on the budget indicated that school fees remain the largest obstacle towards learners either dropping out of schools or simply failing to attend schools - with just under 40% of learners not being able to attend school because of school fees (2003, GHS).
One of the few positives is the increased emphasis on ECD and grade R learners, especially the expansion to 600 000 more children, as this has received insufficient attention in previous budgets.
The PBC welcomes the increased allocation to school feeding schemes to keep more children at school and provide meals for a longer time. The main limitation is that the scheme is still limited to primary schools.
When it comes to higher education there is a significant increase, around R2 billion, to support students and financial support for higher education institutions. However this increase comes from a period of consistent decline in allocations to higher education and it is questionable whether this is adequate. The pressure on universities to be self-reliant has resulted in fee increases that have led to protests on campus and continues to place high education beyond the reach of many poor and working class families.
For government to accelerate the land redistribution programme to meet the target of transferring 30% of land, will require substantial investment of resources. Although this matter was not dealt with in the budget speech, the Estimate of Expenditure projects that government will allocate R10 billion in the next three years. The question is whether this is adequate.
The PBC welcomes steps to improve the capacity of the state to meet citizens’ needs. In that vein, we welcome government’s commitment to increase the number of health professionals and other public servants. Further, the proposed remuneration increased is at face value to be welcomed but further interrogation is required to understand its impact on the overall human resource strategy in the public service.
Government plans to move towards a single pubic service but the Minister did not allocate funding for this process, including harmonisation of salaries and conditions of service.
The Minister proposed a raft of changes to revenue. We are however disappointed by the reduction of company tax by 1% to 28%, ostensibly to stimulate investment. The decrease in company tax will mean that the government will forgo R5 billion in revenue. The PBC questions the wisdom of this decision in the light of government’s claim of lack of resources. Moreover, it is questionable whether business will use the additional resources to invest or divert it into dividend payments. In addition, the tax rebates for individuals and reduction in company tax is money that could have been used in other areas of economic and social development.
We welcome the increase in the income threshold of those exempted from tax. This will provide a relief for the working poor by increasing their disposable income.
While of the one hand the Minister talks about the volatility of international markets, he then introduced policies that will exacerbate such vulnerability. The removal of exchange controls will encourage capital flight while it also exposes South Africa to volatile speculative capital inflows.
The additional fuel levy is of concern, especially when combined with high inflation and its impact on poorer households. Treasury's opening of the way for provinces to implement their own additional fuel levies, something which the Western Cape has already moved to take advantage of, is also of concern to the PBC.
We have placed you at the head of our country. Of course, we have done this upon what appeared to us to be sufficient reasons, and yet we think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which we are not quite satisfied with.
We believe you to be a brave and skillful leader, which, of course, we like. We also believe you do not mix personal preferences with politics, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality.
You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does well rather than harm. But we think that during the ten year Y2K repairs time period you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted the normal repairs proceedings, procrastinating as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to humankind.
We have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of you or your predecessor having partially solved the Y2K computer shut-down problem we had just before the turn of the century by secretly turning the computers' internal clock back by 10 years. We understand that discarding these older computers was not an option, as they were and are an integral part of critical military defence mechanisms and/or industrial equipment, and that it was with the best of intentions that you meant to replace or overhaul them completely during the following decade.
We, the People will support you to the utmost of our ability, which is neither more nor less than we have done and will do for all our Presidents. We much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into our country, of keeping secret the importance of such a potential crisis and withholding confidence from us will now turn upon you. We shall assist you, as far as we can, to put it down.
Neither you nor the greatest leaders alive could get any good out of us while such a spirit prevails. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victory over the imminent danger of an accidental nuclear war.
We, the People.
The United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Global Environment Outlook: environment for development (GEO-4) report published 20 years after the World Commission on Environment and Development, assesses the current state of the global atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity, describes the changes since 1987, and identifies priorities for action. Failure to address these persistent problems, UNEP says, may undo all the achievements so far on the simpler issues, and may threaten humanity’s survival.
For more information, click here.
“Can Local Government Work for the Poor?” is an article that examines the effects of political, fiscal, and administrative decentralisation on development. Published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), this article offers a number of perspectives from experts on how decentralisation could be made to work for the poor.
To view the full article, click here.