The Open Data and Democracy Initiative (ODADI) coalition is hosting its first 48-hour Code4Democracy Hackathon.
Digital activists, designers, developers and data journalists will kickstart South Africa’s open data movement from 4-5 August 2012 in Cape Town at a 48-hour hackathon to build web and software applications that will help make government more accountable.
The Code4Democracy event is the first public gathering hosted by the new ODADI (Open Data & Democracy Initiative) coalition, and will offer R25 000 in cash prizes and tech support for ideas that have the potential to empower ordinary citizens, make government more transparent, or make public services more efficient and open.
The initiative echos similar campaigns that have revolutionised the way that civic debate and public accountability works everywhere from Kenya and Ghana, to further north in the USA and Europe. ODADI hopes to build on South Africa’s early support for theOpen Government Partnership, by inspiring a grassroots data-driven movement in South Africa, giving ordinary citizens the tools and information they need to make better informed choices about public issues.
ODADI is a broad-based volunteer-led non-partisan movement, that bases its principles on the Constitution, and does not align itself with any political party or other political interest group.
The Code4Democracy hackathon has been made possible via a seed grant from the African Media Initiative’s prototype fund for civic engagement, as well as through logistic support from the Open Society Foundation’s Money & Politics Project (MaPP) and venue and material support from Cape Town’s Ndifuna Ukwazi center for active citizenship.
HacksHackers Cape Town is a founding member of ODADI and a lead organiser of the Code4Democracy hackathon. Other ODADI coalition members assisting with the Code4Democracy hackathon include the Open Democracy Advice Centre, the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, the Right2Know campaign, and the Silicon Cape initiative.
To read the article titled, “Gustav Praekelt to deliver keynote at Code4Democracy,” click here.Source:Google+
- Gauteng Provincial LegislaturePlease note: this opportunity closing date has passed and may not be available any more.Opportunity closing date:Friday, December 9, 2011Opportunity type:Other
The Gauteng Provincial Legislature is the parliament of Gauteng, an institution that oversee the government work in the province. Its main functions are law making, Executive Council and Provincial Government Departments' accountability.
The Gauteng Provincial Legislature is calling for abstracts for the Public Participation Conference (PPP Indaba) under the theme “The People Shall Govern: Public Participation Beyond Slogans”, to be held from 29 February to 2 March 2012 in Johannesburg.
The conference aims to share key insights and knowledge on improving citizens’ meaningful participation in governance processes. Also, the conference will seek to build a body of knowledge on public participation and civic education to benefit the legislative sector.
The specific objectives of the conference are to:
Authors are requested to submit empirical and theoretical abstracts on public participation (including case studies). These may reflect local, regional, national and international dimensions of public participation. Authors of selected abstracts will be requested to submit full papers that will be compiled into a book chapter for publication, following the Conference.
- Build a body of knowledge to benefit the legislative sector;
- Strengthen public participation strategies in governance processes;
- Share knowledge and skills required to facilitate meaningful public participation;
- Bridge the existing gap between theory and practice;
- Invest in public participation initiatives in governance processes;
- Enhance the role of legislatures/parliaments in facilitating public participation.
Below are the themes and sub-themes that guide areas to be covered in response to this call for abstracts:
Theme 1: Public Participation, International best Theme 2: Public Participation, National perspectives
Theme 3: Public Participation at Local Government level Sub-themes: Sub-themes: Sub-themes:
- Public participation in integrated development plans of local municipalities: A case studyMainstreaming public participation in governance processes to inculcate a culture of civic involvement.
- Public participation in budget processes - the power of the purse - A case study.
- Effective petition systems in legislatures.
- Enabling systems, processes and organisational culture for promoting relevant and quality civic education and public reach.
- The doctrine of the separation of powers: examining the integrated and interdependent arms of the State and the missing link in public participation.
- Mainstreaming public participation in governance processes to inculcate a culture of civic involvement
- Public participation in budget processes: A case for meaningful public involvement – the South African experience.
- Effective petition systems in legislatures
- Impact assessment of public participation processes
- Public participation in integrated development plans (IDP) of local municipalities
- Public participation in Budget processes: A case for meaningful public involvement – Community/grassroots experiences
Submit your abstract to J Robertson at JRobertson@gpl.gov.za or post to Gauteng Provincial Legislature, Private Bag X52, Johannesburg, 2000, South Africa. Aslo, you can hand deliver to the Gauteng Provincial Legislature (Corner President and Loveday Streets), Johannesburg (CBD).
Enquiries: E-mail: JRobertson@gpl.gov.za.
For more about the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, refer to http://gpl.gov.za.
To view other opportunities, visit www.ngopulse.org/group/home-
- Why is a large broad-based adult basic education programme not part of government’s ‘New Growth Path’? Are we content to merely provide pensions and grants to millions of adult South Africans who should be learning productive skills, entrepreneurship, basic health – and also about democracy?
We are marginalising our people and keeping them dependent while we focus on those who have better education. And while we ignore the poorly educated, a seasoned adult-education NGO, Project Literacy, is retrenching skilled staff: as reported last month, this is because grants from the National Skills Fund have been suspended while government completes the formalities surrounding its new skills qualifcations.
Adult basic education (ABE) can make dreams possible for thousands of adult South Africans who struggle daily for food and security. A strong South African ABE programme can offer education and training to help people make money, improve family health, share in community life, participate more in our democracy, take hold of their own human rights and extend these rights to others. It can help to build social justice and equity.
Take the story of a courageous rural literacy learner called Zanele, a member of an Operation Upgrade literacy class. She was the new wife in a polygamous family dominated by the first wife. In literacy lessons Zanele discovered that she had human rights and she questioned her role and status as a makoti (new bride, a newcomer to the family and a source of labour). She worried about HIV as well, after an alarming literacy discussion about how people get infected.
Zanele decided to free herself from the marriage and from the danger of HIV infection by her town-dwelling husband. To get this freedom, she needed to leave her husband’s homestead and make a living for herself. Her own family would not accept her return, for fear they would have to pay her lobola back to her husband. Zanele needed somewhere to live. She puzzled for weeks about finding a way out.
During discussion in her Operation Upgrade literacy class about a nearby low-cost rural housing scheme, Zanele said, “I am going to get a house!” She did. She and her little daughter now live in a simple two-room house where she can lock the door at night, grow her own vegetables and keep her own livestock. She does not have to cook and wash clothes for two other women and their families any more.
She had problems getting the house – completing the application form in English (with the help of her literacy educator), being threatened by the wives and the induna, and being beaten by her husband – but she managed in the end. She makes traditional Zulu wear to sell. “I have freedom!” she says.
Zanele’s story is common in adult basic education work. An adult literacy programme should cover human rights, HIV and AIDS, and solve social and economic problems relevant to the learners. It should include family health, gender issues, workplace issues and a host of other topics.
Is this adult basic education? Yes it is, if you link the teaching of reading and writing and counting to a range of topics of concern to the learners.
Operation Upgrade, a NGO in KwaZulu-Natal of which I am part, has ‘literacy and adult basic education for social change’ as its mission. In an isolated and neglected rural area north of Hluhluwe, the adult basic education programme teaches adult learners to understand and live with HIV and AIDS, write and read in isiZulu and English, calculate with money and run small businesses, grow vegetables and make and sell small crafts, including leather goods. Human rights – and gender issues – come as strong topics in the classes, and the learners make their own theatre sketches about life.
How is literacy linked to a development topic in an ABE programme? A skilled adult literacy educator will start a lesson with a discussion on a key topic. The educator must have knowledge to share about the topic, or use a resource person, such as a nurse or an agricultural extension worker. After the discussion the educator and the class do literacy work based on the topic. Every literacy lesson should have both development and literacy objectives. It’s the development objectives that create full adult basic education.
The premise underlying the Operation Upgrade programme is that combining adult literacy or adult basic education with HIV and AIDS education, family health education, livelihood development, food security support and human rights will help to break the cycle of poverty, poor family health and disease, and isolation – a cycle that makes up so much of the condition of disadvantaged adults in South Africa today. It is a model of integrated development education and support, using the literacy class as the vehicle for organising people and making inputs.
The content of the classes is negotiated with learners because the literacy experience must meet their needs. Learner needs for information or exposure to issues deepen as they go through literacy classes, developing greater critical consciousness about life in their community.
We believe that literacy learning per se is not enough for learners: they are seeking ways to change their lives. It is wrong to lead learners to believe that literacy alone will improve their circumstances: a broad-based adult basic education programme is needed that reflects social and economic issues. Such a programme must change with changes in its social context. Who would have thought to include HIV and AIDS in adult basic education 25 years ago?
Huge funding is being spent on ABET (adult basic education and training) programmes in South Africa with little thought about the value of this education for adults or - which is worse – whether adults really want pieces of a school-equivalency paper.
A look at the enrolment and examination numbers for Abet Level 4 across the provinces shows little interest in this learning. Some young people hope for ABET qualifications as alternatives to matric, but the numbers are small. And where are the mature adults studying at this level? Not many of those, either. Adult South Africans have real problems right now. They cannot wait for future generations to provide solutions.
Nobody is decrying the efforts made by the various state ABET units to deliver a good education product – but the vision of adult basic education in national policy is very different from the ‘replacement schooling’ curriculum they offer. The ABET budgets are low and the programme gets little political support.
The big question – How can adult basic education help people in South Africa to narrow the poverty gap? – has not yet been asked at a national level. Today’s adults are asking what is being done to improve their lives here and now.
And the ‘T’ for training in ABET? No budget for low-level skills training in the ABET classes – the further education and training colleges are touted as the T component but they are largely inaccessible and their courses do not get people jobs ….. the truth is, the jobs are not there.
We are firmly convinced that employment for all will be the answer to poverty. More than half of South Africa’s working-age population are either unemployed or not economically active. What about training for adults for self-employment and self-reliance? Are we serious about being a developmental state?
And then we spend billions on a nice-to-have mass adult literacy campaign, Masifundisane or Kha ri Gude, where adult learners in class for six months (part-time) learn to write in home their languages, speak and read a little English and do a little addition. It’s a quick dip in reading and writing. So what? “If you don’t use it you lose it”: there will be serious relapse from any minimum level of literacy reached in the mass campaign. When are we going to deliver useful education and training for adults?
We have seen enough of ‘dumped’ classes after six months in Kha Ri Gude, classes of learners who cry, “What’s next for us? We want to learn projects!” Development NGOs, underfunded, are trying to cope with this problem.
It’s time we stopped expecting traditional education to be the saviour of our disadvantaged adults. Plain literacy and school equivalency education will not put bread on the table tomorrow, nor will they teach a mother how to purify water from a river before her children drink.
Let’s be honest. You and I communicate through literacy, so that’s what we think all people should have, but illiterate adults have more pressing needs. And the programmes offered to them depend on voluntary attendance, so we need to meet their needs, not design learning for them to meet alien or unrelated needs.
The old role of the teacher-bestowing-knowledge merely serves to reinforce the status quo. There’s a vast, undereducated adult population which is not part of the economy and which has no involvement in developing our society. Is this what South Africa wants?
We have the opportunity now to give adult learners an education that helps them develop a critical perspective on how they live and shows them ways to change their lives. Functional and problem-solving adult basic education and literacy is the best available means of developing our nation.
- Pat Dean is the director of Operation Upgrade of South Africa, an NGO providing adult basic education with literacy. This article was first published in the Mail & Guardian and is republished here with the permission of the author.
- Welfare organisations and the Free State provincial government are preparing for a court battle this week that will be eagerly watched by NGOs across the country, according to a Volksblad report.
The organisations, represented by Jeremy Gauntlett SC, are demanding more government financial support in the Free State High Court.
Several people in the care of the organisations are allegedly cared for on behalf of the state, but the organisations claim it is impossible to provide basic food on the allowances paid by the government.
To read the article titled, “NGOs take on government in test case,” click here.Source:Legal Brief
With the State of the Nation Address by President Zuma and the Budget behind us, and the plethora of state of the province addresses for good measure, South Africa can truly said to be in its Season of Promises.
There are promises of better government from the President, a fight against corruption and a pledge to launch the equivalent of a moral rearmament programme. There is a focus on greater spending in the budget on social grants, health and education, not forgetting the provinces that conscientiously walk in national government’s fiscal shadow. But what does this all mean, specifically for the thousands of NGOs that continue to work tirelessly on the ground?
It is widely accepted that civil society in South Africa provides a substantial number of services that government is unable to fulfil. Thus, while increased spending on socio-economic and educational matters is welcome, the reality remains that countless organisations in civil society are fulfilling socio-economic imperatives because the government is simply unable or unwilling to do so.
As has been noted by some NPOs already, there was no acknowledgement of this role, or relief for CSOs in the budget. To be sure, there are instances in which government gives financial support to NPOs, such as a R12 million grant to 44 NPOs operating in the health care sector in the Northern Cape. This sounds good, but it equates to an average of just less than R273 000 per annum per organisation. That is small beer in the budget of most NPOs and will not go a long way towards enabling those organisations to provide the type of critical service they doubtlessly give.
It is a tragedy that administrations at national and provincial level seemingly live with the delusion that they are meeting the critical needs of people on the ground on the one hand and, on the other, fail to recognise that civil society is providing public services that ordinarily (and sometimes even statutorily, such as in the case of education and health) will be the responsibility of government.
The question is, therefore, why donors should be subsidising the state in the provision of basic services? People are already paying tax for these services and there is, frankly, not such a huge shortage of money. It seems to go astray between the taxpayer and the beneficiary. Besides corruption, there seems to be a huge amount of wastage or the money is simply not used. The government is meant to be the caretaker of these funds but there appears to be little care in ensuring that they are used properly or used at all. The number of departments that did not achieve clear audits, including the Presidency, shows how little concern there is for tracking money, providing paper trails and exposing corruption.
Donor funding is currently focusing on the basic provision of services – in reality the responsibility of the state. This has skewed the view of civil society from one that is vibrant and innovative, producing new ideas, new research, defending human rights, making a contribution to policy, advocating for systemic change and social justice, whether relating to the environment or gender as examples. Instead, philanthropy remains caught in the trap of service delivery, where organisations are seen as the sum total of their projects with indicators, outputs and measurable outcomes such as plates of food provided, rather than as living, thinking, advocating and dynamic structures.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Seasons of Promises have failed to live up to expectations, civil society has worked tirelessly, with many people doing so voluntarily, to address the failure of government service. That civil society organisations are able to make such a major contribution to our country is due to the support of local and foreign donors and philanthropists, and the hard work of ordinary people on the ground. Yet government continues to marginalise our non-profits from the mainstream. Whilst the unions and business are included in Nedlac, where is civil society? When the President travels abroad with his entourage, where is civil society? Is this the forgotten sector that carries the can or is this deliberate marginalisation with civil society viewed as a potential threat? Where will organised criticism of the government come from in future – beyond the realms of opposition parties in what is becoming the stifled institution of parliament.
Perhaps there is a recognition that the organisations really working on the ground may have something to say when there is no change in people’s circumstances despite the Season of Promises.
This current Season of Promises has also introduced a new element for this time of the year - the suggestion by the president of the need for a new moral code for South Africa.
Civil society, in both the apartheid years and in the post-1994 period has never departed from its commitment to the values and norms of a moral society. This is perhaps most obviously illustrated in the work of the faith-based organisations that form part of it, but has also been present in the social, health, educational, human rights, job creation and economic and empowerment programmes run by various civil society organisations. It is appropriate therefore to point out that, in spite of the falls from grace that occur in any organisation because of human behaviour, it is not civil society that stands accused of wide-spread fraud, corruption and graft. Civil society has stood firm on these issues: it is not they who have confused the culturally acceptable practice of polygamy with the damaging and disrespectful practice of promiscuity. It is not civil society that has forgotten that this is the 21st century and that over-population has contributed to global warming – that fathering more than 20 children is a disservice to everyone in this world.
Some form of moral renewal is doubtless necessary in a country in which public figures berate one another with scant regard for human and race relations, and in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer at an alarming rate. It is critical that civil society participate in this quest and that, of all sectors, they have a leading role as they are the organisations and individuals who keep the institutions of care, education and other social entities operating at the grassroots level.
- Shelagh Gastrow is the Executive Director of Inyathelo – The South African Institute for Advancement. This article was first published on Daily News website and it is republished here with the permission of Inyathelo – The South African Institute for Advancement.
- Press Release
22 February 2010
Second report and resolutions of the Budget and Expenditure Monitoring Forum
The Budget and Expenditure Monitoring Forum (BEMF), which draws together individuals and organisations from civil society, academia, government, organised labour and business, focuses attention on ensuring that sufficient money is budgeted for and appropriately spent on meeting the treatment and prevention targets of the national HIV & AIDS and STI Strategic Plan for South Africa 2007-2011 (NSP) as well as for health more broadly. BEMF held its first meeting on 21 August 2009.
BEMF’s second meeting, which was held in Johannesburg on 5 February 2010, drew together over 40 people from 19 organisations, including legal experts, clinicians, economists, government officials, epidemiologists and trade union and civil society activists. The agenda focused on the upcoming antiretroviral (ARV) drug tender and the need to ensure that it is structured and run in a manner that enables the state to procure an adequate supply of appropriate medicines at the lowest possible prices.
In particular, the meeting recognised that key to the success of the ARV treatment programme is the need to ensure that –
- Government is able to procure sufficient quantities of medicines to meet demand
- Adequate funds have been budgeted
- Medicines are purchased at globally competitive prices; and
- All essential products – including appropriate paediatric formulations and fixed-dose combination pills (FDCs) – are available for procurement and use in South Africa.
The meeting addressed several topics. Key discussion points are summarised here.
2010 ARV tender
The current ARV tender expires at the end of May 2010. Participants at the meeting were informed that the DoH, with the assistance of the Clinton Foundation Health Access Initiative (CHAI), has designed a tender process that appropriately addresses numerous issues, including the following:
- Enabling the state to purchase ARV medicines at globally competitive prices
- Ensuring sufficient flexibility to allow companies to submit tender bids in respect of medicines that have yet to be registered for use in South Africa but in respect of which applications for registration have already been made to the Medicines Control Council (MCC)
- Requiring companies to reduce prices in response to certain market shifts (such as significant drops in the prices of active pharmaceutical ingredients) so as to ensure that South Africa benefits from global price reductions.
The meeting called on the National Treasury to respond quickly and positively to the DoH’s proposals, or at least to provide detailed reasons should it reject any proposal.
ARV treatment guidelines
Despite significant advances in ARV treatment, the 2004 treatment guidelines have yet to be revised. The meeting was informed of a process involving the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) and the DoH to revise the guidelines. In calling for the most recent draft of the revised guidelines to be finalised and urgently published, the meeting recognised the need for future revisions to be guided by a transparent and well-defined process. In particular, the guidelines should be reviewed regularly to keep pace with advances in medical science. In addition, the process needs to take greater cognisance of the informed views of expert clinicians and people living with HIV.
Role of the MCC
For many reasons, the MCC has been notoriously slow and inefficient in registering medicines. Despite it having taken positive steps to address its backlog, too few ARV medicines have been registered in the past six months. This restricts the ability of the DoH to procure appropriate formulations of ARV medicines at competitive prices. In this regard, the meeting noted the need for the MCC to be allocated the necessary resources to carry out its work efficiently and effectively. In addition, it called for the MCC’s staff – all employees of the DoH – to prioritise the registration of those ARV products the state seeks to procure.
Availability of generic medicines
While generic versions of many ARV medicines are currently available for use in South Africa, a number of barriers still stand in the way of key products coming to market. Key products that ought to be available in South Africa include the following:
- Cheaper generic versions of the second-line ARV drug lopinavir/ritonavir (the only protease inhibitor included in the treatment guidelines)
- Appropriate formulations of paediatric abacavir, which are still awaiting registration by the MCC
- FDCs covering both first and second line ARV regimens in the new guidelines. Specifically, FDCs containing tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF), lamivudine (3TC) or emtricitabine (FTC), and efavirenz (EFV), including the once-daily generic FDC manufactured by the Indian company Matrix Laboratories.
The meeting was informed that the Minister of Health is empowered by the Patents Act to compel Abbott to issue such licences on reasonable terms and recommended that he use this statutory power.
While a number of companies intend to bring generic TDF/3TC/EFV and TDF/FTC/EFV products to market, an exclusive supply and distribution agreement between Matrix and Aspen Pharmacare appears to prevent Matrix from bringing its versions – both of which have already been approved by the US Food & Drug Administration – to market in South Africa.
The meeting called on Aspen to clarify the terms and conditions of its agreement with Matrix and take all reasonable steps to ensure Aspen or Matrix brings these products to market in South Africa and submits both products for the ARV tender.
Monitoring and evaluation of the treatment and prevention programmes
The DoH has yet to implement an effective monitoring and evaluation system of its HIV treatment and preventions programmes. If and when done, this will enable it to report – with reasonable accuracy – on the following:
- Number of people initiated on ARV treatment;
- Number of people currently on treatment, including the number on second-line regimens;
- Baseline CD4 counts;
- The number of pregnant women at the various stages of the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) programme; and
- Number of infants tested and HIV prevalence amongst infants tested
Occupational Specific Dispensation and financial management crises
The meeting was informed that the Eastern Cape Health Department does not have the funds to pay the Occupational Specific Dispensation (OSD) to eligible health care workers. This confirms months of speculation that the OSD was not properly costed and concerns that there are insufficient funds for implementation.
In addition, the DoH has already announced that new OSD packages for medical practitioners, pharmacists and some emergency personnel will be implemented from 1 April 2010.
Participants noted the urgent need for a proper calculation of the cost of the OSD packages to be made, as well as the obligations of the National Treasury and provincial treasuries collectively to ensure health departments are adequately funded to implement all health worker OSDs.
The OSD crisis emphasises the need for the public release of the Integrated Support Team (IST) reports on the financial and administrative management capacity of the DoH and provincial health departments. Commissioned by Barbara Hogan during her tenure as Minister of Health in 2008/9, the IST reports have yet to be made public. A leaked copy of the Free State report reveals startling findings about the lack of cohesion between policy and budgets, poor monitoring and evaluation, challenges to the sustainability of the ARV treatment programme and a host of other financial management problems. It is available at http://www.tac.org.za/community/files/bemf/FreeStateIST.pdf.
The meeting recognised the need of civil society organisations to gain access to the IST reports – not only in the interests of open and transparent governance, but also to place such organisations in a better position to assist the state to implement a better health service. The meeting thus called on Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to release these reports publicly.
Role of Parliament in the budgeting process
The Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act 9 of 2009, which was assented to by former President Motlanthe and came into effect on 14 April 2009, gives Parliament wider powers over the budget process and outcome. No longer is Parliament confined to being able only to vote for or against the Budget. It now has the authority and statutory obligation, amongst other things, to consider the fiscal framework, the Division of Revenue Bill and the Appropriations Bill, and to make amendments were deemed appropriate and hold public hearings on all three.
The meeting noted, however, that Act 9 of 2009 has yet to be properly implemented. In this regard, participants called for its full implementation and committed to support Parliament in this regard.
The Free State AIDS Coalition briefed participants on ongoing concerns relating to ARV treatment access in that province. While the first BEMF meeting had been informed of shortages of ARV medicines in Free State health facilities, this second meeting heard about facilities that have adequate stocks of ARV medicines but are short-stocked on a range of other essential drugs.
The meeting therefore called on the DoH to intervene in the affairs of the Free State Health Department in the manner contemplated by the Constitution.
The meeting also heard that the AIDS Law Project (ALP) and Health-e News Service have established a database to record incidents of drug shortages and other problems pertaining to the HIV treatment and prevention programmes. Any similar incidents should be reported to the ALP’s Agnieszka Wlodarski on 011 356 4100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meeting presentations and documents
Four formal presentations were made at the meeting. These are available at http://www.tac.org.za/community/bemf#meeting-2:
Date published:22/02/2010Organisation:Budget and Expenditure Monitoring Forum
- Nathan Geffen of the ALP described challenges to optimising the ARV treatment rollout Francois Venter, President of the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, explained the new draft ARV treatment guidelines, including their advantages and shortcomings.
- Jonathan Berger of the ALP explained the legislative framework for public procurement, with particular reference to the 2010 ARV tender.
- Vishal Brijlal of the Clinton Health Access Initiative, who is advising the DoH on the 2010 ARV tender, explained the proposed tender process.
- The budget tabled today by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was in all likelihood the last that will come in at under R1 trillion. The government will spend R907 billion in the coming financial year, due to the rise in inflation by plus 2 percent in each of the coming three years. We have come a long way, at least in expenditure terms – the 1996/7 budget was R157 billion, and ten years ago, in 2000/1, it was (only) R245 billion.
Minister Gordhan spoke of a ‘new growth path’, the key aims of which would be to create jobs, reduce poverty, and promote economic growth; these constitute as it were a trinity of goals, each expressing in its own way a central thrust, the securing of a better life for all. This ‘new growth path’ also echoed something the Minister said early on in his speech: we must do things differently; we can’t carry on doing the same things and expect different (read: better) results.
There are seven facets to the new growth path. Reducing joblessness among young people; supporting labour intensive industries; raising the levels of domestic savings (thus reducing what has to be borrowed from abroad); improving the State’s performance, especially in education; reforming the labour market; keeping inflation low; and improving competitiveness and skills in the workplace.
All of these are worthy, of course, but just as the President’s State of the Nation address was widely criticised for being long on promises but short on detail, so it might be said of the budget speech that it lacked specificity. On the other hand, the Minister can at least point to the fact that his speech is but the merest synopsis of a great pile of documentation tabled simultaneously; and that anyone who wishes to examine the details will find them set out in the estimates of state expenditure.
Among the specific points that the Minister did deal with, perhaps the most interesting was the announcement of a scheme to promote the hiring of unemployed and unskilled youth by means of a subsidy to employers. This is in itself a welcome development, a public-private partnership of the kind often talked about but seldom concretised. But it also signalled a departure, a new way of doing things. In his long tenure as Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel was never keen on using tax incentives, apparently because of the potential for abuses. However, the youth employment subsidy is to operate through the tax system, which amounts in simple terms to an incentive. If it works it will hopefully not be the last.
There had been much speculation that the Minister would say something about a loosening of the inflation target band of 3-6 percent but, on the contrary, he was especially firm in his statement that the band would remain as is, and that the Reserve Bank would continue with a monetary policy aimed first and foremost at keeping inflation down. While this will win him no friends on the left (or among exporters) he did give an implicit nod to the concerns of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and others that the Reserve Bank is too much of a free agent. Gordhan referred more than once to the fact that he and the Bank’s governor would ‘consult regularly’; and he made a point of saying that the Bank needed to improve the way it communicated its policies and decisions to the public.
Very few people will complain about the lack of tax breaks for higher income earners; the R6.5 billion in income tax relief is correctly destined for lower earners. But all taxpayers should note the Minister’s candid reference to the possibility that taxes might have to be raised in coming years. What we are forced to borrow now will have to be paid back sooner or later; and if the tax base fails to expand, existing taxpayers will ultimately have to cough up.
The introduction of a carbon tax on all new vehicles that emit more than 120 grams of carbon per kilometre is another innovative measure, and one which will be regarded as overdue by many. It will hopefully contribute to greater environmental responsibility, and may be the first of many such taxes: the Minister clearly stated that environmental taxes would be ‘explored’.
The fact that it was not necessary to raise taxes in this budget despite the appalling economic conditions of the last financial year, and that our borrowing requirements remain low by international standards, is a tribute to the prudent, indeed conservative, management of revenue and expenditure by the government for the last 15 years. In this respect Minister Gordhan has stepped smoothly into the shoes of his much-admired predecessor; for all his talk of doing things differently, it appears that not much will change in the overall approach to the budget.
It remains necessary, though, to raise questions; the Minister himself would be the first to accept accountability, as was shown by his clear statement that everything the government takes in as revenue comes ultimately from the tax payer. And the essential question must be: is the money really reaching the places and people that need it most? The ongoing service delivery protests are an indication that the answer to that question is uncertain, at least as far as the poor are concerned. Here is another: the growth in total expenditure from R245 billion in 2000/1 to R907 billion in 2010/11 amounts to some 370% - close to quadrupling. Over the same period, though, the old-age pension merely doubled, from R540 per month to today’s announcement of R1 080.
Southern African Catholic Bishop’s Conference
- Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, has announced that South Africa will spend extra R112 billion in the next three years to tackle poverty, boost job creation and fight HIV/AIDS.
Speaking during his first budget speech since being appointed by President Jacob Zuma nine months ago, Gordhan points out that, "Of these amounts, over half go to provinces and municipalities for education, health, municipal infrastructure and human settlements, reflecting our commitment to sustaining growth in spending on our key priorities."
He also announced that R52 billion will be available over the next three years to support an expanded public works programme aimed at creating 4.5 million short-term job opportunities between 2009 and 2014.
To read the article titled, SA lifts spending to tackle poverty, health,” click here.Source:Mail&Guardian