Budgeting for Change – Budget Advocacy in South Africa
South Africa is a constitutional democracy, with justiciable socio-economic rights (SERs). These rights include the rights of access to housing, health care services, sufficient food and water, and social security. These rights are subject to the clause that “(t)he State must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights.”
The issue of budget allocation of public funds is crucial, as is the question of fiscal policy monitoring for post-Apartheid transformation, especially in the face of South Africa’s extremely high level of inequality. Civil society’s ability to monitor the state’s constitutional obligation to progressively realise the full enjoyment of access to the SERs contained in the Bill of Rights is particularly important. Choices about the allocation of public budgets directly impacts on everyone living in South Africa, but most directly affect the poor. Engagement with the public budgeting system requires that people have access to information about the allocations, have the skills to understand the implication of such allocations, are able to advocate for more progressive alternative allocations, and have access and skills to use the media to gain wider traction for these alternatives.
It is highly relevant for South Africa to invest in broad based budget advocacy and awareness at this juncture, where there have been a number of contestations and struggles for control of the State revenue, which has led to ordinary citizens in South Africa being increasingly aware of the importance of public spending and the public budget.
Budget monitoring in the early years of South Africa’s democracy was a strength within civil society. A number of CSOs provided practical training and advocacy for issue and sector specific NGOs, such as the Institute for Democratic Alternatives in South Africa’s (IDASA) Budget Information Service and Children’s Budget Unit; the People’s Budget Campaign of the South African NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), the South African Council of Churches (SACC) as well as the group of CSOs of the Budget and Expenditure Monitoring Forum (BEMF). Trade Unions such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) have a strong record with regards to budget analysis and advocacy. Gender and children’s budget monitoring was strong. This skill has regrettably been severely weakened as skilled people have left the sector, and some of the institutions themselves have closed due to, amongst other things, issues of sustainability. The impact of this is that there has been a very real depletion of skills and people able to provide the necessary training to new entrants to civil society in South Africa on budget monitoring and expenditure.
Addressing this skills deficit, as well as providing a coordinating role for progressive civil society budget advocacy is crucial and it is within this context that SPII engages with ‘Budgeting for Change.’Addressing this skills deficit, as well as providing a coordinating role for progressive civil society budget advocacy is crucial and it is within this context that SPII engages with ‘Budgeting for Change.’