SPII Talk II: Lehlohlonolo Kekana on Budgeting for change
Chiawelo budgeting for change project: Fostering public participation through active engagement with the local government budgeting process and IDPS
In a democratic society that encourages a citizen-state relationship premised on public participation in the constitution, and as a way of enabling the division of power through a system of ‘checks and balances’ between government and its citizens, it is of paramount importance that citizens understand the nature of this relationship and their respective roles. This is what the SPII Budgeting for Change Project aims to achieve at its core: to capacitate ordinary citizens with the necessary knowledge to negotiate and perform their role in this relationship.
In reality, many citizens are not privy to the existence and extent of the roles that they are supposed to play in public participation. As far as some people are concerned, public participation is only limited to voting and protesting. In most cases, such events, sadly often lead to a dwindled public trust in government while eroding the citizen-government relationship.
To a larger extent, much recent citizen-government relationship in South Africa has tended to be confrontational. This might be attributed to the frequent failures of government in attending to the various problems inherent in our communities. As such, people always feel the need to take to the streets and burn tires, loot and damage infrastructure in an attempt to command the attention of the government. So it may seem that protests can be an effective way of holding the government to account, however looting and damaging infrastructure only adds fuel to the fire as it creates unnecessary costs, and often the protest is about a lack of delivery of the types of infrastructure damaged or destroyed in the protest.
In an attempt to foster meaningful public participation, on the 20th and 21st of May 2021, the Studies in Poverty and Inequality (SPII) hosted its third local government budget training workshop as part of the Budgeting for Change Project.
Community members, made up of a cocktail of vibrant individuals, came out in numbers to participate and receive the necessary knowledge needed to champion better service delivery for themselves. The focus of this workshop was centered around local government budgeting processes with an emphasis on the Integrated Development Plan.
The goal of this focus on the local government budgeting process was to bring budget information closer to the people in a manner that simplifies the often alienating and complex nature of the budget information. By simplifying this information, it becomes more accessible in terms of engaging with it.
When ordinary citizens are equipped with the necessary information to help them understand issues that affect them as a community, and that exposes them to the relevant options and solutions in remedying these issues, they are in a better position to participate meaningfully in matters of government in a manner that builds consensus and agreement.
For example, in the context of the Budgeting for Change project, budget literacy information can help people understand how local government budgets for the provision of basic services, which in turn can aid in monitoring the progress of infrastructure developments. People can begin to produce meaningful inputs into the decision-making process.
According to Lelona Mxesibe, SPII researcher, in the opening of the budget training, public governance can only be truly meaningful if citizens have full access to sufficient information. These words epitomize the important role that credible information plays in meaningful public participation. As such, more advocacy work like the Budgeting for Change Project, is needed to equip people with relevant information to encourage a more meaningful public participation guided by the desire to foster progressive social change.