Improving participation in the budget process

What can South Africa do to maintain its ranking in the Open Budget Index survey and to improve outcomes for citizens?

Picture: PEXELS

Shortly prior to the 2018 Budget Speech, it was announced that South Africa achieved joint first place with New Zealand in the Open Budget Index 2017 survey. This is an impressive achievement that South Africa can be proud of. The Open Budget Index is the world’s only independent, comparative measure of central government budget transparency. Each country is given a score between 0 and 100 that determines its ranking. South achieved 89 out of 100 for transparency, whereas the global average is 43 out of 100.

South Africa’s Open Budget Index scores

South Africa is a top performer globally, having consistently ranked in the top four and above in the Open Budget Index rankings since the survey was initiated. But, what can South Africa do to maintain its ranking and to improve outcomes for citizens? On the measure of public participation, South Africa scored 24 out of 100. This is an area that the International Budget Partnership which undertakes the Open Budget Index Survey has identified as an area for improvement for South Africa.

Recommendations for Improving Participation in the Budget Process

The International Budget Partnership has identified three main actions that South Africa should prioritize to improve public participation in its budget process:

1. Pilot mechanisms for members of the public and executive branch officials to exchange views on national budget matters during the monitoring of the national budget’s implementation. These mechanisms could build on innovations, such as participatory budgeting and social audits.

2. Hold legislative hearings on the formulation of the annual budget, during which any members of the public or civil society organizations can testify.

3. Establish formal mechanisms for the public to assist the supreme audit institution in formulating its audit program and to participate in relevant audit investigations.

The Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency has compiled an informative series of country case studies, which profile the mechanisms that a variety of countries have used to improve participation. See: fiscaltransparency.net/mechanisms.

Four of these mechanisms for improving participation are selected and profiled below as possible inspiration for South Africa, based on the International Budget Partnership’s prioritized recommendations.

PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING

CANADA

Actions South Africa could take:

In order to receive the public’s opinion on priorities for government spending and the fiscal framework, the Minister of Finance could undertake to hold a series of in-person roundtables with civil society. Certain of these roundtable engagements could be themed in accordance with sectoral interests that CSOs express or priority issues for the country. Additional cabinet members could be included based on their portfolios.

Next steps:

Ø IMALI YETHU and National Treasury to prepare a memo to the Minister of Finance suggesting roundtables with civil society.

PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING

Mexico

Actions South Africa could take:
There is an urgent need to address poor infrastructure in South African schools, including the provision of safe bathroom facilities. IMALI YETHU, the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation and the National Treasury could create an online platform to monitor the implementation. The International Budget Partnership has outlined what data is needed to do adequate monitoring. The platform can allow for photographic evidence to be submitted by communities. In the longer term, the broader approach that Mexico has taken can be considered.

Next steps:

Ø IMALI YETHU, DPME and National Treasury to prepare a concept note for a monitoring platform or the incorporation thereof into an existing platform.

Ø Joint approach to the Department of Basic Education offering to partner to ensure success.

PUBLIC HEARINGS ON THE FORMULATION OF THE ANNUAL BUDGET

South Korea

Actions South Africa could take:

To initiate public hearings at Parliament that form part of pre-budget consultations, IMALI YETHU and National Treasury could approach Parliament to request consideration of this proposal.

Next steps:

Ø Develop a draft submission to Parliament.

Ø Circulate draft submission to CSOs, NGOs and academics for inputs.

Ø Submit to Parliament.

Ø Engage with Parliament regarding submission.

MECHANISMS FOR THE PUBLIC TO ASSIST THE AUDITOR GENERAL

Actions South Africa could take:

To ensure public participation in the audit process, IMALI YETHU could approach the Auditor General to partner in a Citizen Participatory Audit process, which would allow CSOs to provide support in the audit process. GTAC conducts Performance Expenditure Reviews (PERs). It could be proposed to the Auditor General’s office that part of a pre-audit engagement process would be to receive presentations on PERs. There is also an opportunity to set up formal partnerships to combat corruption.

Next steps:

Ø Develop a letter to the Auditor General regarding Citizen Participatory Audits and pre-audit engagements on the efficiency of spending.

Ø Engage with the Auditor General’s Office to develop a partnership between whistleblower organisations and the AG’s office.


This article first appeared in the Imali Yethu newsletter.

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