National Budget needs stronger civil society input

OUTA challenges Parliament’s make-believe public participation processes on how taxes are taken from and (supposedly) spent for ordinary South Africans.

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10/11/2020 10:20:29

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    National Budget needs stronger civil society input

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    In the annual Budget process, there are some opportunities for South Africans and civil society to make comments and recommendations to National Treasury through specific committees in Parliament, but these opportunities have proven to be ineffective and hollow. No wonder South Africans are becoming outraged by government’s refusal to change wasteful and corrupt ways.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Since 2018, OUTA has participated in each public hearing that was hosted to give members of the public an opportunity to engage with the Finance Committees of Parliament and, to some extent, with National Treasury, in response to the annual Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) and concomitant revised fiscal frameworks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    These processes, whilst boring and unpopular, can have a very real impact on your pocket. For example, these committees have the power to reject and approve the proposed rates of taxation which National Treasury puts forward every year.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA also participates in equivalent public hearings of the Appropriations Committees, which are focused on how taxpayers’ money is distributed. Hence, we are also calling for real public participation in the financial oversight by portfolio committees in Parliament. To date, government has maintained the paternalistic attitude that South Africans cannot understand the Budget and how their own hard-earned taxes are handled. This is why citizens are enraged.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    On 6 November 2020, OUTA had the rare privilege of engaging with National Treasury and hearing its response to civil society comments and recommendations following the Minister of Finance’s latest Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS). Parliament is constitutionally mandated to facilitate government by the people and for the people, and decision-making on how taxpayers’ money is spent must be inclusive.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    However, it is not.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA has explicitly highlighted what we see as irrational choices on expenditure such as repeated bailouts of unviable state-owned entities (SOEs) like SAA. How taxes are collected and spent must comply with the Constitution, the Public Finance Management Act and Municipal Finance Management Act. Continuing to reward SOEs whose financial management remains poor is to reward state capture at the expense of the people.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Following a consistent lack of inclusive outcomes, OUTA sent a letter to the chairpersons of the Standing and Select Committees on Finance asking them to initiate proceedings to review Parliament’s public participation model on budgetary matters.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Meaningful engagement with those who decide how our hard-earned taxes are collected and spent should not be a privilege for which South Africans should have to beg. Government has repeatedly failed to convince us that it has our best interests at heart in the way it makes financial decisions, and this is why OUTA is now working towards enhanced opportunities for the public interest to be represented without fear or favour in the national Budget cycle.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Disappointingly, what civil society gets from its substantive inputs is largely lip service and empty promises. This can be attributed to a variety of factors ranging from a lack of political will to change the way government spends money, to structural constraints in the Budget cycle that see public inputs come after real decisions have been made by politicians who do not account to the public.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA wants opportunities for impactful engagement at the time that the decisions are actually being made, not after the fact. We also want inclusive oversight in Parliament, where citizens and organised civil society give MPs empirical evidence of, for example, how tax money spent does not translate into services delivered and how services go unpaid.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The public is fed up with technical responses and condescending excuses from Parliament and National Treasury when civil society asks tough questions and makes recommendations that do not align with political agendas.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Picture: Shutterstock

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA is a proudly South African civil action organisation, that is purely crowd funded. Our work is supported by ordinary citizens who are passionate about holding government accountable and ensuring our taxes are used to the benefit of all South Africans.