Accounting for Basic Services (ABS): Participatory Budgeting

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Participatory Budgeting (PB) is the process by which citizens deliberate and negotiate over the distribution of public resources.  PB/municipal budgeting programs are implemented at the will of governments, citizens, NGOs, and civil society organizations to give citizens a direct role in deciding how and where public resources should be spent.  These programs create opportunities for engaging, educating, and empowering citizens. These active citizens contribute to fostering a more vibrant civil society.  PB also helps to promote transparency, which has the potential to reduce government inefficiencies and corruption (IBP, accessed Jan. 2017)

There have been numerous attempts to manufacture a system that enables citizens to participate in the developmental affairs of their municipalities. Many of these legislated platforms, like the ward committee system, have come under scrutiny from the proponents for active citizenry. The main criticism is that existing public participation strategies may not be as effective as they were initially designed to be. Within the many debates around participatory democracy,it has been found that getting people involved in the budgeting and allocation of funds within a municipality brings confidence and involvement to the citizens as they partake in their own development agenda.

In countries (such as Porto Allegre and Brazil) where municipal/public budgeting has become a working system, it has been found that most citizens who participate in PB are low-income and have low levels of formal education, and are groups who have been historically excluded from budget decisions. These countries provide empirical proof that effective PB programs create active citizens that are then able to make choices that affect how their government acts (IBP, accessed Jan. 2017).

Afesis-corplan, together with national and international partners -namely: Planact (Gauteng/Mpumalanga), BESG (KZN), Isandla (Western Cape) and HBF (Western Cape); IBP who have been assisting with social audits and Budget trainings; and the Social Audit network – are in the process of rolling out the Accounting For Basic Services programme (ABS), which focuses on equipping citizens with legislated knowledge on Municipal budgeting systems and the roles they are meant to play.

In fostering an environment of accountability, the programme will employ various Service Monitoring Tools such as social audits, community score cards and other similar initiatives. Troubleshooting the procurement process around the refurbishment of Glenmore sports field (Glenmore is a rural community on the outskirts of Ngqushwa Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape) we will be engaging with the municipality and the various players through the use of the Social Audit process.

Positioning communities as accountability agents comes with its own set of challenges, one of these being able to access relevant information without resistance or prejudice from the municipality. And although Acts such as the Promotion of Access to Information are used, as per the book, it is still a challenge accessing information.

As we endeavour to create a society in which we would all want to live, where the principles of democracy are realised, there’s a need to continually revisit and at times reshape the chosen trajectory  to “development”. Community development is a journey rather than a destination and using tools and strategies like Public Budgeting and other citizen-centric monitoring tools could yield better results. Stay with us on this journey as we unearth the true South African Citizen, one that holds its Government to Account for Basic Services.