Overall I feel positive about the budget, it certainly addresses the critical challenges South Africa is facing – expanding the economy, unemployment and reducing poverty – seeing economic growth and employment creation as key drivers of income growth and poverty reduction.
However, as mentioned by the minister of finance, it is going to require “all hands on deck” to achieve this! I particularly appreciate the challenge that is put to business – in terms of employment creation, business has to come to the party. But, this can only be achieved in an enabling environment. Government has to play its role regarding the creation of an enabling environment – we need a policy environment that will foster not only foreign investment but, will encourage local business to invest the spoils in this country!
I am particularly pleased about the commitment to make unemployed youth the focus of the support to job creation – the growing numbers in terms of youth unemployment is concerning as it means a crucial age group in the country is not enjoying opportunities in terms of skills development, building valuable work experience and earning an income to improve their lives. Without employment, many of these young people remain dependent on their aging parents and this puts a huge strain on households. The big challenge is going to be creating sustainable jobs into which to absorb the growing numbers of young people.
Given that the main allocations are going towards infrastructure development, it is particularly pleasing that this will be accompanied by skills and capacity development. It is a particularly worrying factor that over many years huge allocations have been made to municipalities for example, and there has not been the capacity to implement much needed projects.
It is only through effective implementation that budget allocations translate into meaningful changes in the lives of people. Once again, it will take will, commitment, capacity and courage on the part of government to ensure that budget allocations translate into meaningful changes in the lives of poor people. The allocations aimed at strengthening financial management in the public sector are commendable, we are all aware that without the requisite skills and capacity these budget allocations achieve very little.
This phase truly has to be seen as a time for effective implementation so that we do not come to the end of the financial year with only 30% of budget allocations having been spent. It is in this regard that monitoring is going to be critical. However, it important that monitoring is seen not as policing or only for purposes of accounting but, monitoring has to be seen and undertaken as a continuous process of stopping, taking stock, reflecting, learning and re-planning. If this becomes an important part of how things are done, there will be fewer cases of unspent allocations at the end of the financial year or cycle.
At the start of his address the minister mentions the importance of working together of all role players and goes on to mention that it will take dedicated activists and a compelling vision to turn things around in this country. He goes on to speak of the need for “dynamic partnerships” between government, business, unions and other civil society formations.
While I agree with the minister on the matter of ‘dynamic partnerships’, I wish to point out that it remains challenging for civil society organisations to build and sustain dynamic partnerships with government – engagement with government has been reduced to tendering for projects as service providers! Building and sustaining “dynamic relationships” will require that all actors ask themselves whether we can do what is needed with regard to the socio-economic challenges South Africa is facing. Dynamic partnerships will require that we interrogate our motives, our choices and actions – within such partnership arrangements we would need to act with courage and engage critically!
While support for emerging farmers is pleasing, it leaves me completely convinced that such support will only be directed to those small farmers within the commercial farming stream and will not at all benefit the many emerging farmers who are supported by non-profit organisations and make use of alternative agricultural practices. How sad that these emerging farmers will continue not to benefit from such support from government!
Looking at how we are going to fund the National Health Insurance horrifies me – an increase in VAT leaves me shuddering. There is part of me which hopes that we get the NHI going but, without investing in developing skills in the public health system, I am left feeling and wondering whether it is going to be a worthwhile investment.
So, when the minister speaks of investing in people and increasing allocations to education, health and social assistance it does sound noble… however, on closer look the bigger investment in health is going into infrastructure development. No doubt this is needed but, the real investment in people would require such development is accompanied by sustained skills development. While the increases in social security sounds commendable, on closer look the actual increases for some of the poorest people in our society are miserable amounts that hold potential for increasing their desperation.
When the minister speaks of changes to the procurement policies and practices I don’t think addition of another level of management does the trick, there is need for a complete overhaul of the process. In its present state, the process encourages corruption!
I take away two challenges for CDRA as a development organisation; the first one is finding those strategic opportunities for building ‘dynamic partnerships’ with government and other actors. Secondly, if our organisations are to make a contribution towards development of a sustainable and democratic South Africa, then we have to find a role in the building of cohesive communities and social solidarity.
Community Development Resource Association.