Umcebo Design Comments on the 2012/3 Budget

Thursday, 23 February, 2012 - 10:22

I am not a financial guru; and therefore my understanding and appreciation for the nitty-gritty of the annual budget is at best a 'street' view and not that of an expert. But on the other hand I have been, in the recent past, directly involved in the arduous and tedious task of trying to source much needed government and private sector funding to keep an NGO alive. This was an NGO dedicated in a very tangible way to providing meaningful work and income generation to the marginalised and unemployed - the very people this year’s budget is dedicated to. Needless to say, my best efforts were unsuccessful. Not only this, but almost every other NGO I have contact with has had the same experience, i.e. a drying up of funding from both government and the private sector.

It seems ironic to me that the government is so willing to throw massive amounts of money at Social Grants, but not at NGO projects dedicated to providing a viable solution to unemployment. Would the government rather have a population of dependents, or a population of people developing skills and earning money through NGO projects?

I know it is a simplistic view; but it seems crazy to me that NGOs are shutting their doors every month due to a lack of funding and government support, and yet at the same time, the government is falling over itself to pump money into Social Grants.

Don't get me wrong; I am not against the governments social spending programmes as such. As we all know, these often allow the most marginalised to survive, and to fight off grinding poverty. This said, what worries me is that I see a system that is paying more and more people to sit and do nothing, as opposed to spend money on meaningful projects and training, that will empower people to find work, and escape this holding pattern that they are in, in the poverty cycle. What would really make me, and so many others happy, is if there was a concerted effort to properly allocate money to the myriad of projects and organisations out there, which are currently fighting to keep the most incredible work and programs alive.

On a daily basis I come across projects and programmes which are closing down because, despite being well run and properly audited, they cannot find the money they so desperately need, to continue the incredible work they are doing. Those in charge of public funding and social spending also do not understand their role and work, and tell many of these organisations that they need to be self-sustaining. The inherent problem in this thinking is that much of this work will always require funding, the difference between it and other social spending is that people are being given skills and opportunities to earn their own money, and eventually even become entrepreneurs, and ultimately perhaps employ others. To me, this is a much more desirable way to invest public funding, and the social spend.

There are a few fortunate organisations that do not battle for funding. What is happening is that the less funding there is to go around, the more concentrated it is becoming in the hands of the blessed few. In reality, the smaller, well run and localised programmes achieve more with the scraps of funding they receive; as opposed to the huge lumbering charities and NGOs that have to spend much of their funding on administration, vehicles, salaries, travel, attending pointless conventions etc... If the government could see this and start systematically supporting the local well-run initiatives, they would be spending their money wisely.

Of course, corporate funding is almost impossible to secure these days. As one would expect, private company funding always dries up during difficult financial times. Companies are under pressure to have social responsibility programmes, and yet they have tight budgets. Inevitably what happens is that they go for the visible and obvious programmes with the highest media 'cache'. Basically any organisation that has the word 'AIDS' in its name is a likely candidate for corporate funding. In reality, all organisations that deal with the unemployed and the marginalised will be dealing with the effects of AIDS both directly and indirectly. I would implore corporates to be more creative in their support of social programmes, and not just go for the easy publicity stunts.

The latest budget, as always, is a sound document. What would also ensure that this document had an impact on all South Africans lives, is if Government reformed their various departments, who currently administer and allocate these sums of money. Currently, one finds in many cases that staff in the various departments is often oblivious of what their job is, and the laws that impact on their work. There are often few or no admin skills, and one often finds that the people in a current job, are so busy applying for the next promotion post, that they develop no capacity, and spend very little time focussing on building their capacity and ability to allocate money, assist the public, and run the general business of government.

In a nutshell, allocating substantial sums of money to social spending is a good start. What we currently require though is that this money is spent on getting people, in as many cases as possible, into meaningful and proper training and work, which is often through NGOs and other organisations and projects. In addition, the arms of government need to be stocked with competent people who take their work seriously, and understand their role, and the laws surrounding their work, so they can effectively distribute money, and not either underspend, not spend at all, or allocate money to ineffective 'sweetheart' projects thrown together, for the purpose of accessing available funding.

Robin Opperman
Umcebo Design


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