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Budget 2019: Citizens and civil society cannot afford to relax

Dr Paul Kariuki

Most people said the budget address by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni was doom and gloom, as it confirmed the worsening state of the nation’s finances. The budget had little to inspire confidence, even though there will be no increase in personal taxes. With a shortfall in revenue collection, where will the state get the money it needs to uplift a struggling economy? Where will money come from to bail out ailing state-owned enterprises (SOEs)? Why did value-added tax remain the same when citizens are struggling?

Citizens are tired of lip service and are expecting greater clarity by the government of how it will fulfil the promises President Cyril Ramaphosa made during his State of the Nation address (Sona). 

Ramaphosa said his administration would cut down on government expenditure.

To appreciate government’s intention to respond to economic challenges and build citizens’ confidence in its plans, there are several decisive actions that the state must implement speedily.

First, it is important to reduce expenditure on SOEs significantly. It is unacceptable to continue investing in enterprises that are riddled with corruption, poor governance and a bloated workforce. The cost to the economy of running such enterprises is huge and unjustifiable given the social challenges facing the nation.

Second, the government must institute radical measures to manage public sector expenditure, especially its wage bill. The national treasury must set up independent treasury inspectors at the municipal level to arrest the high levels of financial mismanagement that often impede delivery of basic services. Unless tighter financial management controls are enforced the resource leakage will continue unabated, further draining the already strained local fiscus.

Third, citizens are observing closely the pace at which the revelations from the Zondo and Mpati commissions will be addressed. These inquiries continue to unravel new layers of corruption and theft. The proposed investigation unit within the National Prosecuting Authority will not let these revelations pass without decisive action and thorough investigation to ensure prosecutions do not collapse in court because of mishandling of useful evidence. More importantly, all monies embezzled from the fiscus because of dubious and shoddy dealings must be recovered speedily and redirected towards meeting the needs of citizens. At the same time, citizens expect the culprits to be prosecuted to promote the rule of law.

Fourth, there is a dire need to ensure high levels of competency in the public service to execute government programmes. It is imperative that the government pays attention to cadre deployment, which has always compromised the state’s capacity to deliver public services adequately. The economic cost associated with maintaining a not-so-competent staff complement is unaffordable in an ailing economy.

Fifth, given all the promises in the Sona, there is an expectation that the economy will not only grow but also create jobs to address unemployment and alleviate poverty. But implementation of government plans depends on ensuring that adequate revenues are collected so they can be reinvested in labour-intensive sectors to ensure the majority of the unemployed, especially young people, gain access to the mainstream economy and earn a living.

Sixth, the newly promised investments must be secured speedily so citizens can experience the benefits. The nation runs the risks of overspending when very minimal revenues go back into the treasury to support implementation of government programmes. The state must also work harder to ensure there are no risks of downgrades by rating agencies, which will create more havoc in an already struggling economy.

In conclusion, as South Africa heads to the polls, citizens will be careful in how they cast their votes. This is because they are desperate for change in their circumstances. With uncertainty in the growth and revenue forecasts, there is little assurance of generating adequate revenue. As such, citizens’s votes will be hard-won this time around. They won’t trade off their values for political favours. For this reason, citizens and civil society cannot afford to relax and watch the space. They will not endorse party positions that do not capture their aspirations or address the pressing challenges.

Citizens and civil society must return to spirited civic activism to ensure that the implementation of the Sona promises are sped up and depoliticised.  The state should expect enhanced civic activism aimed at ensuring that the interests of citizens are prioritised in its programmes at all levels of governance, irrespective of the state of the economy.

Dr Paul Kariuki is the executive director of the Democracy Development Programme, a national nongovernmental organisation headquartered in Durban. The views expressed here are his own. 

Click here to read the article on the Mail&Guardian website. 

 

 

 

 

 

CIVIL SOCIETY WELCOMES THE SIGNING OF POLITICAL PARTY FUNDING BILL: CITIZEN PRESSURE CAN END CORRUPTION

By Dr Paul Kariuki: DDP Executive Director

The last 12 months have been anxiety-causing months for African countries. We have seen economic turbulence, a rise in social injustices because of poor economic and political governance in most countries as well as an increase in unemployment, especially among young people. In many ways, it has been a year of economic unpredictability and political upheavals.

Notably, most of the elections conducted this year across the continent, were held in very unpromising contexts, characterized by flawed processes, resulting in controversial outcomes Arguably, many of the gains made in the early 1990s, came under threat from governments with little commitment to democracy. But while 2018 presented evidence of the danger of democratic backsliding on the continent, it also saw a rise in citizen activism supported by civil society advocacy efforts. One of the results from these sustained civic and citizens action is the signing of the Political Party Funding Bill.

Whilst the signing of the Bill by President Cyril Ramaphosa is welcomed and historic, all eyes are on its implementation by Parliament. All political parties now by law, required to disclose their sources of private funding. There is no doubt that its implementation will enhance accountability and transparency of South Africa’s political and electoral system. Interestingly, the Bill has been signed at a time when the nation is grappling to understand the BOSASA scandal, juxtaposed in between the State Capture inquiry and the VBS Bank scandal. All these events in the recent months have left the citizenry riling about the gross depths of corruption in the country and the missing checks and balances to mitigate against such a negative trend. Infact, the recent release of Corruption Perception Index (CPI), by Transparency International, confirmed that countries around the globe need to do more if they are to win the fight against corruption.

According to the report, most countries are failing to curb corruption. South Africa ranked number 54 in 2008 falling to number 71 in 2017. Whilst corruption is not a South African phenomenon alone, it is a global concern and calls for a collective citizenry-centred action to hold those in leadership accountable for their actions. This said, the assenting of the Bill by President Ramaphosa, is a step in the right direction, signalling the change that the citizenry is longing to see.

However, the onus now is on the Parliament to speed up processes leading to its successful implementation. However, the timing of its release may not have been not ideal, since political parties do not have enough time to declare their sources of private funding, give their spirited attention to campaigning for votes and the fact that Parliament is still on recess. Whilst the law is not effected yet, political parties are not prohibited from disclosing the sources of their private funding. Infact, doing so before the national and provincial elections, would most likely secure votes from the electorate as it spells a good sign of faith. Nevertheless, it is a welcomed progress towards stemming corruption in the country. Moreover, the Bill stills needs further scrutiny to address any potential loop holes that hamper its original intent – to foster transparency and accountability.

Civil society will continue with its advocacy mission to ensure loop holes are attended to and closed and the legislation process is speeded up without any further delay. At the same time, the sector urges the citizenry to exact pressure on their political parties to declare their sources of funding as part of their manifesto conversations with them.

Overall, our young democracy is maturing fast despite the challenges it is facing. With concerted effort as a society, there is a greater chance of ensuring the ideals of an inclusive country envisioned in our world-acclaimed constitution are realized. Our hard-won democracy, that our founding fathers and mothers, fought hard secure and liberate our country from every form of indignity, demands decisive action against all forms governance malfeasance. Corruption cannot continue unabated neither can youth unemployment be ignored among other pressing challenges. Simply stated, the nation needs an inspiring economic vision, one that is inclusive and promises to lead towards sustainable growth. There is a lot to be done and time for collective action is now. It is in our hands!

 

This article was published on the City Press, Sunday 10 February 2019. 

Civil society in 2019 — the year of redemption and renewal

By: DDP Executive Director Dr Paul Kariuki

In 2018, civil society observed a rise in civic activism, a spirited effort by ordinary citizens that challenged the status quo in many ways, demanding better services from government at all levels of governance as well as holding it accountable for its actions and decisions.

As result, the nation saw numerous Cabinet reshuffles and resignations, the establishment of commissions of enquiry, as well as a scrutiny of government promises and decisions on politically sensitive issues such as the land question.

 

This year is a critical one for the country; there are expectations for the government to deliver on last year’s promises concerning job creation and the promotion of good governance in the public sector, including municipalities and state-owned enterprises.

Civil society expects speedy implementation of policy decisions that were promised last year, especially with regard to the Public Audit Amendment Bill 2018, which gave the auditor general Kimi Makwetu authority to act against public officials implicated in the misappropriation of government resources.

In his report, Makwetu noted that government’s irregular expenditure had reached R50-billion, five times more than the total in 2017. The nation has hailed the Bill as an extraordinary step towards fighting corruption, and its implementation may turn the tide of state misappropriation of finances, providing a glimmer of hope.

The media played a significant role of enlightening South Africa’s citizens on several such issues. It is prudent to expect the media to sustain its citizen education project with responsible and ethical journalism.

Click here to read full article 

MESSAGE FROM THE DDP EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Dr Paul Kariuki

A message of great wishes to all our partners for the new year... from the Executive Director as well as the DDP Team. 

“Deepening Partnerships for Sustainable Active Citizenship” 

Early retirement as Executive Director of DDP

“I’m so glad we had this time together…but now it’s time to say good bye”

Dear colleagues and friends of DDP it is with mixed emotions that I wish to announce my departure from DDP, an organisation that I have served for 25 years. I believe that my work here is done and it is time to make way for the next generation to carry on the work that I had started. During my tenure I have had the opportunity to work with many of you in many different capacities and all of this has contributed to my personal growth, the growth of the organisation and the strengthening of our democracy.

I have always espoused the value of authentic partnerships, and the power of collaboration. I would like to believe that I have modelled this value in all our interactions over the years.

I will be exiting the organisation at the end of 2018 and am confident that I am leaving behind an energised and efficient team to lead the organisation and its work well into the future. I leave an organisation that has a clear succession plan and an embedded ethos of   collaboration rather than competition.

I still believe I have something to contribute to the building of this nation and will be using my Organisational Development and leadership training to facilitate workshops with civil society organisations and educational institutions. My leadership role is done!

 I will remain closely associated with the work of DDP as I will always regard it as the place that allowed me to make the greatest contribution to the building of this nation.

It has been a privilege working with all you amazing people and organisations. I want to wish you well in your work and I know that our paths will still cross often. I hope that I have the opportunity in the coming months to meet with each of you personally and say thank you for walking with me. My new contact details are as follows:

rama@6degreeshift.com

www.6degreeshift.com

Yours in service

Rama