State failure hurts tax collection

By: Dr Paul Kariuki - DDP Programs Director

Since democracy in 1994, the government has been promoting a developmental local government that is responsive to the needs of citizens.This entails among other things substantial financial resources to ensure that the government adequately meets the needs of its citizenry.

But, despite significant financial resources allocated and expended by municipalities on the delivery of basic services, satisfactory service delivery remains a distant dream for most people.

Moreover, over the past decade, the revenue bases of municipalities have dwindled, especially those in peri-urban and rural areas, adversely affecting the capacity of municipalities to deliver services to their constituencies. 

And the challenge of providing services efficiently and effectively will seemingly linger for a long while given the current low tax collection by the South African Revenue Service because of citizens withholding their taxes. When Malusi Gigaba was minister of finance, his medium-term budget policy statement in October last year reported that the economy was expected to grow by 0.7%. This was against the backdrop of the state failing to collect about R50.6-billion in taxes.

The situation hasn’t changed much since then. Given that the nation is technically in recession, the fiscus is under dire financial strain. The treasury is at pains to explore ways to reinvigorate the economy so that it can grow and stimulate a conducive environment for creating jobs.

But the question that still lingers is: Why are citizens withholding paying their taxes?

Although their reasons are diverse, some of the main reasons could be attributed to poor service provision by municipalities, unbridled corruption in the municipalities and the government generally, political patronage, weak enforcement of public finance management requirements resulting in ineffective monitoring of public expenditure processes and lopsided revenue sources and expenditure plans.

All these factors combined could be contributing towards the low morale of citizens and their decision to withhold their taxes.

South Africans are becoming increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of service delivery, and are demanding not just improved service delivery but also discernible value for money on public expenditure. To a large extent, the discontent among citizens is clearly about the failure of their taxes in the form of government revenue (inputs) translating into expected services (outputs).

Furthermore, most municipalities continue to receive qualified audit reports, with the majority reporting high levels of wasteful expenditure of taxpayers’ monies that cannot be accounted for. This is disheartening to say the least and warrants urgent correction if citizens’ hopes in the municipalities are to be restored.

Citizens’ unwillingness to pay their taxes faithfully as required by the law must be understood against this background. In the face of dwindling tax revenue to support government programmes, it must cut spending on nonperforming state entities to prioritise basic service provision and other urgent and pressing needs, such as fees for students in higher education institutions.

Citizens are expecting urgent remedial action by the national government to raise their hopes. Inadequate revenues have the capacity to affect local governance adversely. Civil protests are highly likely to become the order of the day, especially when citizens can no longer bear the weight of the increasing cost of living with little or no affordable and accessible public services.

With fiscal risks increasing at an alarming rate, the treasury will be at pains to allocate sufficient resources in its 2019 budget to ensure local governance is not adversely affected by any cuts in spending. Financial management in municipalities must be tightened to ensure that wasteful expenditure is halted permanently.

Other corporate governance failures, such as not holding corrupt municipal officials to account for their lack of professionalism, must be enforced while at the same time promoting responsible financial stewardship in the municipalities.

Inherent in this argument is a view that citizens will be observing closely to see how the government will respond to the fiscal challenge. The integrated development plans, for instance, cannot be effectively implemented without adequate financial resources. This, in turn, implies service delivery will remain unaddressed, further exacerbating the present development challenges.

But there is a twin side to this challenge — citizens’ tax morality. For law-abiding citizens, paying taxes is a moral obligation that cannot be negated, irrespective of the levels of disillusionment with the government. Failure to pay taxes means delayed services provision and prolonged spates of poverty, unemployment and widening income inequalities, among other challenges. Moreover, noncompliance is illegal and can attract prosecution.

This is a clarion call to all law-abiding citizens to pay their taxes so that together we can exercise our civic duty of holding the government accountable, as enshrined in the Constitution.

For its part, the government must use public resources responsibly, curb corruption and all forms of maladministration in all spheres of governance and prosecute those public servants who break the law and misappropriate public resources.



The experiences of foreign nationals and other migrants in South Africa- Radio Talk-shows

The talk-shows were a series of engagements that intended to continue to unpack the experiences of migrant women that were generated as part of the focus groups and dialogue sessions in the execution of the Cities Alliance project. The show also intended to unpack our experience, through observation and interviews, the readiness of cities and government departments in ensuring that all migration was adequately accounted for in City planning and so forth.

Listeners’ response towards the topic:

There was significant engagement from listeners in the talk show itself via the various channels that the radio station had put in place, which included live-call-ins, Facebook and WhatsApp. Throughout, the listeners were kept engaged on the process.

a) Listeners -
What was the feedback from the listeners regarding the topics discussed?

The trend of the responses became progressively positive over the course of the talk shows. In the very first engagement, the listeners seemed to be quite antagonistic towards foreign migrants in particular- with views with indicated that they may have thought that the foreign nationals were actively taking work away from locals, and that there is a significant influx, to the extent that the shortage in services and resources available at various communities could be linked to government having to deal with a larger number of people than initially envisaged.

There was an appreciation for this type of content though, and an acknowledgement that there needs to be more of these forums to encourage engagements between locals and migrants to develop a greater degree of understanding.

Any noticeable knowledge and attitude change towards migrants?

As the shows progressed, the attitude did become more positive, and callers were able to see their own complicity in not being more willing to have these conversations with their foreign counterparts. Beyond that, it was stressed that government institutions do need to do more to educate and inform local communities about the reasons for migration, and to create an environment that’s conducive to foreigners adapting, learning and contributing towards the growth and development of local communities.

 Any knowledge gaps?

There is a great gap in terms of immigration policies, as we as the constitutional obligations of government in respect of foreign nationals. 

 Way forward:

Any possibilities emanating from the talk shows that are relevant to the project that should be considered in future similar interventions?

Dialogues need to be a consistent feature of programs like these.

Lessons Learnt for DDP and other Project Partners:

It’s important to involve communities in their own development.

When considering where to initiate conversations such as this, it’s important to involve the government institutions/departments implicated in the specific issue, as well as hosting other engagements inside the community to encourage that participation, as radio talk shows can sometimes be quite didactic in circumstances which other accompanying actions speaking to the topic being discussed are not there.

Civil society can and must promote women's participation in shaping SA

The role of women in shaping the new, democratic SA is well documented. However, their contribution to social change and development has often been underrepresented.

By: Dr Paul Kariuki


The role of women in shaping the new, democratic SA is well documented. However, their contribution to social change and development has often been underrepresented. Globally, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union based in Geneva, more women were elected to national parliaments in 2017 than in 2016. This took them from 23% of seats to 23.4%. Although the increase was marginal, it was nevertheless encouraging that more women are recognising that they have the potential to lead and contribute significantly in society.

The South African government has made significant strides in recognising the role that women play in leadership.

For instance, in 2008, women made up 43% of the cabinet, and held 33% of the seats in provincial legislatures. SA’s first woman deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, was appointed in 2005.

The enforcement of electoral quotas for women is one of the major contributors to increasing numbers of women in national and regional leadership. Such electoral reforms should be encouraged as they are needed to continually challenge conventional norms about gender roles in society, which endlessly normalise leadership as a men-only domain.

Women empowerment is about addressing gender oppression, gender-based violence, sexism, racism and all other forms of exclusion that dehumanise women and limit their collective and individual capabilities to make informed life choices.

While the above statistics are laudable, much remains to be done in enhancing significant representation of women across all sectors of the economy.

What can civil society do? The sector should continue advocating for electoral reforms to ensure political parties field genderbalanced electoral lists. This is a moral responsibility that every political party should embrace. The 2019 national and provincial election is a great test for the sector to ensure political parties walk their talk.

The sector should press for more structural reforms that allow more women to participate actively and equitably in the mainstream economy. This advocacy effort should promote equitable allocation of financial resources in the government’s development budgets, nationally, provincially and locally, for more women and girls to be trained in professions that were previously male-dominated.

Although there is a conscious effort from various professions to enable women to enter these professions, there are still pockets of systemic resistance to diversity and transformation. These need to be addressed urgently to promote gender sensitivity.

The sector ought to promote civic education that seeks to sensitise society about the important role that women play in entrenching values that give rise to new norms where gender does not matter as far as our collective and individual contributions in society are concerned.

For instance, the critical role that women played in the liberation struggle remains unknown to many youngsters. It is important to retell stories of the sacrifices women made for our freedom, the pain they endured and the hardship they encountered. The views of women are crucial in creating new narratives that promote equality and recognition of the crucial roles that women are playing in deepening democracy in the country.

Such civic education will go a long way in stemming the unnatural trend observed in our society of atrocities against women and young girls.

The sector should encourage women to engage fiercely in issues of national importance, such as the land reform debates. Sometimes national discourses may seem overwhelming to people, especially those who are not naturally public speakers. Women must be courageous about taking up opportunities to engage.

Civil society should continue exerting advocacy pressure on the judicial system to mete out stiffer sentences against perpetrators of gender-based violence. The increasing incidence of assault against women is shocking and the justice system seems not to hand down sentences stiff enough to deter perpetrators of these criminal acts. There is a need for ongoing advocacy to lobby the criminal justice system to be more sensitive towards women and girls.

It is a collective societal responsibility, for men too, to promote women as equal contributors to a gender-responsible society. The government and all social partners must use all available measures, including policy regulation and advocacy, to support women’s ascendancy into weighty and strategic leadership roles in society.

✼Dr Kariuki is the programmes director of the Democracy Development Programme, and writes in his personal capacity


Democracy Development Program Stakeholder’s reflection session

This reflection session was held at DDP House on the 24th July 2018 and it was attended by the more than 20 civic educators trained by the organization.

The main goal for the reflection session was to assess the extent the pilot was effective in communicating civic education knowledge to ordinary citizens across various parts of KwaZulu-Natal province where the project was implemented.

The objectives of this program include:

  • To assess the extent to which the Democracy and Civic Education (DCE) project has contributed towards enhancing citizens understanding of active citizenship and their role in advancing citizen engagement in their own communities.
  • To stimulate reflections and learning among civic education facilitators, including learning from any failures and challenges experienced during implementation of project activities.
  • To identify, formulate and share good practices, lessons and strategic, actionable recommendations on both programmatic and project management aspects, which can inform the development of current and future DDP civic education projects.

In the past 2 months, this program has seen more than 20 civic education dialogues conducted in different areas in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

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Councilor Jonathan Annipen of the Minority Front has been attending and participating in a series of DDP interventions. And he shares how the relationship with DDP has enabled his leadership as a politician and as a citizen.

The DDP interventions (programs, dialogues, workshops etc) has helped shape my thinking. It has enabled me to think outside the box. To use innovative ways to get the message across. The programs have taught me to come down to where the people are and feel. It has enabled me to better communicate with ordinary citizens as well as represent them better. It has taught me that the greatest leader is the one who serves.

I have discovered that people are tired of empty promises. They are disillusioned by political personalities that are all talk and no actions. I discovered too, that it is only possible to gain trust of the electorate by proving that you are different from the rest, to achieve this one must do something different. That means look at this citizen as a potential voter, woo them by meeting them at the point of their need. Maybe more importantly treat them like you really care about them and not just about their vote. I promise you they will never forget you. Infect you will become the topic of discussion (In a good way) everywhere they go.

One of the lessons he learnt from previous leaders include taking time to listen to these residents. They share more than just billing queries or grant enquiries. They share their personal challenges. Even if you are unable to resolve their problems you can lend a listening ear and that may make all the difference. Then, never disrespect another leader to gain points. People will never respect you. Discrediting others and character assassination boils down to cheap politicking. What we need is honest, hardworking leaders who will stay the long hall.