President, please plan properly for higher education

By SIYABULELA FOBOSI

The Public Service Accountability Monitor highlights challenges in higher education ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address on Friday 16 February

On 16 February 2018, the newly elected President of the Republic of South Africa will deliver the 2018 State of the Nation Address (SONA). The country continues to face challenges with ensuring access to a fee-free higher education.[1]. When the President delivers SONA on Friday, the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) would like to highlight the following priorities that he will address related to higher education in South Africa.

Access to higher education, just like all social services, in South Africa is determined by funding. It is critical to note that “where government allocation is failing in providing more funds. Historically white universities have private funds/income and high university fees to assist them.”[2]

The majority of students enrolled at the so-called “historically Black universities are the poor African and Coloured from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. There is an increasing need for capital to access higher education in the country.

Over the years, fees in higher education have grown at a rate that is more than inflation rates. This condition has made access to education unaffordable for a majority of the population across the country.

Higher education in South Africa continues to face financial constraints. The elected President will need to outline the implementation plans of the free Higher education, as announced in December 2017 by the former President Jacob Zuma that government would subsidize free higher education for poor and working class students.[3]

At the time of tabling the 2017/18 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement, the Minister of Finance, Mr Malusi Gigaba noted that gross national debt is projected to reach 61% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2022, with debt-service costs approaching 15% of main budget revenue by 2020/21. The MTBPS was delivered in a context where there is growing inequality levels, and the unemployment rate sitting at 27.7% – the highest figure since September 2003.[4]

If the current trends continue, it is unlikely that South Africa will realise free tertiary education in the near future. The current economic crisis undermines the possibility for free tertiary education.

What is important to critically consider in the discussion for free higher education costs is the meaning of ‘free’. The call for fee-free higher education necessitates the need to engage with the questions of equity, equality, access and transformation.  Generally, it is recognised that higher education cannot be free, as someone through some means must inevitably cover the cost of education. South Africa is, therefore, not faced with a policy choice of whether higher education can be free or not but rather, a question of “who pays, when do they pay and how much of the share of the costs can they pay”.[5]

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), established in 1999 through an Act of Parliament, Act No 56 of 1999, continues to provide loans to eligible students at public higher education institutions.

Since its establishment, the NSFAS has become recognised as the only student financial aid scheme despite the funding challenges it continues to face. According to the Submission to the Commission of Inquiry in June 2016 by the NSFAS on Free-Higher Education, NSFAS has provided access to more than 1.5 million students from poor and working class families.[1]

The future of most students continue to be affected by lack of funding to further studies, even though the NSFAS is making an attempt to bridge the gap between many young people who come from poor backgrounds and the unaffordable cost of higher education in South Africa.

The effects of poverty on young people who aspire to access higher education further compound the complex barriers to equal access that NSFAS aims to address. In many instances, student debtors are often unable to repay the loan owing to the lack of opportunities to secure formal employment.

Despite the sharp increases in NSFAS allocations for student funding (R510 million in 2000, R3.6 billion in 2010 and R9 billion in 2014), the demand for higher education funding continues to increase ahead of the allocations.

In order to address the inequalities of access to Higher Education, the PSAM makes the following recommendations:

  • There is a need to improve targeting of public spending to disadvantaged groups in order to achieve more equitable education outcomes.
  • There should be bursary funding, and not just loans, for students in order to cover for their tuition fees, accommodation, books and other living expenses.
  • The financial support instruments will need to be broader to accommodate for families whose household income cannot contribute to the cost of tuition.
  • Students should never be excluded for financial reasons; promoting a system of meritocracy.
  • Government should prioritise poor people in the realisation of free higher education in South Africa.

The PSAM therefore urges  the elected President to provide clear, adequately-resourced implementation plans for the fee-free higher education.

The article can also be accessed at http://www.grocotts.co.za/2018/02/15/president-please-plan-properly-for-higher-education/ . The author Siyabulela Fobosi can be reach at PSAM on S.Fobosi@ru.ac.za.

Distract, Divide, Detach: Using Transparency and Accountability to Justify Regulation of CSOs

Originally Published by TA learning and GPSA

By Hans Gutbrod
In its latest report, TAI takes a deep dive on how governments weaponize transparency to further close down civic space and puts forward recommendations on how the transparency community can respond.

The full report can be found on the TAI website, to access it follow the link http://www.transparency-initiative.org/uncategorized/1996/distract-divide-detach-using-transparency-accountability-justify-regulation-csos/

Or you can access it on our literature page under citizen engagement http://copsam.com/literature/

CITIZENS’ KNOWLEDGE AND PERSPECTIVES ON SOCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY INFORMATION ACCESS AND DISTRIBUTION IN GRAHAMSTOWN, A SMALL SOUTH AFRICAN TOWN

Grahamstown, with an estimated population of 82 060, is well known for being the home of Rhodes University and the famous National Arts Festival (Stats SA, 2016). Regardless, however, of the many successes the town enjoys with the Arts Festival and education institutions, the municipality has been struggling with serious administrative challenges. Makana Municipality was placed under administration[1] in 2015, following their inability to pay staff salaries, due to huge debts accrued (Maclennan, 2017). The 9 months intervention did not yield the expected outcomes, however. The town still suffers, amongst other issues, from debt, high rates of unemployment, and poor service delivery, particularly water and infrastructure. Water outages are consistent and almost every road in town has potholes due to lack of maintenance and mismanagement of the public resources (Maclennan, 2017). The local civil society organisations collective calling itself the Makana Unity League has started calling for administration again, however, others are concerned that getting outside intervention is futile, as proven by the previous experience (Penxa, 2017).

Grahamstown citizens have become accustomed to protests and marches, heading to the municipal offices to make their concerns known and demand answers for the poor state of the municipality. Research studies show that it is to the best interests of society to ensure that duty bearers manage public resources in an efficient, transparent, and socially accountable manner, as demonstrated in the protests and advocacy campaigns. In order to do this, the citizens need to understand how the various government processes work. Therefore, social accountability pertains to the citizens’ ability to hold the government accountable for its actions, through demanding explanations and justifications for their actions. Furthermore, the willingness and ability of the government to provide those justifications and explanations to civil society and take corrective measures (Halloran, 2015). The right to social accountability, therefore, promotes citizen’s engagement and transparency regarding the use and management of public resources (Ackerman, 2005).

In order to efficiently exercise their right to social accountability, citizens need to be informed about the operations of the public resources management system and the various channels to follow when interrogating the use of public resources. It was this reason that drove the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM), a local social movement and the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), a university-affiliated CSO, to want to understand accessibility of the social accountability information in Grahamstown. Social accountability information refers to information that can be used by citizens to monitor and demand justifications for the use and management of public resources.

The Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) is a university-based organization involved in social accountability monitoring. The Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) is a community based social movement that assists the public deal with various issues in Grahamstown. The UPM and PSAM, working in the social accountability sector formed a partnership to conduct a research study to understand the accessibility of information to the Grahamstown community.

Due to limited resources and timeframes, only 30 people (15 females and 15 males) between the ages 18 and 69 years old were interviewed. The informants were from Joza, Vukani, Hlalani, Ethembeni, and Fingo, Grahamstown West and Central. Informants indicated that they had sufficient knowledge regarding the roles or the various public servants, however they needed information related the various government process that affect them as the public. Informants identified the social accountability related information they would like to receive as:

  • All sorts of information that concerned them as community members and civil society.
  • Basic rights and grants information.
  • Municipalities expenditure records and the mismanagement of resources where applicable.
  • The Integrated Development Plans (IDP), their budget allocation and how they are spent, as well as having access to the [municipal] 5-year plans and progress reports.
  • How the government advertises their posts and recruits officials?
  • Tenders and the criteria to accessing them.
  • Who gets the services and the various steps an individual needs to take to access adequate services and employment?
  • Water and sanitation issues, especially when they affect the community, like water shortages, etc. and be regularly informed about municipality affairs.
  • Who to approach or where to report when your rights are being violated?
  • Would like transparency concerning the management of resources.
  • What resources are there that the municipality can provide for the people?
  • How government officials ought to behave because I see that they are all corrupt starting from parliament to local and provincial, to me they are the same?

The informants wanted the resource management process to be transparent enough to allow the community to monitor and assess the use of funds and ensure that proper regulations were followed when spending. There seemed to be a clear understanding that the resources the government was working with were limited. Some members wanted to understand:

  • The process of editing [financial management within the municipality] and the nature of services being delivered.
  • The basis under which the needs [of the citizens] are identified and the strategies that inform service delivery.
  • What happens when the resources are not being managed adequately?

There were informants who explained that they did not want to depend on the government, but needed the government to assist them to start their own enterprise, as stated in the sentence below that they would like to know:

“Where we can go to get resources to start our own business and what help can we get from the government to have those businesses?”

Some informants stated that they have been kept in the dark by their government officials regarding the state of affairs in their local regions, and that it was the responsibility of the public themselves to ensure that the government officials change their behavior and become more engaging and transparent. They emphasized the fact that every citizen should benefit from the resources of the country, especially since the new democratic regime prides itself on being for the people.

With regard to the accessibility of social accountability related information, the study shows that out of the thirty informants interviewed eighteen of them receive social accountability information via word of mouth, ten of them receive it in meetings and nine of the receive it via television and newspapers. Leaflets, internet and radio were rated the lowest. With regard to the preferred medium of communication as a means of circulating and distributing social accountability information, radio was rated the highest. Twenty informants indicated that they would have preferred to receive their news via radio, sixteen preferred newspapers and meetings. The internet or online services came after at fifteen, as well as word of mouth. Leaflets were rated the lowest, as it appeared that only ten people wanted to receive their information via leaflets. The informants further indicated a need for engagement platforms, to learn to interact with the various process and the circulating information to strengthen their social accountability initiatives.

The major study findings imply that:

FINDINGS

  1. Most of the informants do not have access to adequate information to inform the social accountability initiatives they engage in, which often creates problems that hinder their progress in advocating for their needs. Their lack of knowledge regarding the roles of the government officials, and the connection between policies and public services indicated that the information they receive, or the way they receive the information, is not adequate to empower them to understand the public resources system and be involved in decision-making.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • It is necessary to create a bridge of information flow between the various stakeholders of the social accountability sector. The availability of an organogram of the government officials and qualified personnel in every public institution will assist the public to direct their concerns to the right people.
  • Social accountability practitioners should consider creating more knowledge sharing platforms where they can engage the general public. The majority of people do not have access to information and knowledge sharing platforms that will empower them to be active citizens.

FINDINGS

  1. The majority of informants indicated that they are able to receive information via word of mouth, meetings, television, radio and other means. However, the findings also show that often times information recipients are not equipped to translate the information they receive to inform their interventions in a systematic manner.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Social accountability practitioners and knowledge distributors should consider a multiple media approach when distributing information. No one method is able to reach everyone.
  • Because the majority of study participants seem to prefer to be receivers of news and not become makers of news, it is important for knowledge distributors to understand their target’s information needs and expectations when disseminating information.
  • Capacity building for grassroots civil actors might assist them to interpret the information in a productive manner and increase their awareness of the issues and the need to get involved. The knowledge gained might also assist them to translate the information to improve their interventions.

FINDINGS

  1. The availability of knowledge sharing platforms in the social accountability sector is undeniable, however, their value and impact is often influenced by other social dynamics that affect the sharing of knowledge and information. Dynamics that include overflow of information, and restricted knowledge sharing platforms amongst others.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Information distributors need to be cognizant of the characteristics of their target audience when designing knowledge sharing platforms. Paying careful attention to economic, resource and time constraints, accessibility to informal and formal meeting spaces, and difference in national or community culture amongst other things.
  • It might be helpful to create platforms where diverse groups or individuals can congregate to share their expertise and/or experiences. This will ensure that information does not remain restricted to certain groups or individuals.
  • To merely be informed without action is not enough. Therefore, it is important for both the government and the civil society sector to establish mutually beneficial relationships to share skills and expertise, and build solidarity.
  • Civil society practitioners need to consider establishing systems that will allow for a consistent flow of information between government officials and the citizens, especially at the grassroots level, where people are most affected by lack of service delivery. This will ensure that citizens take ownership of the state of affairs and work in collaboration with the government to improve conditions.

The full report is available on http://copsam.com/literature/ under social accountability case studies

Produced By Lindelwa Nxele PSAM AIP Officer- February 2018

[1] Municipalities are placed  under Section 139 1(b) provincial administration if they have been deemed unable to fulfil their administrative duties to receive a clean audit for a number of consecutive years. An administrator is deployed to a municipality to assess and clean their records to ensure future progressive operations. For more information on Makana under administration, visit, http://www.dispatchlive.co.za/news/2014/10/02/tough-job-to-fix-the-chaos-in-makana/

Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2017

Originally published by Kerosi Dotcom

On Tuesday 30 January 2018 the International Budget Partnership released the long awaited Open Budget Survey (OBS) results for 2017.

This is a report that looks into how 102 countries around the world performed in terms of transparency, public participation and budget oversight.

The status of those parameters is measured and the countries are ranked accordingly. It’s based on how countries raise and spend their resources.

The OBS 2017 has revealed that the level of budget transparency has declined from 45 out of 100 to 43 out of 100.

This is a sad reality because it means that global citizens will not be able to hold their governments into account because they do not have access to adequate information. In economics 101 professor would refer to this situation as “information asymmetry.

In this article, I’ll review how Kenya was ranked and then later compare it with a few other African countries. This is to ensure that you understand what is happening in terms of public participation on the budgeting process.

Kenya was ranked based on data collected by the Institute of Public Finance Kenya which has its headquarters in the capital city Nairobi.

Uganda’s  ranking was based on data collected by Uganda Debt Network while Rwanda’s Ranking was based on detailed information collected by the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) of Rwanda.

The report was written by Dr. Jason Lakin formerly of IBP_Kenya. A man from whom I owe much of the skills and knowledge on public budgeting and policy.

On Transparency, Kenya was scored 46 out of 100 hence an under-performance considering that the “pass mark” was set at 60/100. On this parameter, Kenya was advised to pull up the socks by:

  • producing and publishing the “Mwananchi Guide” which is a non-technical version of the big document.
  • Providing all budget documents on a timely manner

On Public Participation, Kenya lagged behind many other countries which were evaluated. It scored 15/100. The researchers pointed out that,

“Kenya provides few opportunities for public to engage in budget process.” OBS 2017.

On this matter of public participation, the researchers recommended that the budget and appropriation committee hold more public hearings to collect input which will inform the annual budget.

Finally, they recommended that the Office of the Auditor General (supreme institution for audit) should, “establish formal mechanisms for the public to assist the OAG in formulating its audit program & to participate in relevant audit investigations.” – Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2017.

This was eye-opening. When you see the Auditor General, Robert Ouko, ask him when he is going to organize for public forum for you to advise him on better ways to do his work of auditing Ministries, Departments and agencies.

On Budget Oversight, Kenya scored 50 out of 100. Not so bad after all. The worry is that the legislature which is supposed to lead from the front only provides their oversight services during the budget formulation process. Afterwards, their efforts dies down. Too bad. They are even needed more during the project implementation process. Members of national and county assemblies should ask the executive the “difficult questions” on budget and policy. The relevant legislative committees should conduct analyses on public spending and publish their findings online. Important.

We also expect that the Office of the Auditor General will do more to deliver value to you the tax payers.  The national assembly should take a step in 2018/2019 to ensure that this supreme institution on all matters audit is well funded. The OAG is already one year behind schedule in production of their audit reports. This should change as soon as now.

The budget and appropriations committees at the national assembly and Senate should upgrade their game by taking appropriate action on those audit reports once submitted/tabled with them.

Crack the whip honorable members!

Elsewhere in Morocco, public participation is a vocabulary which has no meaning. In that North African country as well as in Sudan the OBS 2017 shows that there is no public participation.

Finally, South Africa serves as a good example to borrow best practices from. This rainbow country “provides the public with extensive budget information.” Secondly, the legislature plays their role well during the entire budget cycle. Finally, the supreme audit institution scored 100 out of 100 in terms of providing adequate oversight budget information. At last audit offices around Africa have a peer to learn from.

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