Quality Public Services a Right for All in SADC – Says New Regional Partnership

In the lead up to the 36th annual SADC Heads of State and Government Summit, a group of leading civil society organisations (NGOs) has launched a new project to improve the delivery of public health and agriculture services across Southern Africa.

The newly formed Partnership for Social Accountability Alliance is led by ActionAid together with PSAM, ESAFF and SAfAIDS, and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Reflecting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda, the project will build the capacity of state officials and parliamentarians to more effectively manage public funds, and support civil society organisations, small scale farmers and the media in holding leaders to account.

“Quality public services are a right for all. Service delivery across Southern Africa depends on transparent and accountable management of public resources. Governments have a responsibility to effectively plan and allocate resources, parliaments must provide effective oversight, and citizens and the media must be free and able to monitor and hold them to account. By strengthening state and civil society, the project will improve public services in our region, particularly in health and agriculture,” said Ms. Nalucha Nganga Ziba, Country Director of ActionAid Zambia, at the launch of the project on 16 August 2016 at the 12th Southern Africa Civil Society Forum in Swaziland.

In the first three years (2016 – 2019), the project will focus on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. In each of the target countries, the partners will provide training on public resource management, support for critical social accountability monitoring, and platforms for collaboration and learning.

“Social accountability is vital to sustainable development in the Southern Africa region in meeting the goals and objectives of SADC, especially poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth. We are committed to effective management of public resources across the region, and thus enthusiastically welcome this project, in line with the priorities of the Revised Regional Integrated Development Plan (RISDP) 2015 – 2020, the African Union Agenda 2063, as well as the UN SDGs,” said Mr. Maxwell Mkumba, Regional Coordinator of the SADC Regional-National Linkages Programme at SADC Secretariat at the project launch.

The Southern Africa Civil Society Forum and Peoples’ Summit are taking place in Swaziland this week, while the SADC Heads of State and Government Summit will be hosted by the country towards the end of the month.

Editors’ notes
For more information on the project ‘Strengthening Social Accountability and Oversight in Health and Agriculture in Southern Africa’, contact Julie Middleton, Consortium Project Manager, ActionAid International, julie.middleton@actionaid.org or +27 82 403 6040.
The PSA Alliance consists of: PSAM – Public Service Accountability Monitor, Rhodes University – www.psam.org.za; SAfAIDS – www.safaids.net; ESAFF – Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum – www.esaff.org; and ActionAid – www.actionaid.org.

Towards equality in school funding

By and
(Photo courtesy of Equal Education)

Apartheid’s legacy of skewed resource distribution continues to impede the realisation of the right to basic education. By the mid-1960s, the apartheid government was spending, on conservative estimates, ten times more on white learners than on black learners. Redressing this injustice is a moral, socio-economic and constitutional imperative.

In this article – the first in a series on public school funding – we outline the constitutional framework that must inform education spending and resource distribution in South Africa.

Right to basic education is immediately realisable

The right to basic education guaranteed in section 29 of the Constitution is different from other socio-economic rights. The state’s duty to realise rights such as housing, social security and health-care may be achieved progressively over time and within available resources.

By contrast, Justice Bess Nkabinde of the Constitutional Court, in a landmark judgment, explained:

“Unlike some of the other socio-economic rights, this right [to basic education] is immediately realisable. There is no internal limitation requiring that the right be ‘progressively realised’ within ‘available resources’ subject to ‘reasonable legislative measures’.”

This means that the Constitution recognises that education is a public good that must be made accessible to everyone immediately: to every learner, without exception. This shows the fundamental importance that the Constitution places on education, which must be given priority in the policies, plans and budgets of government. Education funding models must therefore be based on the target of immediately ensuring that all learners access the right to basic education.

Substantive equality and redress

Substantive equality is a fundamental constitutional value and right. Unlike merely formal equality, which requires treating everyone exactly the same, the Constitution recognises historical imbalances and the need to eradicate systemic discrimination against certain groups. Substantive equality requires that the state provide redress for past disadvantage so that everyone is in a position to equally enjoy all their rights, including education. This is key to to the transformative agenda of the Constitution.

Recently retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke explained in a 2004 judgement that “[a]bsent a positive commitment progressively to eradicate socially constructed barriers to equality and to root out systematic or institutionalised under-privilege, the constitutional promise of equality before the law and its equal protection and benefit must, in the context of our country, ring hollow.”

Section 29 has been specifically interpreted by our courts to impose an obligation on the State to not only provide education but to also simultaneously redress past imbalances caused by the racially discriminatory laws and practices of the colonial and apartheid eras.

Constitution guarantees access to quality education

The Constitutional Court has said that “education is the engine of any society”. It is the main way in which economically and socially marginalised adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities.

The right to a basic education provides a way to realise the dignity, equality and freedom of every person. For this to happen, education must be of adequate quality.

A rights-based approach to public school funding

What are the implications of these constitutional principles and rights for funding public schools? At a minimum:

  • The state must prioritise education funding as basic education is an immediately accessible public good.
  • Access to education alone is not sufficient. Substantive equality requires that access to quality education is equalised: no person or group of people should receive a vastly inferior education to anyone else.
  • A progressive funding model is required that lifts the standards of disadvantaged schools up to the levels of resource expenditure (inputs) and quality of learning (outputs) of historically advantaged schools.

The South African Schools Act recognises the need to “provide an education of progressively high quality . . . [and] uphold the rights of all learners”.  It requires the state to “fund public schools from public revenue on an equitable basis in order to ensure the proper exercise of the rights of learners to education and the redress of past inequalities in education provision”.

However, while the legislation is laudable for its recognition of the constitutional goal, the mechanics of education funding are not achieving these aims.

In the next articles in this series, we analyse how basic education is funded in South Africa. Beginning with the distribution of funds among the provinces, and then looking at personnel and non-personnel spending, we will explore various shortcomings in the existing model while highlighting what opportunities there are for achieving greater quality and equality in our public schools.

What the Constitution requires How this impacts the budget process
Priority Basic education must be accessible to all immediately. Basic education must be treated as a priority in government budgeting processes.
Quality The right to basic education is a right to an education of adequate quality. Resources must be invested by the state into the basic education system that are sufficient to achieve adequate quality.
Equality Education of an adequate quality must be made available and accessible to all. Among others:

  • no-one may be denied access to education on the basis of their inability to pay fees;
  • all schools must have access to the resources necessary to provide a quality, basic education;
  • schools that were underfunded in the past must receive relatively more resources from the state than schools that were well funded during apartheid.

Nurina Ally is the Executive Director of the Equal Education Law Centre. Daniel McLaren is a Senior Researcher at the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute.

Published originally on GroundUp .

A majority of Africans perceive corruption to be on the rise

For the latest African edition of the Global Corruption Barometer, Transparency International partnered with the Afrobarometer, which spoke to 43,143 respondents across 28 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa between March 2014 and September 2015 to ask them about their experiences and perceptions of corruption in their country. Shockingly, the findings estimate that nearly 75 million people have paid a bribe in the past year – some of these to escape punishment by the police or courts, but many also forced to pay to get access to the basic services that they desperately need. A majority of Africans perceive corruption to be on the rise and think that their government is failing in its efforts to fight corruption; and many also feel disempowered as regards to taking action against corruption. In Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia and Ghana citizens are the most negative about the scale of corruption in their country.


Does the SJC understand Cape Town’s budget? You be the judge

By Albert Van Zyl and Jessica Taylor

The International Budget Partnership works with ordinary people to understand government budgets in over one hundred countries. For this reason we have worked with both the City of Cape Town and the Social Justice Coalition to support public engagement with the City’s budget.

Recently, we have become concerned with the City’s claims that the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) has misunderstood or misrepresented the City’s budget.

We have verified that all the budget figures that the SJC refers to in its budget submission are technically accurate, so we are not concerned about misreading or misrepresentation on their side. We are a lot more concerned by the City’s allegation because it reinforces the idea that reading and understanding government budgets is reserved for those in government with technical know-how. This is not the case. But don’t take our word for it, judge for yourself. With a few simple guidelines we will show you how to read the City’s budget, and you can see for yourself the evidence upon which the SJC’s concerns are based.


How to help courts play their part in balancing government spending

Shanelle van der Berg, Stellenbosch University

South Africa’s Bill of Rights enshrines a number of socioeconomic rights. These are crucial for creating a more equal society and include the rights of access to healthcare services, sufficient food and water, social assistance and adequate housing. Their aim is to help everyone lead a dignified life.

The Constitution enjoins government to act “reasonably” in ensuring that these rights are progressively realised. But the government has limited resources.

The judiciary has emerged as a significant player in addressing whether these resources are being allocated in a fair and just manner that redresses South Africa’s inherited inequalities. Individuals or organisations call on the courts when they feel that their rights are not being met.

When courts are asked to scrutinise the government’s budgets and spending priorities, difficult questions arise about whether the judiciary is interfering in the state’s work and obligations.

Research I have conducted suggests that a theory called the capability approach could go a long way to guiding and strengthening courts’ approach in carrying out this work. It could theoretically justify and practically help courts to strike a crucial balance: that between the need to realise socioeconomic rights and to recognise the importance of other areas to which government may need to allocate money.


Whose voices really matter in the City of Cape Town’s budget?

Most of the city’s residents are excluded from the budget process

By Axolile Notywala

15 April 2016

The City of Cape Town’s budget process excludes those who are most in need.

Cape Town is an extremely unequal city defined by spatial apartheid. A city’s budget is one of the most important mechanisms for overcoming this and promoting equality and justice.

Effective budgets are those that are open and transparent where there is real public participation. Most importantly the voices of those most in need should be heard. In Cape Town, this hasn’t happened.

The City of Cape Town treats the budget process as more of an inspection and comment than a forum for public deliberation.

The City places the budget on its website on the night of the draft budget speech with just 21 days to make submissions. The budget, when printed, is a stack of paper 20cm high full of figures, tables, annexures and lists, which is very difficult to understand and engage with. Access for those without computers or internet is also not taken into account.


EC Health Department responds to Human Rights Commission Report

In response to the crisis in healthcare provision within the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition was established. In March 2015, following oral and written submissions (including submissions from the EC Health Crisis Coalition members), the South African Human Rights Council released a report on Emergency Medical Services which was submitted to the provincial Department of Health for response.

This week (13 April 2016), the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition received the Eastern Cape Health Department’s response to the South African Human Rights Council’s report on Emergency Medical Services. The Coalition welcomes the opportunity to engage with the document ahead of the Eastern Cape Provincial Health Summit scheduled for 15 April 2016 at Turnbull Park in East London.


Protests are not the panacea to lack of service delivery

There has been a rise in service delivery protests over the last couple of years. Official police statistics show that over the past 4 years there have been over 3000 service delivery protests in South Africa.  A monitoring agency, Municipal IQ, recorded 410 “major service delivery protests” between 2009 and 2012.

This is a sign of two things: that, firstly, citizens are tired of the status quo, and require change. Secondly, that they want to hold to account those they elected into power.

But the question is whether these protests are the most effective way of changing things? Do they change the status quo? Are they effective? If not, what are the effective ways to challenge the government, and to ensure that the government, at all levels, is held accountable?

Service delivery protests are but one, noticeable action. They may work to change some issues, but are they effective to make a lasting and sustainable change, and help build a culture of accountability within communities and government?