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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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South African public service recruitment needs a major overhaul

in 2013 the Freedom Front Plus complained about the South African public service which is “busy growing abnormally fast and has already reached alarming proportions”. They protested that “South Africa at present has 67 ministers and 159 directors general. Forty years ago, there were only 18 ministers, 6 deputy ministers and 18 directors general.”

By the end of October 2011, the public service had nearly 1,3 million people in its employ, including members of the South African National Defense Force. National government employed 391 922 people and the nine provincial governments 891 430 people.

It is important though to note that forty years ago, the public service was mainly serving the needs of a  minority of citizens of the country. The dawn of democracy meant that the public service would have to cater for a far greater number of South Africans, and therefore an increase in the public service size was inevitable, albeit the question of the actual size and its financial sustainability does call for interrogation.

However, a more critical question is whether this ‘large’ (more…)