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“Corruption and waste are to a large extent the result of a public-private partnership: corruption thrives where the public sector is underfunded, understaffed and withdraws from its service delivery responsibility.” If only this had been said by finance minister Pravin Gordhan when he delivered his fifth budget speech in Parliament on Wednesday.

But it was not. This is, in fact, an excerpt from the inaugural “people’s alternative budget speech”, an unofficial alternative to Gordhan’s official document as put together by the Budget Expenditure Monitoring Forum (BEMF). The speech was delivered by civil society organisations that demonstrated outside Parliament on the same day as the budget speech to highlight the issues that they felt should be covered in Gordhan’s address. The BEMF also hosted a hosted a pre-budget speech workshop where the contents of its alternative budget were unpacked.

The participants of this courageous effort are our heroes of the week because of their dedication to making sure that South Africa’s poor have a voice in how government spends taxpayers’ money to benefit its communities.

Protesting against povery, unemployment and poor service delivery

The speech went on to state: “It [corruption] also thrives when the public sector increasingly relies on private companies to deliver the services it should be delivering itself, and in the absence of strong government regulation.”

Some of the organisations that participated in the protest included Corruption Watch, Sonke Gender Justice Network, the Public Service Accountability Monitor and the Black Sash, among others.

“This speech is dedicated to those communities who unite peacefully to protest against poverty, lack of service delivery and who struggle for their human dignity in South Africa,” reads the acknowledgement section of the document, “It has been years in the making, drawing on the success and lessons of the People’s Budget Campaign and more recently the Call for Budget Justice campaign and the work of many organisation incorporating budget work to advance social justice in South Africa.”

Corruption Watch’s campaigns and stakeholder manager Ronald Menoe said the point of the protest was to enable the group to hand over the speech to Gordhan’s department. “The document was well received by treasury,” he said. Michael Sachs, acting head of the budget office at the treasury, took receipt of the document.

Encouraging the public to have their say in planning the national budget

The point of the speech and the protest around the national budget is to encourage public participation in the planning and formulation of the budget, which is there to benefit citizens. “For a day we imagine what we’d like to hear from the finance minister,” BEMF coordinator Thokozile Madonko told Corruption Watch. She added that there was a lot of planning for the speech that involved community workshops.

“We also got feedback and support from Chapter 9 institutions like the Human Rights Commission and Gender Commission.”

The National Union of Metal Workers, which held its own protest against Gordhan’s speech on the same day, publicly endorsed the people’s alternative budget, according to Madonko.

“We are grateful that the speech has managed to generate debate and we hope next year we will be bigger and better,” she said.

Our heroes for the week are the civil society organisations that protested outside Parliament on the day of the budget speech, so that they could hand over their version of the budget – the “people’s alternative budget speech” – to the Treasury.
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