On 21 October 2020, the Budget Justice Coalition (BJC) tabled Imali Yesizwe (Our Nation’s Money), an alternative human rights budget. The BJC acknowledges that the budget and budget processes are critical to the advancement and protection of human rights. Civil society organisations working in sectors such as health, education, local government and social development have noted with increasing concern the continued steps by National Treasury and the South African government to cut back on the social spending that is needed to fulfil socio-economic rights, which are enshrined by the South African constitution and international law.
Over the past 5 years, resources for public services have been cut while additional public funds have been channeled towards poorly managed, non-performing state-owned entities (SOEs) have been bailed out. These austerity budget measures mean that the National Treasury and finance minister are too focused on debt reduction at the expense of the economy, much-needed services and people’s rights. This focus will deepen inequality and poverty.
Covid-19 has accelerated these trends, which the BJC believes are regressive, impacting the under-serviced and most vulnerable the hardest and violating the constitutional right to equality and the progressive realisation of socio-economic rights.
Austerity budgeting was already a concern before the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as South Africa was experiencing systemic underinvestment in key social and economic sectors. The pandemic has also shed light on why using gross domestic product (GDP) as an indicator of the well-being of South Africa’s economy and people is flawed. Austerity places a greater burden of unpaid care work on womxn, which is excluded from GDP even though such unpaid services have considerable value. While Treasury may present its budget outlook as necessary, natural or inevitable – BJC shows in Imali Yesizwe that there are robust alternatives that do not jeopardize human rights or the sustainability of fiscal policy.
Imali Yesizwe represents the culmination of efforts made by progressive civil society organisations working in the budget and human rights sectors to develop a viable alternative budget and ultimately a better economy for South Africa.
It is the product of a far-reaching partnership, research and collaboration between the BJC and other progressive organisations. The alternative budget outlines ways in which the South African state could spend and collect money differently to achieve human rights, challenging Treasury’s narratives about fiscal and monetary policy and debt stabilisation. Ours is a budget that puts the fulfilment of human rights first and replaces austerity with a long-term plan for socio-economic development that will ensure an economy for its people to recover sustainably from Covid-19.
This details our vision and recommendations for an alternative budget that is fiscally expansive, transparent, progressive, gender-responsive, environmentally sustainable and categorical in its prioritisation of the realisation of human rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
We call on Cabinet to practice the principles of a participatory democracy and Lekgotla by introducing mechanisms to open the budget process to the people; Imali Yesizwe!
Imali Yesizwe recommends the following:
- The abandonment of austerity budgeting. This means moving away from an oversimplified and dangerously narrow focus on debt reduction through billions of Rand in spending cuts and tax increases, which are damaging for the economy and people’s rights.
- The budget must focus instead on improving the composition of expenditure so that sufficient funds are allocated to socio-economic priorities such as health care, basic education, housing, social development, gender-based violence, climate change and the battle against all forms of corruption. For example,
- A human rights costing exercise in light of the introduction of zero based budgeting.
- An immediate extension of the other grant top ups and caregiver grant.
- An introduction of a universal basic income grant with long term goals to provide a living wage.
- An investment into the care economy to transform gender equity and to ensure that women (who carry the burden of paid and unpaid care work) are able to access their rights.
- An introduction of public budgeting processes that are not only transparent but genuinely inclusive, participatory and open.
- Resourcing environmental protection and investing in a just, clean energy transition away from extractive ventures such as coal mining that protects the rights of all workers.
- Adequately resourcing entities such as SARS and the National Prosecuting Authority to support its prosecutorial functions against those guilty of defrauding the state including through state capture and corruption. At the same time, more resources must be mobilised from high net wealth and income individuals and large companies to actively reduce inequality.
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About the Budget Justice Coalition
Civic organisations who are part of the Budget Justice Coalition include: the Alternative Information and Development Centre, the Children’s Institute at UCT, Corruption Watch, the Dullah Omar Institute at UWC, Equal Education, Equal Education Law Centre, the Institute for Economic Justice, Oxfam SA, Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, the Public Service Accountability Monitor, the Rural Health Advocacy Project, SECTION27, and the Treatment Action Campaign.
The purpose of the Budget Justice Coalition is to collaboratively build people’s understanding of and participation in South Africa’s planning and budgeting processes – placing power in the hands of the people to ensure that the state advances social, economic and environmental justice, to meet people’s needs and well-being in a developmental, equitable and redistributive way in accordance with the Constitution.