In May, nearly 80 journalists, activists and researchers participated in a webinar where they learned how to monitor and report on the municipal finance in South Africa
In May this year, Makhanda suffered two big water outages as the town's waterworks failed. Some areas went for days without water. This comes after countless efforts and millions of rands having been spent to fix the waterworks, after they were refurbished - at the James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works - in January 2019.
Desperate, residents were forced to fetch water from the drains where their cattle were drinking. Meanwhile, close to 40,000 cases of Coronavirus and nearly 800 deaths have been confirmed in South Africa. How can residents across Makhanda and the municipality as a whole, be expected to remain healthy if they do not have access to clean water?
The Makana municipality's water crisis was just one of the topics tackled in a webinar hosted by the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) and National Treasury, earlier this month. In an effort to highlight the power of National Treasury's online platform Municipal Money (built by OpenUp), PSAM's Zukiswa Kota and journalism trainers Rebecca L.Weber and Raymond Joseph offered over 75 participants a look at the importance of making local government budget information available.
Makana, a small municipality in Cacadu, Eastern Cape, under-spent nearly 20% of their capital budget in the 2017/18 financial year. This is important because this money is dedicated to infrastructure and improvements. In the previous year, they under-spent by close to 100%. Amatola Water was called to intervene in the crisis last year, but pulled out due to exorbitant debt, which Makana is currently servicing.
This is in part why a social accountability system is so useful. Starting with planning and resource allocation, it includes expenditure management, performance management, public integrity and oversight. So, why is there no clean water in the Makana municipality? Is it a funding problem? Is it a planning problem? Is it a spending problem? Who is responsible for addressing the issue?
Using budgets to improve service delivery
This information came directly from the Municipal Money portal, which gives a detailed breakdown of how municipalities actually spend their money (interestingly, Makana allocated close to R46-m to waste management and water in 2019), and looks at how much of the budget was spent on repairs and maintenance (0% in 2018).
The website - alongside National Treasury's other online portal, Vulekamali - offers up an arsenal of Open Budget tools and guides the user through how to read and understand a local government department's budget.
Water and Covid-19
Under the Disaster Management Act, local government is responsible for delivery of water within a municipality. This is even more important in informal settlements, densely populated areas and rural communities. In her presentation, Kota explained that while there was adequate budget available, the Makana municipality did not address the water issue, there is no infrastructure operation and maintenance plan, and the state of sanitation needs to be addressed urgently.
Tools that do the heavy lifting … so that you can get on and do the journalism
The webinar also included a list of resources for journalists and those interested in doing data-driven research. Some of these included OpenUp tools Vulekamali, Wazimap, Youth Explorer and Open Gazettes, just to name a few. You can find the full list here.
It also links to tools and resources that deal with the gender gap in Africa, Cape Town's informal settlements, information-gathering on the go and crime statistics across the country. Each of these can assist you in creating important and newsworthy stories that are related to local government spending.
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