#Vulekamali: One door closes, another one opens

Revenue and spending for each government department is divided into plan, implementation and review. Photo: Damian Pool

Recently, the first part of our budget portal project has come to a close and we spent some time reflecting on all that we’ve achieved … so far

A little over two years ago, Vulekamali was launched in Cape Town and has gone through several rounds of development. It has been an exciting adventure to watch the budget portal grow, adapt and be used by people throughout South Africa — and beyond. Created by National Treasury in partnership with civil society coalition IMALI YETHU, Vulekamali has gone on to touch the lives of thousands of citizens.

Built on a commitment to promote “transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance”, this endeavour required involvement of civil society in various aspects of the budget process from planning to implementation and monitoring and evaluation, enabling citizens to have a firmer grasp of how national resources are generated, distributed and reported upon.

Given the complexity, the portal was developed in stages, guided by the scope of data made available in each stage. The principles under which Vulekamali was created continues to encourage active user involvement, and ensures that the data and portal’s functionality speak to user needs. This meant that at every stage of the project, user feedback was encouraged and where relevant, change was implemented at the appropriate stage of development.

Initially, the focus was to ensure that everyone living in South Africa had access to all national and provincial government department budgets. The budget portal itself has also gone through several rounds of changes. As the data has been updated and been made available by government, so too have the functionalities within Vulekamali.

The team spent close to two years engaging with people in all nine provinces and one of the most common requests was for more information on national and local infrastructure projects. In the second to last stage of development, the inclusion of this feature finally became a reality and can be found here.

With information on more than 10,000 projects, communities can now track the progress of a project against the amount of budget allocated and then spent. This means that anyone can evaluate the quality of a project within their area and determine whether it really was value for money.

The final stage of development was heavily focused on making spatial data available. Using a tool called Wazimap, you can now see how the national and provincial budgets were allocated, on a map. With this feature, you can explore the facilities available in your municipality (e.g. education, health and transport), population demographics of that area and in doing so, understand how budget was allocated by the various government departments. Taking this one step further, Vulekamali also provides you with some context on how money is allocated per sphere, province, and municipality.

As well as making budget data more readily accessible and freely available to all, the team also hosted numerous events across South Africa. Engaging with communities, students, academics, economists and journalists from all over South Africa, they interacted with close to 2,000 individuals through Civic Information Drives, Hackathons and DataQuests. These were aimed at informing people of the website, encouraging them to use data found on Vulekamali to conduct analyses of their own, and share this information with their communities. Through these outreach and budget awareness events, we realised the importance of the inclusion of educational resources, such as videos, guides on how to read and analyse the various datasets, and a procurement and performance guide.

Most recently, users were invited to enter a Data Viz Competition, which prompted them to use government in-year spending data (this is what government spends on a day-to-day basis) and create visualisations based on this. Entries touched on issues related to health, education, agriculture and service delivery outcomes in relation to spending. The winning entry can be found here.

It has been an exciting two years of growth, change and learning, but most importantly, of sharing information and empowering South Africans to understand the country’s finances. For a democracy to truly work, it is crucial that everyone has access to this kind of information, which is what makes Vulekamali so special. It is interactive, engaging and demands economic equality for all.

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