In a world where information is largely stored electronically, Municipal Money Webinars may be the way to go to understand municipal financial processes, especially with COVID 19 resulting in the need for social distancing.
Whilst Municipal Money Webinars may not be accessible to communities with poor network coverage, the modern digital platform, namely, webinars, does help to promote openness and transparency of the local government financial data to citizens for better oversight, advocacy and engagement.
This is consistent with section 32 (1) of the constitution of the Republic of South Africa, which provides that everyone has the right of access to records or and information held by the state and any information held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.
By educating citizens on how to navigate the Municipal Money portal, these webinars empower them to hold local government officials to account, and at the same time benefit local authorities, if well conducted. Among the key topics that the webinars, which were originally streamed online between from May and September 2020, focus on are municipal household bills, unfunded municipal budgets, strengthening accountability and performance monitoring - all of which are central themes within the local government budgeting context.
The Municipal Money budget portal is an initiative of the National Treasury. It is a web-based tool designed to inform citizens about their local authority's financial performance and allows for comparison between municipalities.
Previously, various stakeholders have been in darkness as to how municipalities obtain their income and how it is used. But with the invention of the Municipal Money Webinar, journalists, activists, academics, and others are finding it easy to understand how municipalities raise and use their funds, by visiting the Municipal Money portal.
To navigate the municipal money portal, digital experts in online learning have come together to conduct the Municipal Money Webinars themselves with aims to educate citizens on how to use the portal in extracting important data on local government financial performance, income, and expenditure.
Among the benefits of hosting a webinar versus in-person workshops is that there is no limitation on how many people may attend. Often in-person workshops face limitations to access such as that the size of the venue determines the number of people who may attend, the transport requirements of those people who might not stay in close proximity to the venue, and finally, the need for refreshments or catering. Thus in its digital roll-out, the Municipal Money webinar’s lowest attendance saw about 40 participants, while the highest being 105 participants. Panellists for the webinars were identified based on their domain knowledge of Municipal Finance. Again, the webinar method proved very effective, as panellists were based across the country, from Kwazulu Natal, Gauteng and the Western Cape.
As a first iteration, the initial webinar covered a basic introduction to the Municipal Money portal, its features, the data and the various approaches that can be used to navigate the site. The latter webinars kicked off deeper and more technical discussions with participants, as mentioned above, on topics such as municipal households bills and their impact on citizens and municipal service delivery.
The structure of the Municipal Money Webinars allowed engagement with an array of people from government, civil society, taxpayers, the general public, academic and activists.
With strong internet coverage, Municipal Money Webinars have proven to be the best option to raise awareness on the access to municipal financial data by the public and could be a viable option going forward for many other open data projects of this nature.
In its quest to empower citizens on Municipal Money and promote decision making in local governance, OpenUp managed to host the following webinars for the 2020 year:
Municipal Money 101 Webinar
Featuring Zukiswa Kota (Head of Monitoring and Accountability at the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) and Chairperson of Imali Yethu) and Raymond Joseph (Freelance Journalist and Journalism Trainer).
- Demonstration of Municipal Money.
- Raise awareness of the online source for municipal finance data and how this data can be explored.
- Presentation of a case study on the importance of making local government budget information available.
- Engagements around future feature developments.
Watch online (originally streamed on 20 May 2020)
Household Bills Webinar
Featuring Kim Walsh (Managing Director at PDG), Dr Saahier Parker (Human Sciences Research Council), Peet Du Plessis (eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality) and Adrian Kearns (OpenUp)
- Develop an understanding of how municipalities generate revenue and how the rates and tariffs contained in municipal household bills are determined.
- Explore how the vulnerability of households is impacting on their ability to pay household bills and how this in turn impacts on municipal revenue and services.
- Raise awareness of online sources of municipal data and how this data can be explored and analysed.
Watch online (originally streamed on 17 June 2020)
Unfunded Budgets Webinar
Featuring Kevin Jacoby (Chief Financial Officer, City of Cape Town), Dr Tracey Ledger (Senior Researcher, Public Affairs Research Institute), Krish Kumar (Chief Financial Officer, eThekwini Municipality), and Eduard Le Roux (Technical Advisor, National Treasury).
- What constitutes a funded/unfunded budget?
- The implications of approving unfunded budgets AG report on local government & key aspects linked to municipal sustainability.
- Why data is important for decision making in the budget process in relation to long term planning.
- The budget assessment tools used by National and Provincial Treasuries and the outcome for the Municipal Budget assessment process.
Watch online (originally streamed on 5 August 2020)
Strengthening Accountability and Performance Monitoring (Image)
Featuring Steve Kenyon (Chief Director, Local Government Public Finance, Western Cape Provincial Treasury), David Savage (Head of Department, Western Cape Provincial Treasury), Wendy Fanoe (Chief Director, Intergovernmental Policy and Planning, National Treasury), and Khomotso Letsatsi (Chief Officer, Municipal Finance, Fiscal Policy & Local Economic Development, SALGA).
- Understanding Local Government Fiscal Framework.
- Learn more about the system to ensure performance and accountability, as well as the support mechanisms surrounding this.
- The role citizens play in terms of oversight within local government and why Municipal Money is important.
Watch online (originally streamed on 9 September 2020)