Policy and Budget Changes Needed for Service Delivery

Cape Times (South Africa), January 4, 2008 | Go to article overview

Policy and Budget Changes Needed for Service Delivery


BYLINE: David Hemson

A vast improvement in the lives of the impoverished and downtrodden was promised with the inauguration of the post-apartheid epoch with a liberation movement at the helm.

Unfortunately in the period which followed there was a decline in jobs and, for many, deepening poverty. Improved service delivery promised many good things: housing, water, sanitation, education and health facilities for all and served (in a sense) as a substitute for the jobs everyone craved. This even led to a number of studies of the "social wage" in South Africa which attempted to measure the hidden subsidies and support to household income through state services to show that significant poverty alleviation was taking place.

The conditions of the poor were, and still are, another country - a considerable distance from the whole-scale "structural" reforms which were anticipated. Although the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) promised change through redistribution, it lasted only two years and passed away before making a dent on these conditions.

The waves of service delivery protests which pound relentlessly against the harbour walls of official claims show that something is seriously wrong.

Although one of the great achievements of the post-apartheid period is to have wall-to-wall local government to take responsibility for services providing for human development, there are two major impediments.

First, limited budgets and complex systems of financial controls are a major block on delivery.

Second, the democratic processes which are provided for in legislation and which could provide political pressure from below are not working.

Although there are frequent claims that money is not the issue, improved service delivery requires considerably greater commitment than is evident in budgets. The Department of Water Affairs, for instance, has pointed out to its parliamentary portfolio committee that the amounts budgeted for delivery are well below what is needed.

This is stated confidentially and not in press statements. But it does help to explain why protests over water services are in the headlines.

Similarly, the housing budget is well below what is needed. An analysis of housing figures shows an extraordinary situation: despite some increase in the budget over the past four years, the number of houses has decreased year by year over the same period. How else is it that the very modest housing demanded by poor people is the subject of such heated demands?

The delays in housing provision are undoubtedly worsened by underspending and poor quality delivery. …

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