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Hold us to account, Manuel urges MPs

Sep 05 2011 13:11 Sapa

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Cape Town - South Africa is failing to deliver services to the poor despite its substantial fiscus, Planning Minister Trevor Manuel said on Monday.

He urged MPs to practice better oversight over government.

They should not only be asking whether money was spent as budgeted, but also whether it was prioritised properly to relieve poverty.

"In most instances, such information that is available tends to relate to whether money was spent as appropriated, and not the changes effected with the resource," Manuel said at a seminar on role of pParliament in attaining the UN millennium development goals.

Manuel said the problem with perfunctory oversight was that outcomes of government spending "remains hidden from scrutiny". MPs should work to change this.

He said unlike those of many developing nations, South Africa's fiscus was large enough to fund development "way beyond" the attainment of the millennium development goals.

Changing the lives of the poor was more about the commitment legislators had made to citizens than about meeting pledges made to the UN.

"In this regard, we must accept that despite the adequate allocation of funding, we fail to deliver quality service to the poor."

The former finance minister said it was vital for the auditor general to monitor whether money was spent according to public finance rules. However, this was not a yardstick of delivery in itself.

"We need to develop radically new approaches to how legislatures are involved in the measurement of progress - the instruments available are important, but woefully inadequate," Manuel said.

"All that the auditor general's report indicates is whether the money was appropriated as planned, or indeed whether there has been misappropriation ... we know nothing about the quality of service or the impact of these resources on the poor."

Citing education as an example, Manuel said despite spending 6% of its gross domestic product on it, South Africa was one of Africa's poor performers on education.

He urged MPs to demand better information from government officials, and not to be content with annual briefings from department leaders who blamed their predecessors for a lack of progress.

"All of this must change, not just because UN has set this down as a requirement or our donors desire it, but because it is the very least that legislators must do to deal with the ravages and the scourge of underdevelopment." 

trevor manuel  |  ministers  |  poverty
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