The National Treasury in Pretoria. (Photo: Matthew le Cordeur)
Cape Town – Treasury has launched an online portal to make information about the budget accessible to South Africans, so that they can see how public finances are managed.
The portal Vulekamali, which roughly translated means “open money”, is part of a journey which started in 1997, said Treasury’s director general Dondo Mogajane.
He was speaking at the launch of the portal at Parliament on Tuesday, alongside Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, Deputy Finance Minister Sfiso Buthelezi and Jay Kruuse, director of Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM).
The finance minister will deliver the budget on Wednesday February 21. Buthelezi told journalists Gigaba would be delivering the speech, in the light of speculation of a Cabinet reshuffle by new President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Mogajane said the portal goes beyond the budget tips the public submits to the minister annually. It will allow the public to engage and inform government as it structures the budget.
Gigaba added that the portal is part of making Treasury accessible to South Africans.
“We would seek to continue making National Treasury accessible to broader sections of South African society. It does not belong to the elite only, but it must be accessible to the most ordinary South Africans so they can make their inputs,” said Gigaba.
He explained that South Africans will be able to see how the budget is structured and how it is used to “change and improve” their lives. “We must get as many people involved as possible.”
Gigaba also listed other recommendations from the Open Budget Survey report, compiled by PSAM, to ensure greater public participation.
Among these is mechanisms for the public and officials to exchange views on the budget and programme implementation.
Secondly, Parliament could hold public hearings for the formulation of the annual budget, where any member of the public and civil society organisations could make submissions.
The auditor general can also play a role by establishing mechanisms for the public to give pointers for his programme and participate in audit investigations, where appropriate.
Gigaba added that once all the budgets for the government departments, provinces and municipalities have been presented, they too should be loaded on the portal.
“This will enhance access to information, the empowerment of citizens, accountability and improve the way members of the public participate,” he said.
Buthelezi - who spoke on making the information accessible, especially given high data costs - reiterated Gigaba’s views that the price of data must come down.
“The portal is not a panacea for all the problems that are there, as far as the budget and service delivery is concerned. But it is a work in progress and tries to assist those challenges.”
He said rural areas should receive attention, but the issue of data is not unique to rural areas - it is a problem for many disadvantaged communities.
“Accessibility is a problem and we should work on making data available and make sure many of our public spaces have Wi-Fi,” he said.
When it comes to language, Mogajane said a glossary will be provided explaining the financial jargon used by Treasury. The portal is in English and over time will be made available in other languages. Mogajane said South Africans are welcome to interact on the portal using different languages, as is done when they submit budget tips to the minister.
Xholiswa Mpama, who won the competition to name the portal, told Fin24 that she came up with the name because it will provide transparency between government and the public about the budget.
Mpama has an accounting background, and sometimes visits Treasury’s website to keep up with developments in public finance. “People complain about public finance not being used properly,” she said. Instead of Treasury working on its own, the portal will allow everyone to get involved, she explained.
“So individual responses are important because it will make the portal work,” she said.
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