Rhodes University’s Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), last week gathered members from the National Treasury, the Legal Resources Centre, Afesis Corplan, and open data activist institute OpenUp for a dialogue on Vulekamali, an online budget data portal which was established by Treasury in alliance with Imali Yethu – a coalition of civil society organisations for open budgets.
Vulekamali aims to facilitate easy access to fiscal information by the public and prompt participation through a user-friendly format for effective information sharing, research and analysis.
The management of the country’s financial activity in terms of economic policies and forecasting of annual budgets has always been the responsibility of Treasury, and historical discrepancies such as lack of easy access to financial data and difficulties interpreting the data by local communities has made Vulekamali a progressive invention.
Treasury’s Budget Office’s Andile Best spoke of the important features of the portal.
He said Vulekamali was interactive as people are able to participate with others who are also accessing the information.
“It is mobile, so you can view and engage with it through your mobile phone. The different formats allow for easy manipulation of information, especially for people who work with budget data, so it provides editable data,” added Best.
OpenUp Head of Programmes Kirsten Pearson elaborated on what it would mean for Treasury to go beyond transparency, especially with South Africa being ranked first out of a 115 countries in the 2017 Open Budget Index. She said transparency allowed activists, lawyers and the media to hold government accountable.
Legal Resources Centre attorney Cecile van Schalkwyk highlighted the challenges often faced with budget information.
“From a civil society perspective, we often experience challenges with budget information that is presented in number format and doesn’t explain exactly what goes where and who it’s supposed to benefit. So easy access will definitely allow us as civil society to litigate. Apart from trying to influence budgets, is making sure that government spends the money accordingly. There are shortfalls everywhere, but not necessarily because there is shortage in budgeting, but rather making sure that what is budgeted is implemented,” she said.
PSAM Monitoring and Advocacy Programme head Zukiswa Kota, said the space for dialogue in the portal was an important element and added that the portal was an agile platform and would hopefully become flexible enough to include performance information.