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Making municipal budget allocations for informal settlements more democratic

Isandla Institute | 2021-09-08 | 2926 views

Budget allocations offer insight into the priority areas that government has identified. As resources are constrained, municipalities are faced with a balancing act between different needs and demands. Beyond the challenge of limited funds to see through all desired outcomes, often there is a misalignment between the spheres of government in relation to priority areas and a lack of spatial coordination of public investment.

With budgets being a key policy tool, it stands to reason that budget transparency is vital. Yet, municipal budgets are highly technical and often lack specific detail regarding what type of services will be delivered, where and by when. As Asivikelani notes: “…the lack of detail in the metros’ budgets makes it challenging to identify exactly what they are planning to spend on service delivery to informal settlements.” It is particularly difficult to ascertain whether adequate resources are allocated towards the repairs and maintenance of taps and toilets in informal settlements, with data showing that broken taps and blocked toilets are commonplace. Residents’ experience suggest that this is not a budget priority, as – in contrast to wealthier suburbs – cities are generally slow to repair broken infrastructure in informal settlements. Asivikelane therefore calls on National Treasury to make public the Municipal Standard Chart of Accounts (mSCOA) data submitted by municipalities to encourage transparency and enable better oversight from Councillors, National Treasury and the Auditor-General.

A significant component in ensuring transparency is gaining a ‘social licence to operate’ – in other words, building public trust from communities by not only extrapolating data, but also by ensuring that budget allocations and delivery targets are co-created. The question then becomes whether communities have the appetite or capacity to effectively contribute in budget co-creation.

South Africa does not have an embedded practice of participatory budgeting. However, the requirements for a social compact between the municipality and informal settlement communities to, amongst others, develop a sustainable livelihood plan to guide the upgrade of the informal settlement creates a particular opportunity for budget co-creation. Organisations working with informal settlement communities believe that they are willing and keen to be actively involved in the prioritisation of development interventions in their communities. In fact, many initiatives to this effect have been tried and tested – including the Municipal Accountability Tool and Participatory Budgeting Tool used by Planact, the budget analysis work of the Accounting for Basic Services Project (a partnership between the Heinrich Boehl Foundation, Afesis-corplan, BESG, Planact and Isandla Institute) and the work done by the International Budget Partnership and its partners over the years (including through the Asivikelane campaign). Budget literacy campaigns will be important to ensure effective participation from communities and allow them to make informed decisions about the trade-offs and sequencing of interventions.

The time has come for municipal budgets to be democratised and give informal settlement communities in particular greater insight into, and influence over, the possibilities for change.


Asivikelane (2021) How local governments can use their 2021/22 budgets to provide services to informal settlements without breaking the bank.

Slum upgrading remains the most financially and socially appropriate approach to addressing the challenge of existing slums. UN Habitat (A Practical Guide to Designing, Planning, and Executing Citywide Slum Upgrading Programmes 2015 (PDF), page 15)

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