Despite the Constitution of South Africa promoting community involvement in local government, community organisations have found the City of Cape Town’s budgets too complex and convoluted to understand, and the process of the community engaging with the City on the budget has been met with hostility.
But now a new website from social activist organisations Ndifuna Nkwazi, the Social Justice Coalition and International Budget Partnership, which uses modern data journalism techniques, is helping make the Cape Town budget both accessible and interesting.
As part of its project to get communities involved in the budget, the new website, http://capetownbudgetproject.org.za/, leads users through the budget, bringing clarity to an otherwise murky subject.
“Every year the mayor calls for residents to participate in the budget process by making submissions on Cape Town’s draft budget. Last year fewer than forty people wrote submissions and only 23 were from the public. This has been the trend for the last couple of years,” says Axolile Notywala, a member of the Social Justice Coalition. “It is a R37.5 billion budget that affects all of our lives. The amount of money that gets allocated to Khayelitsha makes the difference between five or ten families having to share a toilet. It determines whether we feel safe at night with streetlights that work.”
Ndifuna Nkwazi’s research found that 15.4% of the City’s R37.5 billion budget is spent on building infrastructure. Of this capital expenditure budget, R1.3 billion is earmarked for water and sanitation, which the group has identified as a priority issue for the City.
“According to government data, one in 12 households in Cape Town have no access to sanitation on-site,” says Shaun Russell, ICT researcher, Ndifuna Nkwazi, “and there are still over 48 000 households that use bucket toilets in the city.”
Using the website, residents can drill right down to their specific wards, allowing them to see exactly what projects the City has planned for their neighbourhoods during a particular financial year. It also gives pertinent information, such as the ward councillor, and demographics based on the South African census, using Wazimap (http://wazimap.co.za).
“In its current state, we just wanted to get a geographic idea of where money was being spent on capital projects. We focused on capital instead of operational spending because it shows long term investment and not short term stop gap measures — which is how they generally spend money on informal settlements,” says Russell.
The website forms part of a campaign that saw Khayelitsha residents deliver over 500 submissions to the City. (http://www.groundup.org.za/article/what-your-business-council-my-experience-trying-participate-city-cape-towns-budget_2939)
The concept of the website was born during data literacy workshops facilitated by the School of Data (http://schoolofdata.org/) and civic coding organisation Code for South Africa (http://code4sa.org) in September 2014.
Hannah Williams, the School of Data Fellow who designed the website, says: “This project demonstrates how design and technology can be used to make complex issues clearer to the public. Budgets are released as unwieldy documents that few people have the time or technical knowledge to read and understand, even though it’s something that affects everyone directly. You can’t have active citizens if people don’t have access to information.”
The workshops, held in Cape Town and Johannesburg and sponsored by the Indigo Trust, trained newsrooms and civic society organisations in the latest tools and methodologies used by the open data movement.
“We’ve seen data become key for civic society organisations,” says Russell. “Open data fosters a transparent and accountable government, but you still need the tools and knowledge to be able to interrogate that data, and to push government to provide it.”
“Section 152 of the Constitution explains an aim of local government is to encourage the involvement of communities and community organisations in the matters of local government,” says the Social Justice Coalition’s Notywala. “Citizen participation is at the heart of democracy. I hope that Mayor Patricia de Lille will take into consideration all the submissions from Khayelitsha residents.”
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