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Vulekamali makes budgeting sense

A data portal called Vulekamali is enhancing public participation in the budgetary processes by making information easily accessible online.

Vulekamali was established two years ago by the National Treasury in collaboration with civil society organisations.

This innovative project won the Innovations Harnessing 4IR Solutions category at the 17th Public Sector Innovation Awards.

The Director for Budget Reform and Vulekamali Portal Lead, Andile Best, says the budget data portal aims to increase public interest, participation and knowledge of government’s financial programmes.

“This is the National Treasury’s commitment to be more transparent about public finances. “Budgetary information is already published on Treasury’s website, but the portal contains easily accessible data in a user-friendly format, to enable more effective information sharing, analyses and research.”

Promoting public participation

According to Best, Vulekamali supports the involvement of civil society and the public in the budget process and enables citizens to have informed discussions on government policy.

Public participation is one of the priorities of the National Treasury.

“If we ask the public to participate in budgetary processes and they come from a position of not knowing, they cannot make quality inputs. Secondly, we want the public to know how government spends money from the public purse,” says Best.

Civil society organisations often want to know how government renders services, how those services are connected to the budget, and whether it is national, provincial or local government that is responsible for those services.

Stakeholders involved in the project include the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME); Imali Yethu, which represents 10 other civil society organisations; Global Initiative; and the Government Technical Advisory Centre (GTAC).

Speaking on behalf of the civil society organisations involved, the Programme Head at the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) and Lead Coordinator of Imali Yethu, Zukiswa Kota, says an accountable budget is vitally important and the ultimate goal is to influence better service delivery.

“Vulekamali educates people, which empowers them to ask the right questions to contribute to improving service delivery. It guides the public in terms of who to hold accountable for which kind of services,” she says.

“For us, access to quicker information means that you do not constantly have communities upset and unaware of budget processes, and they know who to speak to about their frustrations.”

The portal allows budget analysts or economists to dig deeper into the budget because they have the right information at their fingertips, she adds.

The establishment of the portal cost about R10 million and was funded through GTAC.

Best says Vulekamali has strengthened the long-term partnership the National Treasury has with civil society organisations.

Positive feedback

Feedback from the public on the portal has been positive.

“We have come to realise that the more information we publish on the portal, the less questions we receive from users. In the beginning, we used to get a lot of questions because people were excited and needed more information that was not yet published.”

The Deputy Director for Budget Reform at National Treasury, Prudence Cele, says since the launch of the portal, people have been commenting more on social media about what they would like to see included in the budget.

Use of the portal fluctuates depending on what is happening at the time.

“A lot of users seem to be visiting our portal just before a big event, such as when the Minister of Finance announces the budget and a few days after the event. The numbers decrease again thereafter,” notes Cele.

A unique project

On winning the award, Kota says the team is excited and believes the recognition is well deserved.

“As much as all the nominees were excellent, this project is unique. The degree of collaboration from the beginning until thus far, between government and civil society organisations, is outstanding. The National Treasury worked really hard to get other government departments and public entities onboard, and that is what made the project unique,” she says.

Vulekamali can be accessed on www.vulekamali.gov.za

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