FSEJ statement in anticipation of Finance Minister Budget Speech: We demand a People’s Budget NOW!!!

Date: 24 February 2016

The Minister of Finance Martin Dlamini will in the next coming days present a budget speech anticipated to give a monetary blueprint of government’s priorities this financial year. While the FSEJ will comprehensively respond to the budget as soon as it is issued, we would like to resoundingly reject the budget even before it is delivered. Our outstanding and enduring criticism of the way this budget is prepared is that it is shrouded in secrecy and does not allow public participation. We feel strongly that the way the budget is prepared is not only undemocratic but also deliberately sets out to exclude the great majority of the people it intends to serve. There is no evidence that the government held any meetings with our people at the various Tinkhundla centres to solicit their views on the budget let alone inviting organized groups from business, labour and civil society to inform the budget allocation. We therefore have to ask, exactly where did the Finance Minister get the mandate to allocate money as he will do tomorrow? How does he know this is the priority of the people? We can only be left with one conclusion: this budget is not for the people.

It is long overdue that the government must find a way to give the public a platform through which they would engage the Minister of Finance directly on what they want to see incorporated into his budget speech. We are not calling for a cosmetic, window dressing exercise but a genuine platform of ideas exchange which, by all intents and purposes, will mean the tips given to the minister by the public ultimately find their way into the final speech he presents ever other February. At present, rather than creating a culture of ownership, the budget estranges the people with its exclusivity. The South African experience of preparing a national budget is a rich culture from which Swaziland can borrow and learn a lot. Long before the Minister of Finance prepares his budget, he goes around the country inviting input from various special interests including the youth, women, minorities, businesses and the like on what they would want to see government doing for them through the budget speech. While this is not cheap, it will, in the long term, create a feeling of national ownership among the public that, difficult as it may be, at least the government takes their needs, their plight and circumstances seriously.
The FSEJ calls for a concerted and coordinated effort within Civil Society to work together to lobby and demand a People mandated budget that talks directly to the needs of the people. We also need to educate the people on how the budget relate to their lives so that it does not just become another show of glamour by fashionistas who want to appear in the newspapers the following day. The FSEJ has created a pamphlet as a humble contribution towards educating people about the Budget. We will also write to the Minister of Finance to seek audience with him to discuss this matter as we think it waters down the budget even before it is presented. After all, the mantra of ‘there is nothing for us without us’ holds true even now!!

Statement issued by Foundation for Socio Economic Justice (FSEJ)
Dumezweni Dlamini (Executive Director)
4th Floor SNAT Coops Building Mancishane Street Manzini Swaziland
Landline: +268 25054009
Mobile: +268 76046200
Website: www.foundationswaziland.co.za
Facebook: fsej
Twitter: @FSEJ1
“Jobs, Food and Dignity for All”


What are fundamental human needs and how are they related to human rights?

Fundamental human needs are the things and conditions that make it possible for every person to live a dignified life and achieve their full human potential. These needs include clean air and water, healthy and sufficient food, housing, health & health care, education, social & income security, and dignified work. Human rights are based on the principles of dignity and freedom. Both are severely compromised when human beings cannot meet their fundamental needs. Everyone has the right to a dignified life. Thus, fundamental needs give rise to human rights obligations on the part of governments. These are social and economic obligations (e.g. to ensure our rights to education, health care, housing, work), as well as civil and political (e.g. free speech, fair trial, voting). All of these human rights are inextricably linked to each other – e.g. without housing it is difficult to stay healthy or keep a job – and every person and every community, without exception, is entitled to meet all of their human needs and exercise all of their human rights (not just some of them).

What are “public goods”?

The services, goods and infrastructure necessary to meet our human needs and realize human rights must be treated as public goods, not as market commodities. Public goods such as education, health care, fire departments, courts, libraries and parks belong to everyone. The financing of public goods must be shared by all and serve to meet everyone’s needs, not make profit or for any other purpose. Thus, privatization of core public functions is unacceptable as it undermines accountability to human rights. Communities must be involved in making decisions about the financing, management and distribution of public goods.

What is a budget and how is it linked to taxes?

A public budget is the plan for allocating money to public services and public investments (spending), along with a plan for raising this money (revenue). The most common way of raising public money is through taxing individuals and companies. Every town, city, state and country develops its own budgets, and the rules about how to raise and spend money differ.

What are deficits?

A “deficit” is the result of a decision to set the taxes, fees and other public revenue at a level insufficient to fund public spending. It is a reduction of public wealth and usually takes the form of increased public debt. Most countries frown on running a deficit, so they tend to cut their budgets until the spending matches the estimated revenue. Deficits are grounded in an assumption of scarce resources; i.e. that needs are greater than the money available to meet those needs. Yet resources are in fact plentiful; they are simply tied up in private or corporate wealth rather than shared with all. Thus, deficits result from a failure to share resources equitably.

What does inequality have to do with budgets?

At a given time, different people have differing needs for public services, and different people have differing abilities to contribute to funding public services. Spending and revenue policy, therefore, can either reduce or increase inequality, by focusing spending on helping those most in need and focusing taxation on those most able to pay, or it can fail to do so. Over the past few decades, spending on essential public services and programs that benefit low and middle income people has continuously been reduced. This has contributed to an increase in inequality in Swaziland.

What are equitable taxes?

Equitable taxes are individual and corporate taxes that are assessed with a focus on the payer’s ability to pay. Historically, the income tax has been the most equitable, because it is progressive — those with greater incomes pay a proportionally greater share of their income. Inequitable taxes are those, such as sales taxes and fees, that do not take into account one’s ability to pay. They may even be regressive — costing those who have less ability to pay proportionally more that those who have more ability to pay. After income, wealth (assets, stocks, property) is the most common measure of one’s ability to pay.

How is a budget connected to values?

We form democratic governments in order to satisfy together the needs that none of us can satisfy alone. How our government raises and spends our public money to help us meet our needs is thus a reflection of the extent to which it recognizes or not the importance of dignity and equality in our communities. The current way of making budgets emphasizes not human dignity, equality and the goal of strong, healthy communities, but a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mentality that denies the importance of collective action for the common good. Cutting spending on essential public services and making lower-income people pay proportionately higher taxes while not taxing such mega rich organisations like Tibiyo Taka Ngwane is destructive to our country, leads to blaming victims, glorifying greed and increases inequities. The “values” espoused in this kind of budgeting are rugged individualism, greed, and distrust of others. In contrast, a People’s Budget — a budget based on human rights — is a budget that seeks to foster the well-being and dignity of all members of our communities and to advance equity by lifting up those most in need.

What is the People’s budget?

The right to participation is a key component of a People’s Budget, yet other human rights principles – universality, equity, accountability and transparency – serve as equally important foundations of the budget process. A People’s Budget based on human rights seeks to both strengthen the democratic process and improve budget outcomes. It is a comprehensive approach to public spending and revenue policy, whereas participatory budgeting mainly addresses decision-making about how to allocate a small portion of public money. A People’s Budget represents the application of human rights principles to the entire public budget process, including revenue policy, and, therefore, to budget outcomes. In practice, a People’s Budget requires an entirely different way of developing budgets:
• The budget must be crafted to directly address fundamental human needs (rather than match revenue estimates).
• Budgeting decisions must be explicitly connected to accountability measures, so that we can assess people’s needs, and evaluate progress and outcomes in meeting those needs, using indicators based on human rights principles.
• People must be able to participate in the entire budget process, especially in developing goals and priorities for spending and raising money. The budget process must be fully transparent.
• Revenue policy must follow from spending policy — not the other way around – and seek to fund a needs-based budget in an equitable way.

What are the different ways in which people can participate in the budget process?

Under the current Tinknundla government, participation in policy making is at best limited and tokenistic and at worse none existent. There is no where organized labour, business, youth, women or even the general public can influence budget allocation. Instead Principal Secretaries of the various Ministries make presentations to the Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) on their budget needs which makes the final budget allocations. The PBC is itself made of three Ministries, the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Labour and Social Services which goes on to show that there is nowhere in this government where the people can influence the priority areas for budget allocation.

What will it take to fundamentally change the way our governments make budgets?

Changing the entire budget process and starting with people’s needs and participation instead of estimates of available money is a long-term goal. But as soon as we recognize that the current budget process has it all backwards, and that we need to change goals and priorities in order to address people’s needs and rights, we gain a fresh perspective on the annual budget debates. We can take first steps toward a People’s Budget based on human rights by shifting the conversation about budgets from money to people. Yet there are powerful interests vested in the way money is allocated in this country. Without building people power through grassroots organizing, advocacy efforts can easily be sidelined. Civil society needs to get organized and build our own power to get our voices heard and our demands taken seriously. As the FSEJ we demand to have a meeting with the Minister of Finance to raise our displeasure with the way our budgeting is clocked in secrecy and does not address the core needs of the people. At the same time we will engage in robust campaigns and mobilization of our people to understand the budget and how it relates to their everyday life. With time people will be able to reject a budget without their consultation and ultimately reject a government that serves interests of one family and not the entire people of Swaziland.