Since 2012, Mayor Patricia De Lille and others in the City of Cape Town have repeatedly referred to the proportion of the City’s budget allocated to “pro-poor spending”. But what exactly does this mean?
Various claims have been made about the delivery of services to poor and working-class communities, such as an increase in toilets in informal settlements.
In 2013, the Mayor claimed, for instance, that 64% of the City’s capital and operating budget was “pro-poor”. Similar statements were recently made at the tabling of the City of Cape Town draft budget. The Mayor claimed that 67% of “service delivery” spending was to “be targeted towards the poor in the city – a powerful testament to this government’s commitment to reconciliation through substantive redress measures.”
Following requests for clarification on a 2012 press statement outlining the City’s ‘pro-poor spending’, the SJC received a PowerPoint presentation from the City, purporting to show the breakdown of the budget allocations. Like the press statement, this presentation did not indicate how the categories were devised or explain any of the calculations used to break down its so-called ‘service delivery’ budget.
The City has to date not released the data or calculations behind its statements of ‘pro-poor spending’. This raises significant questions regarding the willingness of the City to act with transparency and accountability, as well as its actual record on the allocation of resources in Cape Town. Is the City simply including all ordinary expenditure in areas deemed as ‘poor’? Are streetlights in Khayelitsha therefore included as ‘pro-poor’ spending, simply because lighting – infrastructure which should be installed and maintained across the city – is provided in Khayelitsha? How can the claims be assessed or verified? What is actually included in the allocations?
In the Mayor’s speech on tabling the draft budget, she appeared to propose “additional funds” for the Anti-Land Invasion Unit as part of this ‘pro-poor’ spend. This is the same unit that two weeks later was referred to by Judge Gamble in the Western Cape High Court as having conducted raids “reminiscent of the well-documented operations conducted by the apartheid government in the 1980s…” If the Anti-Land Invasion Unit is included as ‘pro-poor’ spending, what are the standards for inclusion?
The Western Cape story is often told through a direct comparison between the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town on the one hand, and other provinces and municipalities on the other. The Census 2011 provincial report, which includes 2007 data from the Community Survey, shows that the Western Cape does have the highest access to flush toilets in the country, after Gauteng.
However, the impact of a particular administration cannot be assessed by comparing access across provinces at a fixed time. That serves only to obscure. From 2001 to 2007, access to flush toilets in the Western Cape, according to the census report, increased from 86.5% to 92.4%, and then decreased slightly to 90.5% in 2011. Overall, this represents an increase of 4% over a ten-year period. Gauteng began with a lower access rate of 81.2% in 2001. By 2011, the rate had increased to 86.5%, representing a 5.3% increase in access overall.
The Free State began with a far lower access rate of 47.1% and increased to 67.7% in 2011, representing a 20.6% increase, five times more than the Western Cape over the same period.
When the DA came to power in the City of Cape Town in 2006 and in the Western Cape in 2009, the City and the Province already had the highest level of access to flush toilets in the country. There are two important issues that follow from this.
First, it is illogical to ascribe causality to something that was there before the party came to power. In the same respect the larger increases in other provinces such as the Free State are indicative of the fact that they started at a lower base. It makes no sense to superficially compare provinces with entirely distinct contexts.
Second, in the case of flush toilets, the emphasis by the City and Province on comparing numbers in this way obscures the high usage rate of each toilet in densely populated communities with limited facilities. Aggregate access percentages say little about the quality and distribution of sanitation facilities – both of which regularly fall far short of basic requirements for dignity, health, and safety.
Where a government makes claims on its own record, it is surely unethical and against the constitutional obligations of accountable and transparent government to refuse to release such information or to use it to mislead. Citing sources and allowing access to data should be the standard, not the exception. The City and the Province should release data publicly on all their current and future claims and should cease misleading and obscuring with superficial comparisons. If there is a ‘Western Cape Story’ to be told currently, it is one of obfuscation. DM
This article first appeared on www.groundup.org.za
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