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Lessons from Reformers: South Africa Empowers Citizens with Budget Data

This case study is part of OGP’s Domestic Resource Mobilization and Economic Recovery in Africa. Read the full paper and other Lessons from Reformers case studies here.

Domestic Resource Mobilization and Economic Recovery in Africa Explore eight ways open government reform can help African countries recover from the immediate crisis and restore their progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

South Africa is already known internationally as a leader in budget transparency, after ranking first in the world in the 2017 Open Budget Survey. However, government budgets are often complicated and technical, so simply publishing them does not necessarily make them accessible to most citizens. In South Africa, the data the government made public was static and unintegrated, and civil society actors observed that citizens were not using the data as extensively as they could.

To address this, the National Treasury partnered with the civil society coalition IMALI YETHU to create an online platform called Vulekamali. It houses national and provincial budgetary information, actual expenditures, and learning resources for citizens. All of these resources are presented in a user-friendly format, which includes visualizations and interactive features. These representations are accompanied by frequent Civic Information Drives, events to teach citizens how to use the platform.

But South Africa is not just encouraging citizens to view the data. Through Data Quests, they also promote the use of the data by citizens to advance social change. Data Quests are held throughout the year in different provinces and engage civil society actors, software developers, economists, accountants, students, and others to use the budget data to solve policy challenges and make budget recommendations. Most recently, at a Data Quest in Northern Cape, a team of participants created a program called BudgetBreakdown that monitors public spending to ensure it is used to empower women by investing in projects that reach them.

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