Public participation in government is one of the cornerstones of the South African Constitution, and is an essential factor in ensuring accountability. This is particularly true when it comes to holding government to account for managing public funds. Evidence from around the world, including South Africa, shows that when there is public participation in public finance decision making and oversight, it can lead to better policy choices, deeper public trust in government, and stronger accountability over the use of public money to provide services on the ground.
Such participation, however, is only meaningful when the public has access to information about the government’s plans and activities, and the fiscal constraints it faces. Without this information, public inputs into budget policies risks being reduced to a “wish list” rather than forming part of the strategic trade-offs that sit at the heart of all budgets. When facilitated by access to complete budget information and formal participation opportunities, public engagement in budget processes combines with strong and independent formal oversight institutions (i.e., the legislature and supreme audit institution) to enhance public finance accountability.
The Metro Open Budget Survey (Metro OBS) is modelled on the global Open Budget Survey (OBS) initiated by the International Budget Partnership in 2006. The Metro OBS goes a level deeper by applying the OBS methodology to local government, and assesses the three pillars of budget accountability, namely transparency, public participation and oversight in five of the eight metropolitan municipalities (metros) in South Africa. These are City of Cape Town, City of Johannesburg, City of Ekurhuleni, eThekwini Municipality, and Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.