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Extending Budget Support to Civil Society - Part 1: An Example from South Africa

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4 July 2012

How can Sector Budget Support embrace Civil Society and what can be achieved? How can such support offer an effective way to strengthen sector capacity and governance? In this first of a two-part series on, Jozet Muller from the EU Delegation to South Africa shares her experience of engaging with civil society in ways that are helping to promote transparency and accountability.

The EU Delegation in Pretoria, South Africa operates in an environment that is open to the participation of civil society organisations (CSOs). There, CSOs have been able to benefit from and engage with Sector Budget Support programmes, and government recognises their role. 

Jozet Muller works in the Governance section dealing with Sector Budget Programmes with Parliament and the nine provincial legislations, and also with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).  “That portfolio is increasing, finding different, innovative ways to work with civil society, through the geographic programme and also through thematic budget lines," she said at the recent "Engaging Strategicially with Civil Society" seminar in Brussels.

“The geographical programme includes a programe called 'Access to Justice and Promotion of Constitutional Rights', which is a sector budget support programme that supports the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in the implementation of their medium term strategic framework.  The focus is to promote access to justice and constitutional rights.  South Africa, of course, has a very well known constitution with a bill of rights that guarantees many socio-economic and political rights. 

“The programme supports the medium-term strategic framework of the government but we added a component that is managed by the Delegation for CSOs.  We did the contracting ourselves; we have six grant contracts under this component but they all support the same overall objectives. The portfolio is quite diverse and deals with land rights, gender based violence and the rights of rape survivors, civil society monitoring of government service delivery, rights of non- nationals and issues of xenophobia. The idea is to have these organisations challenge, but also complement, the government programme. 

“For example, in the grant where we look at the rights of rape survivors, last year civil society did a shadow report to review how different government departments implement their legal obligations as defined by two pieces of legislation – the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Offences Act.  The shadow report is a public document; it’s been to  various portfolio committees in Parliament, to see how the government and various departments (including the National Prosecuting Authority, the Departments of Justice and Health) actually live up to what is defined in the legislation. So it is quite controversial in the sense that they are very open and honest about where government falls short of its obligations but the way that Parliament, for example, has engaged with that, is very positive. 

“Within the Sector Budget Support side of the programme, what the Department of Justice has done is to agree a Memorandum of Understanding with a civil society organisation and they channel a lot of the funds through that organisation to CSOs, in the area of service delivery: for example, to advise offices in rural areas, to assist vulnerable and marginalised people in terms of accessing their rights, and also on the advocacy side.

“I think, in this respect, it’s a very good initiative and is very progressive and allows the government to work directly with CSOs in areas where they know they cannot reach. The work the CSOs do compliments and sometimes challenges the work of government.

“I don’t think that we are the only Delegation that tries to combine the Budget Support modality with a civil society component, but I think we were one of the first.  It’s fairly new and we are happy with it to such an extent that we are trying it in other sector programmes as well.  We have a health programme, also the same model – a big sector budget support component with the government and a CSO component through calls for proposals. We’re quite happy with the model - so far it seems to be working.

“Initially the challenge was that you had a financial allocation through a bilateral programme through which the government, of course, is your first interlocutor. Then you request and negotiate to allocate some of the money  from their programme and give this to civil society. That was initially  difficult - I imagine that it will not work in many countries - you need a government that is quite open. 

“After quite a bit of discussion they saw the merit and the value, though any government will be uncomfortable when challenged by civil society.  The challenge is in balancing the provision of support to government while also supporting civil society.  You also have to make sure that what the CSOs do adds value and keeps the voice of civil society alive, while also providing input which is useful for government to consider in terms of their future policy.  

“The critical element is the enabling environment.  My advice would be not to push this in areas where it’s clear that it’s not going to work.”

“The best practice that we encountered was:

•    A strong commitment from the SA Government – specifically the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development – to support CSOs and to enable CSOs to act as service provider and as advocacy organisations.
•    The balance between supporting government and civil society to achieve the same overall objectives – i.e. promoting access to justice and promote constitutional rights.
•    The willingness of oversight institutions (parliament) to engage with CSOs and use the research and knowledge of the latter to improve oversight over the executive.”

More information can be found in case six of the "Engaging Non-State Actors in New Aid Modalities" reference document.


This collaborative piece was drafted with input from Jozet Muller, Tony Land and Simon Vanden Broeke with support from the Coordination Team.


DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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