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Human Sciences Research Council
Integrated Rural and Regional Development

Position paper

Beating the backlog: meeting targets and providing free basic services

Report prepared by Dr David Hemson


January 2004

Posted with permission of Dr David Hemson, Human Sciences Research Council
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Executive summary

Although economic growth is generally regarded as providing the basis for sustained development, increasingly service delivery is being recognized as critical to human development. In various countries undergoing different levels of economic growth there are often very different outcomes in human development. These are at times identified as social or institutional capital (with a concentration on households or communities) or on state and governmental capacity.

The focus of the latest World Development Report and in current policy is on the separation and better alignment of what are identified as three separate factors: clients, service providers, and policymakers. In South Africa the RDP originally set out a new democratic order with citizens actively engaged in helping extend services to poor communities and set out a set of objectives and targets which have still to be met. It is on this basis that the deprivation of large numbers in society, the inability of the poor to have real access to life sustaining services, can be ended.

To meet the backlog in services for the rural population of South Africa is a political, financial and institutional challenge. Early expenditure on these services has not been based on clear projections of costs against the numbers to be met, but has been largely exploratory and based on relatively stable elements of the budget.

The direction of delivery has not been in a straight line. Although methods of delivery have been worked out over the past 10 years, the constantly changing institutional framework (from RDP to GEAR, form loosely managed systems to the production of key performance indicators, from national to local government delivery, etc) has posed challenges which are being met in different ways and with differing levels of success.

It is clear from the studies which are being undertaken on the backlog and public spending that the existing pattern of expenditure (roughly based on the previous years spending plus inflation) is an inadequate approach to ending destitution in the rural areas and that considerable additional funding is required. Attempts to work out the costs and benefits of the additional investments required are complex. Models are being constructed with varying degrees of complexity although largely focused on capital expenditure. The questions of institutional capacity and operations and maintenance are more difficult to factor.

The HSRC has produced a comprehensive report on Rural Development under 10 headings.1 This short paper concentrates on dealing with the backlogs in delivery with particular reference to the key life sustaining services of water and sanitation and life enhancing service of electricity. The first point is that considerable additional resources are needed to make these services available to the rural poor. The easy part of delivery has been the investment in infrastructure to the more accessible communities on the basis of line function departments and public institutions. The investment strategy was one of steadily and incremental growth in infrastructure on the basis of fairly modest investment in the extension of water services and of electricity to the unserved poor of the order of 0.33 and 0.36 per cent respectively of total state expenditure in 2003/4.

The current targets of accelerated delivery in water and sanitation which have been spelt out in detail by the Minister are for the backlog in water delivery to be cleared by 2008 and that of sanitation by 2010. Although there is less emphasis on electrification there is also a general goal of the rural poor also enjoying electricity mainly through the extension of the grid or through alternative sources.

This paper contributes to this discussion by identifying the backlogs in these sectors, their location, and the additional investment needed to meet backlogs. The institutional context for sustainability is also developed. Investment in infrastructure at an annual level of R2.3 billion in electrification and R3.2 billion in water and sanitation is needed to clear these backlogs.

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