Budget Vote 2: Parliament
Ahead of Parliament’s Budget Vote debate 2022 scheduled for tomorrow, 7 June, we take a look at the national legislature’s Budget and priorities outlined in its 2022/23 Annual Performance Plan as aligned to the Sixth Parliament’s Strategic Plan (2019-2024).
Priorities of the Sixth Parliament
Upon its establishment on 22 May 2019, the Sixth Parliament identified two strategic priorities for its five-year term: strengthening oversight and enhancing public involvement in the legislature’s activities. These objectives were outlined during a presentation by the Acting Secretary before the Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament in May 2020 as follows:
- improve committee oversight work in relation to the budget cycle in particular, through allowing more time in the parliamentary programme for oversight activities and by encouraging committees to undertake such activities jointly.
- improve the effectiveness of public hearings through greater public participation through expanding public education, better dissemination of information, effective use of broadcasting, technology and social media, the use of more official languages, and encouraging committees to undertake joint public hearings.
To achieve the above, the Sixth Parliament has identified seven crucial areas needing improvement, which include:
- the public’s demands for greater involvement
- scrutiny of executive action and the need for Parliament to increase its oversight
- improved structure and capabilities of Committees to ensure effective functioning
- the need for technological renewal to make processes more efficient
- skills development training for MPs and staff
- addressing the limited resources available to Parliament
- improving the range and level of services to MPs.
Budget of the Sixth Parliament
Constrained and declining operational budgets have been identified as an institutional risk by Parliament’s administration over the years which might hamper the realisation of the stated objectives.
Parliament has not been spared from the budget cuts introduced by the National Treasury across the board in recent years.
In the previous financial year (2021/22), Parliament’s budget allocation for the annual appropriation was reduced by R256.7 million and the legislature received R2 billion. During a presentation of Parliament’s statement of financial position as part of the statutory stipulated annual reporting last November, it was revealed that Parliament was in net liability amounting to (R1,4 billion), largely due to the post-medical provisions made, for former MPs and MPLs.
Parliament’s financial position might worsen as, according to the 2022/23 APP, the institution’s budget baseline has been adjusted downward for the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework. The following budget reductions were made: R338 million in 2022/23 and R296 million in 2023/24.
The Acting Secretary of Parliament, in briefing MPs last Friday, warned that further reductions of the budget of Parliament remains an institutional risk.
In an effort to deal with the reality of a lean purse, Parliament has stated adjustments ought to be made. This means cost reductions, cutting of non-essential functions and expenditure, and subsequent reprioritisation of funding and resources will be the order of the day going forward.
What MPs have to say in relation to Parliament’s budget
Parliament makes transfer payments to political parties represented in Parliament in proportion to their representation, to enable the parties to effectively perform their functions. Since the beginning of the Sixth Parliament, MPs have continually lamented the inadequate funding of political parties, as well as under-resourcing of parliamentary constituency offices saying this impacts negatively on their ability to sufficiently conduct constituency work.
According to Parliament’s 2020/21 Annual Report, the tune of R471 million and R497 million was transferred to political parties in 2020 and 2021 respectively as Party Leadership Support, Party Support Allowance and Constituency Allowance in terms of section 34 of the Financial Management of Parliament Amendment Act.
Members also point out that public participation efforts in the form of public hearings on the ground are not being carried out effectively as Parliament was unable to cover most of the areas in vast provinces due to travelling budget constraints. Further, in its Report on the 2021/22 mid-year performance, the Joint Standing Committee expressed concern that not enough was being done to ensure information about the work of Parliament reaches as many citizens as possible despite this being one of the two strategic objectives of the Sixth Parliament.
In his testimony before the Zondo Commission early last year, the House Chairperson Cedrick Frolick admitted that Parliament’s oversight function was not properly funded. Frolick said with the limited resources that were made available to committees, "they have gone very far in what is demanded of them". "I can make the statement with confidence that the oversight function of Parliament is not properly funded," Frolick said at the time.
Following the devastating fires of early January, there have also been views that the incident was caused by budget cuts, which meant that the Parliamentary Protection Services and its staff could not be deployed over the holiday and leave periods. Parliament’s fourth quarter report (2021/22) indicates R14.1 million has been spent to-date for the refurbishment of offices damaged by the fire incident.
Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Parliament had to see to it that its technological systems are modernised to ensure continuity of parliamentary process. Consequently, a sizable chunk of the legislature’s budget has gone towards ICT upgrades and digitisation. In November last year, MPs were told the ICT division was undergoing organisational re-alignment and the ICT operating model was under development. The ICT unit also reported the following interventions/successes, among others: the ongoing upkeep and support of ICT infrastructure; and expansion of hybrid committee meeting capabilities through a project to refurbish two additional committee rooms, which commenced in the third quarter of 2021.
In response to concerns relating to budget constraints, the Acting Secretary of Parliament has said engagements with National Treasury were underway to establish the Treasury Advisory Office which will assist Parliament with the question of underfunding. There are still offices and mandates that are underfunded, but Parliament will be using its core budget to ensure the running of those offices. Even though Parliament asked for an adjusted budget, it was not granted last year.
On inadequate political party funding, discussions between Parliament, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and National Treasury are underway to determine whether this must be addressed by Parliament as it is a very heavy financial burden. The allocations to political parties places a severe burden on Parliament’s already limited operational budget and causes a shortfall in funds. Parliament is of the view that this should not be its burden as it is distorting their financial record and results in violations.
In a nutshell, Parliament has a fundamental role in authorising budget decisions and in holding government to account. However, this can only be done effectively if Parliament is adequately capacitated and funded. We have just marked three years of the Sixth Parliament. In the remaining two, the lawmaking body will be working to fulfil its strategic objectives.
About this blog
"That week in Parliament" is a series of blog posts in which the important Parliamentary events of the week are discussed.