Parliament’s Budget Vote Debate: Key Highlights (2022)
On Tuesday, 07 June, Parliament’s Budget Vote came up for debate in plenary sittings of the National Assembly (NA) and National Council of Provinces (NCOP).
We highlight the key takeaways.
A hybrid Parliament
The NA Speaker, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, in her maiden introductory speech on Parliament’s Budget Vote Debate, highlighted the challenges currently bedevilling Parliament. She made reference to the devastating fire in January which ravaged parts of the precinct while the country was still caught in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fire damage has necessitated the continued use of hybrid proceedings in order to fulfil the functions of Parliament, half way into 2022.
Despite the challenges, the Speaker expressed Parliament’s commitment to ensure that proper oversight continues, especially that carried out by committees. “Parliament would rise from its ashes after the devastating fire like a phoenix to be a torchbearer for our nation."
However, opposition parties have sustained calls to get all MPs accommodated in Parliament physically during plenary sittings and committee meetings. The DA’s Chief Whip, Ms Natasha Mazzone had this to say: “While Zoom offers a solution, it remains a huge problem for democracy to be in full action when we cannot all be seated together, especially with so many MPs scattered in far-flung areas. While the resilience of the South African heart prevailed, there remain many loopholes to holding the Executive to account – the dreaded mute button that takes away our right to speak on issues that need to be fleshed out.”
The IFP’s Narend Singh echoed similar sentiments pointing out that given COVID-19 is now on the way to becoming endemic, Parliament must be investigating options to reopen in some physical form after consultations from all political party leaders.
“If everybody else is working, schools are reopening, then we as parliamentarians need to set that example”, added Mr Steve Swart from the ACDP.
In response to these calls, Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula pointed out that Parliament’s committee rooms were available for committees to meet physically; what is however lacking at the moment are hybrid-enabled committee rooms. She indicated this and other matters relating to the resumption of physical meetings by committees, will be discussed with the House Chairpersons for committees in due course.
A tight budget
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula outlined that the budget obligations for Parliament submitted to National Treasury were R2.757 billion, and Treasury only allocated R2.683 billion. This means Parliament will have a shortfall of R74 million for financial year 2022/23.
The budget deficit will be funded by money Parliament did not spend in the previous financial year.
Members were united in expressing concern about the reduced allocations to Parliament over the years. ANC MP Bheki Radebe said since 2010, the government's budget had almost tripled, but Parliament's had hardly doubled. He asked how Parliament will execute its duty if it does not have the required budget.
Speaking to the same point during a parallel budget vote debate in the NCOP chamber, Chairperson Amos Masondo said the financial resources availed to Parliament are not sufficient to sustain the expenditure levels seen in the pre-COVID-19 years. This poses challenges as Parliament seek to ensure the sustainability, effectiveness and efficiency of the institution.
Coupled with the budget cuts introduced by Treasury across the board in recent years, which Parliament has not been spared, are pressures from inflation- expected to increase by more than 6 percent, and the expected rise in the cost of goods and services.
Despite their reservations about the budget and how Treasury allocates Parliament's funds, majority party MPs nonetheless indicated they would support the budget. They advised that Parliament should engage with Treasury to deal with the budget constraints before the next budget.
Oversight and Accountability
Upon its establishment on 22 May 2019, the Sixth Parliament identified strengthening parliamentary oversight and accountability as one of its two strategic priorities for its five-year term. During the Tuesday debate, MPs laid much emphasis on this stated priority, with some lamenting a lack of it.
Parliament’s budget for Legislation and Oversight is R754 million.
The Speaker made it clear that oversight work remains a key pillar of the work of Parliament. She however conceded challenges still remained, particularly in getting the executive to answer questions within the stipulated deadlines.
Opposition MPs hammered home the need for responsive oversight in the interest of South Africa – and for Parliament as a multiparty institution of elected public representatives to reverse the decline in public trust in state institutions. Accountability and service delivery should take precedence over party interests. Also, budget processes cannot simply be another tick-box exercise embedded in the parliamentary calendar.
If Parliament was the oversight institution envisaged in the Constitution, opposition MPs argued, President Ramaphosa would answer for the allegations around the February 2020 robbery at his farm, Police Minister Bheki Cele would account for the deteriorating crime situation – alongside State Capture Commission recommendations. These were views expressed by the DA and UDM in particular.
On the Zondo Commission report, the Speaker indicated that once President Ramaphosa submitted the report and his implementation plan to Parliament four months later, this would go to the rules committee for further action. She also highlighted that parliamentary researchers were going through the two reports the President had already referred to Parliament for action, leading to two MPs being referred to the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members' Interest.
Law-making makes up one third of the salient functions of Parliament, the other two being oversight and facilitating public participation.
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula said Parliament’s constitutional mandate of law-making was successfully executed, with the legislature managing to pass a total of 20 Bills during the 2021/22 financial year.
However, opposition parties had a different view in as far as the law-making body’s legislative output is concerned. During an NA Programming Committee meeting a fortnight ago, views were expressed by the EFF’s Chief Whip, Mr Floyd Shivambu, that not enough Bills were being initiated/introduced by Parliament. Parliament's legislative agenda was seemingly decided by the Executive. This standpoint also found expression in Ms Natasha Ntlangwini’s speech Budget Vote debate speech, citing that from 2009 to-date, only 7% of Bills passed by the national legislature were Committee and Private Member Bills.
The DA buttressed this point, stating Parliament is still lagging far behind many other countries when it comes to the updating and processing of legislation. “Parliament is the legislative arm of government, but still, so few pieces of legislation are completed and above all Private Members Bills are ignored if they do not have an ANC name on it, and that cannot be denied.”, said Ms Mazzone.
About this blog
"That week in Parliament" is a series of blog posts in which the important Parliamentary events of the week are discussed.