Transport, Housing & Public Works budgets & Five-Year Committee: Research Unit briefings

NCOP Public Services

17 June 2009
Chairperson: Mr M Sibande (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee Secretary briefly outlined the legacy report of the previous Committee, setting out the meetings, the work it had done, the legislation considered, and the outstanding issues and challenges. The oversight work would include the Departments of Housing (now Human Settlements), Public Works and Transport, and their entities. Members complained that they had not had sufficient time to study the report in detail, and noted that one of the major constraints that the past Committee had experienced in accomplishing its obligations and mandates had been lack of time. The previous Chairperson of the Committee outlined the changes to the mandate, arising out of the changed structure of the Department of Housing, and gave a detailed explanation on the oversight role of the Committee in respect of the Expanded Public Works Programme, and the tours to various provinces to check what was being done. The kind of work was multi-faceted and there would be overlaps with some other portfolio and select committees.

The Parliamentary Researchers then presented comments on the budget votes of the Departments of Public Works, Housing (Human Settlements) and Transport. In respect of the Department of Public Works, it was noted that the budget was R5.29 billion, and the main impediment was a large vacancy rate, although this had decreased from previous years, which the Department planned to address through an agreement to hire Cuban specialists to train staff in South Africa. Other issues highlighted were the managing of infrastructure and property, some at the border posts, FIFA World Cup commitments and the Property Management Trading Entity and asset registers. Members asked a number of questions, but it was pointed out by the Chairperson that only some could be answered by the Researchers, whilst others should  be directed to the Departmental officials. Researchers answered questions on the vacancies, the necessity to hire quality staff, the limited funds available for Programme 2, bursary schemes to try to address the vacancies, and the lack of properly functioning asset registers.

In commenting upon the Department of Housing budget the Researchers highlighted the total income of R13.58 billion, and noted that transfers and subsidies formed the major sources of revenue. The administration budget and that for housing policy and monitoring had increased, as well as the allocation for consultants and professional services allocation. The Housing Planning and Delivery Support programme had almost doubled in its allocation, and Integrated Housing and Human Settlement were the main drivers under Programme 4. Programme 5 aimed to drop its expenditure.

In respect of the Department of Transport, the 2009 budget had decreased by 3.10%. Public Transport received the largest allocation from the R23.7 billion total amount. Other major projects in the Department included the Bus Rapid Transit system, and the Taxi Recapitalisation programme. The Researchers suggested that the Committee should call for regular updates on these projects and on the Gautrain project. It was notable that there was a decrease in budget allocation for transport regulation and accident and incident investigation, despite this being flagged as one of the key objectives of the Department, and it was pointed out that this had been questioned with the Department, who was not able to give a full response.

Members adopted the Minutes of 4 June.

Meeting report


Parliamentary Research Unit Briefing on the Legacy Report
The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to briefly outline the legacy report of the last Select Committee on Public Service. This was done for the benefit of old and new members, so that everyone was made aware of what had been done and what still needed to be done.

The Committee Secretary explained the contents of the report, highlighting the key issues that the previous Committee had dealt with during its tenure. She noted that a key element was the oversight function of the Select Committee with regard to specific departments. These included the Departments of Housing (now Human Settlements), Public Works and Transport. She went to some length to outline various entities that fell under each of the three departments mentioned, all of whom also fell within the course and scope of the Committee’s oversight role.

The Committee Secretary then noted that the report contained a list of meetings from 2004 to 2009. The report also detailed the legislation dealt with by the past Committee, stating the title of the Bill, its status and its purpose. The report also mentioned the trips made by the Committee to various provinces in the course and scope of exercising its oversight role, and it also contained the recommendations made in that regard. This included various study tours undertaken by the Committee.

The Committee Secretary concluded the legacy report update by mentioning the challenges faced by the previous Committee in performing its role (see full report for details). She also took the opportunity to highlight some outstanding issues that this new Committee would need to take up.

Mr H Groenewald (DA) asked for the reason why the report did not give details on the number of meetings held in 2004.

The Committee Secretary explained that this was because the previous Secretary at that time did not keep proper records.

Mr Z Mlenzana (COPE) asked for clarity on the constitutional issues of the Committee’s mandate, in terms of its oversight function over the Executive and how the Select Committee’s role complemented that of the Portfolio Committee on Public Service.

Mr M Jacobs (ANC) took issue with the fact that the legacy report was tabled before Members for the first time on the day of the meeting. He felt Members needed more time to come to terms with certain issues set out in that document. In particular, he asked what exactly were those institutional obligations mentioned in the report that were highlighted as challenges faced by the past Committee in discharging its mandate.

The Chairperson replied with an apology as to why the report was presented in this manner, and explained that Members had not been given the report earlier simply because of the limited time available.

The Committee Secretary noted that one of the major constraints to accomplishing the obligations and mandates of the past Committee had been lack of time.

Mr Mlenzana was not satisfied with the response to his question about how far the committee should go in terms of its oversight role. He therefore requested Mr R Tau (ANC), the previous Chairperson of the Select Committee to clarify some of his concerns.

Mr Tau stated that there would be imminent changes with regards to the Committee’s oversight role, particularly in the Department dealing with housing (human settlements). This was due to the restructuring of that Department and its adoption of the new name “human settlements”. He said this reconfiguration of the Department inevitably broadened the mandate of the Committee as there would in future be certain functions that did not originally fall under the Department as previously configured, but would fall under its new mandate.

Mr Tau also gave a detailed explanation on the oversight role of the Committee, most notably its oversight over the Expanded Public Works Programme, and the tours conducted by the Committee to various provinces with the aim of taking stock of what was being done. Another issue highlighted by Mr Tau was the ‘Taking Parliament to the people’ concept, which had been adopted by the last Parliament. As for the oversight, Mr Tau alluded to the fact that the kind of work that faced the Committee was multi-faceted and inevitably some roles would overlap with other committees. The key, according to Mr Tau, was working closely with other structures such as Portfolio Committees that were tasked with responsibilities similar to that of the Select Committee on Public Services.

Mr Groenewald asked the Chairperson who should be responsible for the planning of the Committee’s tours to provinces. His view was that whoever was planning these tours should consider other provinces that had not been visited in the past.

The Chairperson conceded that there was a need to visit more provinces, but he emphasised that such oversight tours depended largely on the Committee’s budget, which could be limited.

Mr Tau said that the Committee was responsible for its own planning.

Parliamentary Research Unit Comments on Departmental votes:
Public works budget vote presentation
Ms Inez Stephney, Parliamentary Researcher, outlined the Department of Public Works four main priority programmes under its cluster, which were named as Administration, Provision of Land and Accommodation, National Public Works Programme and Auxiliary and Associated Services. The budget allocated to the Department for 2009/2010 was R5.29 billion. 

The presentation on the Administration programme given earlier by the Department had highlighted a massive vacancy rate that was an impediment to achieving its mandate. It highlighted 677 vacancies that needed to be filled, a decrease from the previous year’s 800 vacancies, and the 900 vacancies in 2007. The Department had embarked on an initiative to narrow this vacancy rate but unfortunately found itself competing for skilled labour with the private sector, which often lured most the highly sought-after professionals. In dealing with the challenge, the Department had entered into a bilateral agreement with Cuba, in terms of which over 200 built-environment specialists would come to South Africa during the three-year period to give mentoring and training to people in the Department.

The second programme, being provision of land and accommodation, dealt with the managing of infrastructure and property sub-programmes. There were mega projects being initiated at border entrances, in partnership with some neighbouring countries. Many of these were infrastructure projects being carried out to meet South Africa’s 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup commitments. The Property Management Trading Entity was another structure mentioned by Ms Stephney in her presentation, saying it was a critical body in the day-to-day management of property owned by the Department. The Department had also committed itself to strengthening the role of Asset Registrar. The Expanded Public Works Programme was another key project under the Department’s work. Its main aim was to create jobs and foster skills development, taking into account the needs of the disabled people as well. The aim was to complement the creation of over
500 000 new jobs and opportunities mentioned by the President during his State of the Nation address.

At the outset of the question time, Mr Z Mlenzana (ANC) noted that some of the questions were probably more suitably to be addressed to the Departmental officials, rather than the researchers.

The Chairperson agreed with Mr Mlenzana, but stated that researchers should feel free to provide clarity on some questions if they had the answers, even if the scope of those questions was more properly to be answered by officials.

Mr Tau said that the presentations were too detailed and often too technical in language, rather than highlighting critical issues in the budget. Although he appreciated the work done by the researchers, he felt they lost him on some issues. However, as Mr Mlenzana and the Chairperson had said, he was mindful that the researchers were not the Department’s officials and could not give all the answers the Committee wanted.

Mr O De Beer (COPE) asked questions regarding the filling of vacancies and the issue of spending. He asked how Parliament could play a meaningful oversight role to ensure that the Department spent its money properly, and also he asked about the measures in place to solve the challenge of filling vacancies. He felt the presentation suggested that there was not enough money in the Department to fulfill many of its commitments.

Ms Stephney answered the question about limited funds, saying this applied to Programme 2 on the list of Public Works priorities, relating to the provision of land and accommodation. The Department had, in past Strategic Plans, indicated that the maintenance of Government’s immovable property required more money than was received in the budget.

Mr Jacobs also asked whether the budget would be drafted according to any priorities of the Department.

Mr Jacobs asked how the vacancies and the skills shortage impacted on service delivery. He went further to ask whether the Departments had any bursary schemes to assist students who, in turn would sign contracts to commit to work for the Department for a certain period after graduation. His view was that this would go a long way to filling vacancies in the long run, and also would halt the flight of professionals to the private sector and overseas.

Ms Stephney answered that the Department did have bursaries to enhance skills development.

Mr Jacobs asked about the Re Kgabisa Tshwane pilot project, and whether it would be extended to other cities and areas.

Mr Jacobs noted that certain State properties had been sold and demanded where the proceeds went and who the beneficiaries were. 

Mr Groenewald asked how many Cuban expatriates were already in the country and what kind of training they were providing. He further asked about the costs involved in rolling out the programme of engaging these professionals from Cuba. He also asked for clarity about the rate of filling the vacancies that the Department had reported on for 2009. On the issue of vacancies, he stressed that there was a need to fill those vacancies with properly qualified people and not to use a ‘grab and place’ option.

The Chairperson concurred with Mr Groenewald’s last point about the quality of staff required.

Ms Stephney indicated that the Government had signed a three year partnership programme with the government of Cuba, wherein over 200 specialists would come to South Africa over a three year period. She could not give clarity on the costs of this partnership.

In respect of the vacancies, she confirmed that there was a total of 6 183 positions within the Department and, of those, 5 506 positions were filled, with only 677 vacancies still to be filled.

Mr Groenewald expressed concern about the lack of properly functioning Asset Registers in some provinces. He said this was costing the Department a lot of money.

Ms Stephney indicated that there was a national Asset Register within the Department and furthermore when the Government’s Immovable Asset Management Act came into force, the Department would be required by law to comply with its provisions.

Mr Groenewald also took issue with the President’s comment during the State of the Nation address that Government wanted to create 500 000 new jobs this year. He did not think that this was possible, and asked how Government intended to achieve that promise.

Department of Housing (soon to be called Department of Human Settlements) budget vote presentation
Ms Berenice Makani-Mansomi, Parliamentary Researcher, gave a presentation that outlined the five main programmes within this Department, as administration, housing policy, research and monitoring, housing planning and delivery support, housing development support and strategic relations and governance. The Department received R13.58 billion for 2009/10, an increase from the R10.92 billion received in 2008/09. Transfers and subsidies were the main sources of revenue for the Department. The administration budget for 2009/10 increased from R128 million (2008) to R198.5 million, this being attributed to compensation of employees and payment of fraudulent subsidies. The budget allocated for housing policy and monitoring for 2009/10 increased by 74.6%. Monitoring and evaluation dominated expenditure in this sub-programme. There was also a notable increase in the consultants and professional services allocation, to R2.6 million in 2009/10.
Housing Planning and Delivery Support (Programme 3) received more than double what it was allocated last year, currently being R138.5 million. Most of this allocation went to the capacity sub-programme. There was also growth in priority projects allocations in this year’s budget.

The Housing Development Finance (Programme 4) which aimed to fund housing and human settlement development, together with providing financial and grant management services, received an expenditure increase from R10.5 billion (2008) to R13.0 billion in 2009. Integrated Housing and Human Settlement Development dominated the expenditure under this programme. The Financial and Fund Management sub-programme also recorded a significant increase compared to last year. There were however some notable declines in expenditure, particularly under Programme 5 activities, being strategic relations and governance.

Department of Transport budget vote presentation
A Parliamentary Researcher noted that this Department received R23.7 billion of the national budget to achieve its outlined objectives and priorities. Compared to 2008/9, the 2009/10 budget decreased by 3.10%.  There were seven programmes that were highlighted as falling under the mandate of the Department of transport. These were Administration, Transport Policy and Economic Regulation, Transport Regulation and Accident and Incident Investigation, Integrated Planning and Inter-Sphere Co-ordination, Transport logistics and Corridor Development, Public Transport and the Public Entity Oversight and Borders Operations and Control.

Public Transport received the largest allocation from the R23.7 billion total amount. Other major projects in the Department included the Bus Rapid Transit system, and the Taxi Recapitalisation programme, both falling under Integrated Planning and Inter-Sphere Coordination. The presenter suggested to the Committee that it would be best if the Committee were to receive a regular update of what was happening on the ground, where these projects were being implemented, and this should also include briefings on the Gautrain project, where the Government had invested significantly.

There was a notable decrease in budget allocation for transport regulation and accident and incident investigation, despite this being flagged as one of the key objectives of the Department. Other programmes in this Department also recorded decreases in allocation compared to last year’s budget. This had prompted the Committee Chairperson to ask the Department why this was so, and Mr Ngesi, who had given the presentation, had answered that he was not able to answer why the Department should receive a reduced budget allocation for this seemingly-important project, as the cost of road fatalities could be very high.

The Chairperson urged all Members to go through the presentations in more detail prior to meeting with the Department 

Consideration and adoption of Minutes
The Members tabled and adopted the Minutes of the meeting on 4 June, with no amendments.
The Meeting was adjourned.

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