The Committee tabled and considered the Committee Report on the Appropriation Bill. It was noted that the Appropriation Bill had been tabled in February 2009 and had been adopted by the previous Joint Budget Committee. The Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act required the Appropriation Bill to be referred to the Standing Committee on Appropriations. Since public hearings had been held by the previous Committee, this Committee did not consider it necessary to duplicate them. This was reflected in the Report. National Treasury had presented certain technical amendments, most of which related to the changed names of departments.
Members agreed that two additional recommendations be included – the first that National Treasury should divide the allocations according to the division of departments as a matter of urgency, to enable the new departments to start operating, and the second that the necessary steps be taken to urgently form the new Parliamentary Budget Office, particularly since some of the departments would be operational by September, and this Office should be in place to support the Committees when they considered adjusted appropriations. It was noted that the Committee would also be involved in the appointment of the Director of the Parliamentary Budget Office. The Committee report, as amended, was adopted.
Appropriation Bill 2009/10
The Chairperson remarked that the former Joint Budget Committee had considered and adopted the Appropriation Bill, presented as part of the Budget, which was tabled in February 2009.As the term of that Committee had expired, the Appropriation Bill (the Bill) was now being referred to the new Standing Committee on Appropriations, according to Section 10 (1)(a) of the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act (the Act), in terms of which the Appropriation Bill must be referred to the Standing Committee on Appropriations.
The Chairperson felt that duplicating the public hearings was not advisable. It was, however, necessary to adopt the Committee’s Report. That report clarified that the Committee would not have public hearings and it would note that the Act also provided for the National Treasury to present technical amendments. He noted that those technical amendments had been forwarded to the Committee, and featured small corrections, relating to the many recent name changes of departments, occasioned by the setting up of some new departments and split of functions of others.
Mr M Swart (DA) pointed out that the recommendation as worded in the draft Committee Report (the Report) was not strictly correct, as the Committee would accept the technical amendments. He said that it therefore should read: “The Committee recommends that the Bill be passed with technical amendments as proposed by the Minister of Finance.”
Mr Swart also wished to propose two additions to the report. Firstly, he said the Committee should request National Treasury to divide the allocations according to the division of departments as a matter of urgency, to enable the new departments to start operating. Secondly, he said the Committee should also recommend that the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) be formed as a matter of urgency, by the Secretary of Parliament or however the Act prescribed. He noted that in regard to the PBO, it was unclear whether anything had been done at this stage.
Dr P Rabie (DA) noted that the Minister had commented that it was a matter of urgency for the Department of Economic Development to receive its allocation, so that this Department could get off the ground. It was in the public interest that it become operational as soon as possible.
Mr S Abram (ANC) responded that the fourth Parliament was working with the same budget that the third Parliament had passed. However, there were now new departments and spending centres to consider. Those spending centres had to be equipped, particularly in terms of access to funding. He thought that this should be a matter of emphasis in the report.
Mr Abram asked if it was the normal procedure for the Secretariat of Parliament to set up the Parliamentary Budget Office. If so, he was of the opinion that the Committee should call for this to happen
Mr Swart replied that it was a prescription of the Act. He referred to the first paragraph of the draft Report that stated that the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office was a precondition for effecting amendments to the Appropriation Bill. He reiterated that the necessity for establishment of the PBO was to be emphasised.
The Chairperson clarified that the purpose of the technical amendments was to account for the name changes and splitting of departments. In some departments, it was simply a question of reconfiguring so no extra funds were necessary. In others new funding would be necessary. The Minister had indicated that there would be some new appropriations for the departments that had set up the necessary infrastructure and had established themselves by September. When adjustments were done, an appropriation would be possible. All the other departments would receive funding the following February. He asked if the Committee felt strongly that the proposed changes should be made.
Mr Swart replied that the National Treasury had reported that it would take six to seven months before Treasury would be able to complete the transfer of funds dictated by the changes to departments.
Mr Swart added that the reason behind his second recommendation relating to the PBO was that some of the departments would be operational by September. In view of the additional appropriations, it would be necessary for Parliament to have the PBO in place to support the Committees in considering amendments.
The Chairperson remarked that it would have been preferable for the Committee to have a workshop to align members' understanding of pertinent issues. This was particularly important to the many new members in the Committee. However, he said that there was difficulty in scheduling such a workshop in this Parliamentary session. He said that he had been approached by the presiding officers on how the Committee planned to implement the Act. He suggested that phased implementation might be an option. Such matters could be discussed in a workshop.
The Chairperson drew attention to Section 15(5) of the Act, which stated that the Committee established by the Act should recommend a candidate to the House for appointment as the Director of the PBO. This meant that the Committee would also be involved in the appointment of the Director.
Ms C Mabuza (ANC) suggested that Committee read through the Report page-by-page to ensure that all members were happy with it.
The Chairperson commenced a page-by-page consideration of the report.
Ms Mabuza noted that it should be specifically stated in the Report that the public hearings on the Bill were held in the third Parliament, prior to the formation of the current Committee.
The Chairperson responded that it was indeed so the public hearings were held in the third Parliament and it was felt that it was inappropriate to re-invite those who had previously made submissions. The report did indicate that this Committee would not hold public hearings.
Mr Swart referred to the body of the report and proposed the addition of the phrase: " other than technical amendments, to reflect the new departments formed and where names of departments have changed" after the word “amendments”, to correct the current contradictory wording.
Members agreed to the addition.
Ms Mabuza asked if the Parliamentary Budget Office had been set in motion yet.
The Chairperson responded that Mr Swart had pointed out the urgency of the matter. The Committee could add a comment, bearing in mind that the Report should focus on the Appropriation Bill. There was a need to encourage Parliament to establish the PBO as soon as possible.
Mr Abram suggested that the addition proposed by Mr Swart could be included in the second last paragraph of the Report. This could indicate that the Committee noted that the Appropriations Bill, tabled in 2009, did not reflect the new departments announced by the President on 10 May 2009. The Report should then detail the process to be followed now, clarifying both the roles of National Treasury and Parliament. Following on from that, the Report could also note the urgency of getting the new departments up and running, and call upon the National Treasury to direct the relevant funding to the new departments. Additionally, in order to give effect to good governance, the Report should emphasise that the Parliamentary Budget Office should be established.
The members agreed to this suggestion.
Mr Swart moved for adoption of the Committee report, as amended and was seconded by Mr Abram.
The meeting was adjourned.
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