The Standing Committe on Appropriations and on Finance were jointly briefed on the progress to date of the implementation of the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act. When the Act had come into operation in 2009, the Speaker and the House Chairperson had appointed a political task team and a technical task team, to advise the political task team, on the implementation of the Act.
An interim structure had been proposed by the political task team to commence the establishment of the Budget Office pending the appointment of a Director by the Joint Committee. It would be composed of interim staff seconded from Parliament.
Members expressed concern that an interim structure had been created without their input as a Committee. They raised questions about its accountability and whether it had a proper legal mandate. Other members raised questions about the feasibility of purchasing office equipment and furniture before the finalisation of a structure by the Committee according to the requirements of the Act.
Members from the Standing Committee on Finance felt that they required time to digest the Report of the Standing Committee on Appropriations, adopted on 9 February, before they could deliberate further on the implementation of the Act.
The Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Appropriations, Mr Sogoni, said they had met to hear a progress report on the implementation of the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act and on the budget process. This Act was already being implemented and it was clear, without pronouncing on this officially, that it was being phased in because some parts of it had already been implemented. The work of the both Committees would be expedited by the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO).
When the Act had come into operation in 2009, the Speaker and the House Chairperson had appointed both a political task team and a technical task team (to advise the political task team on the implementation of the Act). Once the two task teams were in place the technical task team had the responsibility of ensuring that the groundwork was done and that the PBO was established through the political task team. Some work had been done to identify what skills would be required. The suggestion had been made at a previous meeting that there had to be some transitional arrangements leading to the final establishment of the Budget Office. The Act spelt out how this Budget Office had to be established with respect to the role of the two Committees. The task team had dealt with how to work out that process.
The House Chairperson, Mr Bapela, explained that the Money Bills Amendment Procedure Act impacted on all Committees in Parliament and had therefore been discussed at a meeting of all Chairpersons. It was important for all Committees to know about the function of the Appropriations Committee and the Act’s provisions about the powers that it had allocated to Parliament. Committees might want to make an amendment to the budget and they had to recommend such decisions to the Appropriations Committee.
He continued that the task team would also be looking at developing the regulations that would implement the law. At present they had not concluded such regulations because they were still engaging on and processing these. However this did not preclude Parliament and the Appropriations Committee from implementing the Act. As a result, he had written a letter to all Chairpersons following a meeting held on 27 January 2010 emphasising that the focus would lean strongly towards the implementation of the Act. They would be entering the full first cycle of the budget with the introduction of the Appropriation Bill, Fiscal Framework and Division of Revenue Bill in the following week.
Mr Bapela said that the initial steps in the process were as follows; The National Assembly and National Council of Provinces would refer the Fiscal Framework to their respective Committees on Finance. The Finance Committees of the NA and NCOP would hold joint public hearings on the Fiscal Framework. There was a recommendation that the Division of Revenue Bill be simultaneously referred to the Appropriations Committees of the two Houses so that they could familiarise themselves with it. However, formal work on the Bill could not start until the Fiscal Framework had been adopted. Time-frames were limited after the adoption of the Fiscal Framework. The Division of Revenue Bill could be referred even whilst those processes were going on. This would enable people to prepare and prevent delays in the consideration of each of these.
Mr Bapela said that the Budget Office would start with an interim structure. A number of questions had been raised about this: By now, they should have advertised the posts as this would allow the office to be established by April 2010. This had been the recommendation of the task team all along. However, the interim structure existed to prepare the offices so that when personnel were appointed they would find things, such as office equipment, already in place. Interim staff would be seconded from Parliament’s staff and not new people from outside. There was also a recommendation to change the title of the Head of the PBO from “Director” to something that would fit within Parliament’s remuneration structure.
The interim structure was by now in place with every one who been seconded, informed. The affected Chairpersons whose staff had been seconded had also been informed and replacement staff had been provided on a temporary basis. The House Chair expressed the hope that adverts would go out soon. The law provided that the Committees should make recommendations only about who the Head of the PBO should be. They would not be denied this role. However there were logistical and administrative issues that they would not be competent to do.
Issues of accountability had taken centre stage in this process. The Speaker of Parliament had questioned the role of presiding officers because it was not defined in the Act. The law only defined the role of the Committees. This was therefore an issue that the Committees had to engage on. There were a number of clauses in the Act that they were looking at proposing amendments. These related to time-frames, dates and other procedural issues. The Act did not clearly define the accountability of the Head of the PBO. It only required a report to be given to Parliament but did not specify whether that was to be given to the Appropriations Committee or the Secretary of Parliament or through the Office of the Speaker as with all other Annual Reports. This required the regulations to be reviewed accordingly or for appropriate amendments to be effected.
The problem was that the Rules of Parliament were very old and were not expressive about the role of the Appropriations Committee in terms of the powers and functions it they had. This was why if they attended to the rules they would then avoid this issue where Committees viewed each other as if they were enemies. Already there was an impression that that the Appropriations Committee was a “super Committee” and questions were being raised about the extent of its powers. It was important therefore to ensure that the proper functions of the Appropriations Committee were well spelt out in the rules.
The Secretary to Parliament, Mr Z Dingali, said that the work on the establishment of the Budget Office was somewhat complete. What needed to be done was to provide staff for the office. It had been resolved at a meeting of the task team on 27 January to have people working there in the interim. The Speaker of Parliament would sign off on the interim structure and budget on 12 February 2010.
The Chairperson apologised to Members for not keeping them abreast of the developments of work done by the task team. He commented that the Committees were receiving an update for the first time only in the current meeting.
Mr S Swart (ACDP) thanked the Chairperson and the House Chair for the briefing. He noted the apology for not briefing Members on important issues. He commented that it would have been advisable for Members to have been briefed earlier as this process had been ongoing since October 2009.
Mr Swart asked, as far as the interim structure was concerned, whether it had any powers in terms of the Act. He thought that it was clear that it did not as it had been set up just to get things going. If it did not possess any legal powers then there was concern as to exactly what kind of powers it would have. The Committee had not been involved in the appointment of that interim structure as required by the Act. He was slightly concerned about this.
Mr Swart also commented on the fact that a political task team had been appointed to implement the Act and make recommendations. It was regrettable that Members had not been involved in that process as well. Since the Act would kick in very soon, there was a need for them as Committees to be involved very closely. He anticipated that the delay in implementation of the Act would put Members under a great deal of pressure in dealing with the budget issues that awaited the establishment of the Office.
Mr Swart commented on the issue of the conflict between the different Committees. He thought that it could be useful to look into a deadlock-breaking mechanism in terms of the Rules similar to what transpired when there was a conflict between the NA and the NCOP.
Mr M Swart (DA) said he was unaware which parties had been a part of the political task team but he presumed that the Democratic Alliance (DA) had not. The Act required that the Committees on Finance and Appropriations had to be consulted in determining the structure of the Budget Office and the conditions of service for PBO personnel. They had obviously not been consulted since someone had decided that there would be a political task team. The task team had come up with recommendations and what was particularly concerning was that there would be an interim arrangement where staff was going to be transferred to the Budget Office. He did not know to which positions they were going to be sent because there was no organogram which had been recommended by the Finance and Appropriations Committees. He thought it was strange to buy office furniture and equipment when there were no offices available as yet.
Mr Swart submitted that the interim structure had to be suspended until the appointment of a Director had been completed. It was important for such a Director to be a part of the setting up of the organogram.
Mr G Snell (ANC) commented that it was their responsibility to participate in the decision of how this process unfolded. It appeared that the decision had been taken elsewhere and had been implemented already. He appreciated the work that had been done to facilitate the establishment of the Budget Office. However, buying office equipment and furniture for a structure that did not exist as yet, was unsupportable.
Mr Snell asked how they would account for transfer payments from Parliament for staff seconded to a structure that did not exist.
Mr L Ramtlakane (COPE) suggested that instead of discussing the report as tabled with the House Chair, they took the total picture of how they saw the involvement of all the relevant Committees before they took things forward.
The Chairperson responded that they would do that - but take into account the questions that had been raised. He suggested that he could do a quick briefing of what had transpired in the Appropriations Committee. One of their objectives was to tie up the work done by the Appropriations Committee with the work of the Standing Committee of Finance.
The Standing Committee on Appropriations had conducted a two-day workshop to look at the implementation of the Act.
Ms N Sibhidla (ANC) interjected saying that the Committee had not adopted the Chairperson’s suggestion for a briefing.
Mr Z Luyenge (ANC) commented that they were in a dilemma as they had been overtaken by events as a Committee.
The Chairperson directed Mr Luyenge to focus on the Report of the Appropriations Committee which had been distributed to Members and which had not yet been studied by Members from the Standing Committee on Finance.
Mr Luyenge suggested that they take the holistic approach suggested by Mr Ramtlakane to avoid stalling the process. He expressed regret that their function as a joint committee had been taken over by a structure that they did not know.
Ms Sibhidla seconded this suggestion.
There were further comments from Dr Rabie (DA) and Mr D George (DA) who both suggested more time be given to Members of the Standing Committee on Finance for them to peruse the report of the Standing Committee on Appropriations.
The Chairperson agreed to these suggestions and asked the Whip to give guidance as to when the Committee could continue with its agenda.
The meeting was adjourned.
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