Role of Parliamentary Portfolio Committees and Members of Parliament on Oversight: Workshop

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Labour

19 July 2010
Chairperson: Ms L Yengeni (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Parliament’s Project Office, National Assembly Table, Committee Section, and Research Unit participated in a workshop on the role of Committees and Members on oversight, with the objective of assisting the Committee to hold the Executive accountable and influence the budget process. The Project Office gave an overview and background of the Parliamentary Oversight Model, which had been developed following a report tabled to the Joint Rules Committee in 1999. The Project Office stated that the oversight model was new and few knew how it should performed and the direction it ought to take. The Committee was asked for its views on how the model should work. The National Assembly Table explained that Section 92(2) and (3) of the Constitution provided that members of the Cabinet were accountable collectively and individually to Parliament for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions; and that they must provide Parliament with full and regular reports concerning matters under their control. The Constitution allowed the National Assembly to provide for mechanisms that would ensure that all organs of state in the national sphere of Government, including the Executive Authority were accountable to it. Committees were one of these mechanisms. The process was explained for the processing of Committee reports by the National Assembly and the monitoring of assurances given by the Executive to the National Assembly. The immediate implications of the work of Committees in employing oversight were examined, and it was explained that the Committees were one of the mechanisms by which Parliament called ministers and department officials to account as to how they exercised their powers and executed their duties. The Committee Section gave input on the role of Committees and Members of Parliament serving on Committees in conducting oversight. The Research Unit, briefed the Committee on the use of annual reports, financial statements, the budget, and the Auditor-General’s reports in the practice of oversight practice.

 

Members asked how Committees could obtain suggestions at an appropriate time in the budget cycle or have the opportunity to amend the budget, if there was no system in place to warn departments that delayed spending most of their budgets to the last quarter of the financial year that under-spending signalled under-performance, and how departments which were red-flagged for not spending their budgets could be denied more funds when they requested them. Members also found the presentations enlightening. Members also asked if the suggested Joint Oversight and Government Assurance Committee was not going to duplicate what the Committees were already doing in coordinating oversight work, and about the process of requesting funds from the National Treasury.

Members were informed that with the passing of the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act 2009 (Act No. 9 of 2009), Parliament was expected to detect these discrepancies more quickly, and it would have to answer on why it had approved additional funds when the department concerned was under-spending. It was essential for the Committees to know where and how money was spent, how much was spent, and where the money went.


Meeting report

Parliament of the Republic of South Africa. Oversight Model. Presentation

Mr Herbus Burger, Strategic and Business Planning: Project Office, indicated that the Oversight Model had been developed as a result of a report tabled to the Joint Rules Committee in 1999 which then created the Ad Hoc Joint Sub-Committee. This culminated in the formation of a Task Team in 2004. The objective to develop the Oversight Model had been on-going since 2004.

The Oversight Model was agreed to in principle in March 2008. A report set out the details of oversight. For oversight to be effective, it was decided that oversight needed information on policy, for example, on the programme of action, and speeches; on planning, such as strategic plans; on the budget, for example, votes, Money Bills, and Estimates of National Expenditure); on implementation, such as reports and briefings); and on reporting, for example, annual and quarterly reports and site visits. The oversight document stated that the Executive was accountable to the Parliament: the Ministers answered to the Committees, and the senior Government officials reported to the Ministers. Mr Burger’s presentation indicated that there were processes that were followed to ensure oversight was working correctly. These were the planning process (strategic plans, policy documents and the speeches of the President and Ministers); the budget process (Estimated National Expenditure and budget votes); the performance process (briefings and reports); and the reporting process (site visits and annual and quarterly reports). The activities of the Committees during these processes were to track delivery and outputs but these did not translate into political outcomes.

Mr Herbus Burger highlighted challenges. There was increased complexity of Government work. This was a phenomenon that was happening globally. The work of the Executive was becoming more complex by the day, and there were a number of new departments. This made it difficult to deal with things decisively. Another issue was that of knowledge versus knowledge information. The knowledge information available to Government departments was not the same as the knowledge that Parliament had. It was impossible for a Member of Parliament to arrive at the same knowledge as the Chief Executive Officer who has been in that department for thirty to forty years. So there was inequality in terms of information and it was important to find ways of meeting this challenge.

 

Further, there was a need to start focusing on outcomes and result indicators. This meant that the Committees should engage with the Minister to put forward result indicators and outcomes. The Committees should be allowed to track service delivery.

 

Time for oversight was another challenge. Parliament had a very busy schedule. This area needed to be looked at thoroughly so as to give oversight plenty of time. Lastly, there were systems applications. Parliament was trying to bring better software to Members to save time and make things much easier.

The Parliamentary Oversight Model – Implications for Committees

Mr Collen Mahlangu, Procedural Officer, National Assembly Table, said that Section 92(2) and (3) of the Constitution provided that members of the Cabinet were accountable collectively and individually to Parliament for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions; and that they must provide Parliament with full and regular reports concerning matters under their control.

To fulfil these provisions the Constitution allowed the National Assembly to provide for mechanisms that would ensure that all organs of state in the national sphere of Government, including the Executive Authority were accountable to it.

Committees were one of the mechanisms with which Parliament called ministers and departmental officials to account to it for exercise of their powers and execution of their duties.

In order to do the oversight function adequately, the Constitution allowed Committees to summon any person to appear before them in order to give evidence on oath or affirmation or to produce documents; to require any person or institution to report to it; to compel any person or institution to comply with summons; and a Committee might also receive petitions, representations or submissions from any interested person or institution.

Committees employed different methods of conducting oversight, such as briefing sessions, analyses of departmental budgets and spending. Committees considered strategic plans of departments and annual reports and conducted public hearings.

Mr Collen Mahlangu said that a Committee conducted its business for the House and therefore must report back to it on any matter referred to it for consideration and report. Thus when a committee had scrutinised legislation, exercised oversight over Government activities or interacted with the public on these, it compiled a report for consideration by the House. Once a report came before the House for consideration, the House should adopt, note or reject it. If the report was adopted, its recommendations were given the force of a formal House resolution, and the House was expected to monitor Executive compliance with the recommendations of the adopted report. The recommendations would be communicated by letter to the relevant Minister from the Speaker. The letter would be copied to the House Chairperson; Committees; Portfolio Committee Chairperson; and director-general of the Government department concerned. In this letter, the Speaker would request the Minister to send his or her responses to the recommendations to the Office of the Speaker for tabling and referral to the relevant Committee.

A new mechanism for oversight had been proposed to overcome the challenges experienced with regard to executive compliance. It stipulated that where a response was required, the House resolution, with its date of adoption, would be appended to the Order Paper until such response had been received. If no response was received within a reasonable time or within the period specified by the House resolution, the House Chairperson should notify the Speaker or Chairperson, who should then write to the Minister requesting compliance within 14 days or a written explanation of the delay. In the event of a sustained non-compliance by the Minister, a written complaint by the Speaker might be sent to the Leader of Government Business, and the Minister might be called to account in the House. Quarterly reports and an annual report on resolutions and compliance should be made available to the Houses.

However, it was noted that this process did not preclude the Committee from monitoring Executive compliance as part of its continuous oversight function. It was proposed that consideration should be given to the establishment of a Joint Oversight and Government Assurance Committee. It was envisaged that this Committee would pursue all assurances, undertakings and commitments given by the Minister in the House and establish the extent to which these assurances had been fulfilled. The new oversight model mentioned that the IPU had proposed the establishment of a general oversight committee which would coordinate the oversight work of other Committees.

Mr Perran Hahndiek, National Assembly Table, added that if recommendations did not have a time period, it was difficult for the Executive to respond. The Committee should attach time frames, and the recommendations should be aimed at the responsible Minister. That would make Executive compliance much easier. He also proposed the establishment of a budget office so it could be easier for the Committees to have a say in the budget planning process.

The oversight role of Parliamentary Committees

Ms Bulelwa Bottoman, Committee Section, mentioned that the National Assembly had adopted the oversight model on 19 March 2009 to ensure that it was politically driven. Parliament had created the oversight model in order to protect and detect abuse; prevent illegal and unconstitutional conduct on the part of Government; to protect the rights and liberties of citizens; to hold Government answerable for how the money of tax payers was spent; to make Government operations more transparent and to increase public trust in the Government.

The role of Parliamentary Committees was to scrutinise legislation, oversee Government action and facilitate public participation. Committees studied the annual reports of organs of state and the reports of the Auditor-General. Depending on the purpose of the oversight, the Committee would either request a briefing from the organ of state or undertake a site visit.

Oversight tools included the State of the Nation Address (SONA). In this the President set out the Executive’s priorities the year; reflected on what would be the focus points on service delivery for the year.

Committees would invite the departments over which they had oversight to explain how they would implement the priorities.

In the budget process, the Appropriation Bill was tabled in February every year. Budget votes were referred to the relevant Committees for consideration and report. The Committee concerned would receive a briefing by the Department. The Committee reported to the House on findings and might make recommendations for budget to be amended.

Annual reports of Government departments and Chapter 9 Institutions were referred to the respective Committees for consideration and reporting. Committees were briefed by relevant departments. Committees reported to the House on findings and might make recommendations.

Committees undertook site visits in which they visited communities and did site inspections to check service delivery and monitor implementation of legislation. Members of provincial legislatures and councillors of the relevant municipality might accompany the delegation, or the Committee might request the officials of the department concerned to accompany the delegation. Thereafter the Committee reported on its findings and made recommendations. Once a Committee’s report had been adopted by the House and recommendations had been forwarded to the relevant department, the Committee followed up to monitor progress on implementation of recommendations or resolutions by the House.

A Committee might summon the Executive or any public entity to appear before the Committee on any matter, for example, to account to the Committee on the actions or implementation of policy of the Executive or public entity concerned.

Legislation passed by Parliament could be used by Committees to conduct oversight by checking progress on its implementation. This could be done through briefings by departments, site visits to get first hand information, and inviting stakeholders to hear their views. Findings might assist the Committee to propose amendments to legislation where necessary.

Oversight over the Budget Cycle

Ms Bridgette Diutwleng, Research Unit, told the Committee that there were different aspects involved in the budget process. Firstly, there was a political process which looked at competing needs for limited resources. Secondly, there was an economic process that concentrated on resource allocation. Thirdly, the administrative process dealt with planning, coordinating, control and evaluation. Lastly, the human rights process provided the allocation of funds in compliance with state obligations towards the full realisation of constitutional rights.

Important documents for budget oversight, amongst others, included the Medium Term Strategic Framework; the current year and previous years’ State of the Nations Addresses; budget speeches and all budget documents of current and previous years; the speeches of Ministers and accounting officers, and presentations to Committees of Parliament, including financial expenditure reports; departmental current and past annual performance plans; National Treasury documents; and the Auditor-General’s reports.

There were also important areas that were always taken into account when the national budget was drafted. Firstly, adequacy – how much was to be allocated to a specific vote or programme; secondly, priority – how much would be spent on each programme; thirdly, equity – fair spending on resources; and fourthly, progress as established over time. Change would be measured in monetary and percentage terms between two years or two periods.

A department’s strategic plan provided an indication of budget information to be presented in the forthcoming budget. Information in the strategic plans was considered when budget allocations were made. Measurable objectives, performance indicators and service delivery targets were linked directly to the budget and annual report. Budgets were developed in relation to inputs, activities and outputs, while the aim was ultimately to achieve certain outcomes and impacts.

Annual Reports reported on performance against the departmental budget and strategic plan. Annual reports would serve as a check as to whether the departments had reviewed their performance or service delivery results of the previous period and re-examined departmental strategic objectives against broader Government priorities.

Annual Reports served as a contract of accountability between the Government and its citizens. They informed the citizens on objectives and report whether these had been achieved or not. They provided information on financial position, financial performance and changes in financial position. Regarding oversight, annual reports enabled Parliament to evaluate departmental performance, and served as key reporting instruments against the performance targets and budgets outlined in strategic plans and the Estimated National Expenditure.

Parliamentary Committees should focus on service delivery. The Committees must develop holistic understanding of the department or performance of the public entity. Portfolio Committees might deal with issues that fell within the ambit of the Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) mandate. There was a need to build links between the committees for the consideration of the annual reports. Important role players were the Committee on Public Accounts in regard to the Auditor-General’s reports and the departmental annual reports, and the Standing Committee on Appropriations (National Assembly) and the Select Committee on Appropriations (National Council of Provinces) in regard to departmental monthly and quarterly expenditure reports.

Budgetary role players were the Auditor-General, the Accounting Officers of departments and entities, Ministers and Members of the Executive Councils (MECs), the National Treasury, the national departments in concurrent functions, Committees and their researchers, and public and constitutional entities.

As to challenges, committees needed to improve capacity to hold departments and entities to account for their performance. They should explore links and forge close working relationships between the Committee on Public Accounts and the Appropriations Committees. Committees needed to ensure that annual reports were aligned to the Estimated National Expenditure and Strategic Plan, and facilitate effective sharing of information between them. In conclusion, effective oversight required thorough preparation and analysis of each of the budget documents, and understanding of financial terms.

Discussion
Mr I Ollis (DA) asked what the Committee could do to obtain suggestions at an appropriate time in the budget cycle or have the opportunity to amend the budget.


Mr Perran Hahndiek, National Assembly Table, replied that it was important that the Committee understand how the processes of Government operated. The Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act 2009 (Act No. 9 of 2009) had been passed, and the Committee needed to be familiar with the new procedures. The new legislation sought to address the relations between the Departments and Treasury. Firstly, the Committee had to influence the Department, and then convince the Treasury. The new legislation set out terms and guidelines according to which the Committee could intervene.


Ms Bulelwa Bottoman added that Committees were expected to prepare reports on budget reviews. They needed to examine the annual reports of the departments and the reports of the Auditor-General. This should be done before October as stipulated in the new legislation.


Mr A Louw (DA) asked if there was no system in place to warn departments that tended to spend the bulk of their budgets in the last quarter of the financial year that they were not performing if they were under-spending. Secondly, he wanted to establish what systems were in place to ensure that departments which were red-flagged for not spending their budgets were not granted more funds when they requested them.

Ms Diutwleng said that currently the media’s focus was on the budget itself. If the Section 32 reports were to be used throughout the year, Parliament would be in a better position to note expenditure of any Department as it happened. If a department were to apply for additional funds, Parliament would be alerted to that red-flag sooner than if it had depended on the media’s reports.


Ms Diutwleng said that expenditure reports might not be examined thoroughly. This reflected on Parliament not the Treasury, because it was Parliament’s role to oversee departments. With the passing of the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act 2009 (Act No. 9 of 2009), Parliament was expected to detect these discrepancies more quickly, and it would have to answer on why it had approved additional funds when the department concerned was under-spending. Sometimes the department would say to a Committee that the funds were committed, but in the last quarter it would ask for a roll-over. Another reason was that departments tended to delay the payment of invoices of service providers, but towards the end of the financial year they would hasten to pay. Departments left payments too late. It was essential for the Committees to know where and how money was spent, how much was spent, and where the money went.

Mr E Nyekembe (ANC) commented that the presentations had enlightened Members, and the various contributions complemented each other.

Mr W Madisha (COPE) commended the presentations and said that they answered some major questions. He noted that outcomes deficiency was something that the Committee needed to discuss thoroughly in future.

Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) said that the budget presentation was ‘an eye-opener’. She wanted to know if the suggested Joint Oversight and Government Assurance Committee was not going to duplicate what the Committees were already doing in coordinating oversight work.

Mr Mahlangu, Procedural Officer, explained that the suggested Joint Oversight and Government Assurance Committee should be seen in the light of complementing the work of other Committees. It would look at the Executive’s assurances made in the National Assembly and would ensure that all assurances were implemented. It would be a coordinating system that would follow up on recommendations.

The Chairperson asked about the process of requesting funds from the National Treasury.

Mr Hahndiek and Ms Bottoman explained that the Committee Section was in a better position to give a direction. However, they indicated that the new legislation sought to give opportunity for engagement between the Committees, Executive and Treasury. However, it was important that the processes were streamlined.

The meeting was adjourned.

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