Establishment of Parliamentary Budget Office; Tracking System to follow-up on resolutions made by Committee

Standing Committee on Appropriations

17 August 2010
Chairperson: Mr E Sogoni (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee discussed the need to develop a tracking system to follow-up on its recommendations and findings that were tabled to Parliament. Members complained that departments did not give any feedback on whether they had implemented these recommendations. It was agreed that the researchers would compile a list to enable the Committee to see what was still outstanding.

Members briefly discussed the report on the Committee’s priority areas. The Committee agreed in principle to support the document, however noting that further changes could be made to it.

Members debated the involvement of the Committee in the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Office. A Member argued that the legislation explicitly empowered the Appropriations and Finance Committees of both Houses to be involved in the process and felt that the Committee was giving away its power instead of driving the process.

Meeting report

Tracking System to follow-up on the resolutions made by the Committee
Mr M Swart (DA) emphasised that there was a need to track and follow-up on the resolutions made by the Committee as departments did not give any feedback on whether they had implemented these decisions. He therefore proposed that the researchers list all the outstanding issues that still needed to be addressed by the Committee and the relevant departments.

Mr J Gelderblom (ANC) agreed with this suggestion, adding that the list compiled should be a template indicating date issue and action taken to enable the Committee to see what was still outstanding.

Mr G Snell (ANC) voiced uncertainty about know whether each Committee was supposed to have its own tracking system or if Parliament as an entity was responsible for this function. He pointed out that the Committee’s task would be aided if the minutes were circulated to Members sooner and if it included timeframes for the actions that needed to be taken. Finally, he reminded Members about the situation involving the Department of Public Works, where it had failed to respond to any of the questions that the Committee had posed.

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) commented that any feedback should go via the Chairperson’s office through the Committee Secretary and then to Members. Thereafter, the Committee should set time aside to discuss what the response was from the specific department.

Mr Snell pointed out that there had not been any responses to the recommendations and findings that the Committee had submitted to Parliament.

The Chairperson related an example where a Department had listened to the advice of the Committee and this had yielded positive results. The suggestion to compile a chart of all outstanding matters was a useful idea and needed to be taken forward by the researchers. This document should be made available to all Members as currently the Committee conducted monitoring on an ad hoc basis. Parliament did not have any tracking system. This matter had been raised repeatedly at Chairperson’s Forum level. The Office of the Leader of Government Business had advised that the Committee should be specific concerning the resolutions it made and highlight what actions the Committee expected from the relevant department.

Committee Strategic Priorities
A one page document was circulated to all Members. The document listed strategic priority areas for the Committee and had been developed by National Treasury.

Mr Snell highlighted that the Department of Public Works should have been included in the list.

The Chairperson noted there were other departments that needed to be added, such as the Departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Economic Development and Human Settlements. The document was just a draft that the Committee would work on continuously.

Mr Swart observed that the Department of Social Development appeared under both the education and health priority areas.

Ms Ngcobo replied that the Department fitted into both areas as both formed part of the social cluster.

Mr Snell argued that National Treasury should provide the Committee with written explanations if it planned to use the document as a guideline. The Committee needed to understand the rationale behind putting Departments against priority areas. Certain things had been left out. The quality control of the document was not right. It was not clear how Treasury had applied its mind when developing these priority areas.

The Committee agreed in principle to support the document, however noting that further changes could be made to it.

Parliamentary Budget Office
The Chairperson apologised beforehand for not following procedure and by sharing with the Committee information that that should only be disclosed to the sub-Committee.

He explained that he had been invited to a meeting the previous day chaired by the House Chairperson, Mr Obed Bapela. The meeting had been about the Committee’s recommendations made during the Appropriations Bill. The recommendation was that a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) should be established. The Committee had attached time frames for the establishment of the PBO. Parliament adopted the report and it became the resolution of the House of the National Assembly. A task team had been set up to work on establishing the PBO.

In the meeting chaired by Mr Bapela, it was indicated that the Speaker was keen on the idea of establishing a PBO but he wanted to conduct an investigation first. This would entail undertaking study visits to countries where PBOs existed. It was also indicated that there were four Committees involved in the process, namely Finance Committees for both Houses and Appropriation Committees for both Houses. The Chairperson of the NCOP would have his role to play. There would be two delegations. One delegation would be led by the Speaker and the other delegation would be led by the Chairperson of the NCOP, Mr Mahlangu. The Sub Committee was supposed to meet the House Chairperson but he was not available.

The Chairperson requested the Committee’s guidance on this matter.

Mr Snell pointed out that it was the responsibility of the Committee to see what their counterparts in other countries were doing.

Mr Swart said he was pleased that the Speaker showed interest in the matter .The Parliamentary Leader of DA as well as Dr George and himself had requested a meeting with the Speaker to discuss the formation of the PBO. It has more than one year since the recommendation was made.

Mr Swart also enquired as to when the investigation was likely to happen.

Mr Ramatlakane said that the investigation should include information about the experiences of PBOs in other countries.

The Chairperson suggested that the sub-Committee should continue meeting with the House Chairperson. It was agreed that the better period for visiting would be 11-22 October 2010. The Committee should be clear about what it wanted to achieve.

Mr Gelderblom requested that the sub-Committee meeting be convened after the adjournment of the meeting.

Mr Snell expressed concerns about the involvement of the Speaker and the Chairperson of the NCOP on the establishment of the PBO. He argued that the legislation explicitly empowered the Appropriations and Finance Committees of both Houses to be involved in the establishment of the PBO. He felt the Committee was giving away its power instead of driving the process. The Committee should not be held backwards by institutions that were outside the process. If there was a concern about independence, that should be dealt with in the sub-Committee.

Adoption of Minutes
The Committee approved all outstanding minutes.

The meeting was adjourned.




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