SC Appropriations: Cancellation of meetings by departments; Committee's Fourth Quarter Expenditure Report for 2010/11 Financial Year

Standing Committee on Appropriations

11 October 2011
Chairperson: Mr E Sogoni (ANC
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Meeting Summary

The Committee discussed a challenge that it faced. It was being undermined by senior officials from the different departments in the sense that they ignored invitations by the Committee, cancelled appointments at the last minute and did not make the effort to call themselves, or reschedule the meetings. These senior officials did not respect the time or planning of the Committee, disrupted its work and undermined Parliament. The meeting agreed that the Committee would lodge official complaints with the Ministers concerned. If the situation persisted, the Committee would lodge an official complaint with the Speaker of Parliament as he was its administrative head.

The Committee adopted the Fourth Quarter Expenditure Report for the 2010/11 Financial Year with amendments. Members highlighted and clarified some of the recommendations, which included:

• The Department of Human settlements furnish the National assembly with several reports in order to justify the observed expenditure. These include Progress report on the turnaround strategy; the overspending in the last quarter by the provinces; the winding up of SERVCON and the signing off of reports by the provincial treasuries.
• The
Department of Basic Education submit a report to the National Assembly outlining how it intended to address the challenge of vacancies, particularly that of the Chief Financial Officer
The Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities submit several reports to the National Assembly. These included a breakdown in respect of the expenditure per programme, inclusive of reasons for over expenditure to the National Assembly, a report in respect of the costs of international travels during the 2010/11 financial year and its approved organogram as well as reports on the advertising costs and outsourced services.
•The Department of Health and its entities, i.e. Love Life and the Medical Aid Scheme Council address its differences given the lack of expenditure with regard to transfers and subsidies of its budget.
• The Department of Communications develop mechanisms to address the low expenditure patterns.

Meeting report

Cancellation of meetings by departments
The Chairperson informed Members that officials from National Treasury as well as the Presidency had cancelled planned meetings with the Committee at the last minute. These were not isolated incidents as this was a regular occurrence by officials from other departments as well. Invitations by this Committee to senior officials were often ignored. The officials very seldom made alternate arrangements if they could not make the planned date. Officials very seldom cancelled appointments in writing or by phone call. They sent messages at the last minute. There was general disregard for the time and the planning of the Committee. These practices disrupted the planning and the program of this Committee, and left its Members disgruntled.

Ms L Yengeni (ANC) said that when officials called the Chairperson to cancel meetings, he should indicate that he could not accept the cancellation unilaterally as it had to be discussed with the Committee first. She asked the Chairperson to provide leadership on this point. If officials wanted to cancel a meeting, they had to reschedule.

Ms R Mashigo (ANC) agreed with Ms Yengeni.

The Chairperson explained that the Committee programme went to the Speakers office, because it tracked the activities of all committees. Any changes to the programme of any Committee, affected the whole of Parliament. He proposed that the Committee write to the Speaker to inform him that Parliament was being undermined. Departments also sent junior officials who had no influence or authority and could not make decisions, to the meeting, when they did respond.

Ms Yengeni said that the Committee had the power to call the Ministers to appear before it. The Ministers had to be in the meeting anyway, when their departments presented to the Committee. She proposed that the Minister of Finance had to be informed about the dissatisfaction of the Committee with the treatment it received from the officials at National Treasury. If the Committee approached the Speaker, he would call the Ministers and not the DGs. If departments persisted to undermine the Committee, then the Committee could go to the Speaker and report that it had exhausted all channels to rectify the problem.

The meeting agreed to follow that course of action.

The meeting then moved on to the adoption of minutes.

Adoption of Minutes
The Committee adopted minutes of meetings held on 26 July, 27 July, 2 August, and 3 August 2011 with minor corrections. The minutes of the meeting held on the 10, 11 and 16, 23, 24August 2011 were adopted without corrections. The minutes of the meeting held on the 17th August 2011 were adopted, but the argument regarding the PFMA as Constitution needed to be revisited. Also, the minutes of meetings held on 2 September, 14 September, and 21 September 2011 were adopted without corrections.

Fourth Quarter Expenditure Report for the 2010/11 Financial Year
The meeting then moved on to the further discussion on the Fourth Quarter Expenditure Report for the 2010/11 Financial Year. The report had been discussed previously and the Committee agreed on the changes that had been made. Only the recommendations had to be looked at.

The discussion regarding the recommendations (p19) in the report was as follows:
4. Committee Recommendations
4.1 That the Department of Human settlements furnish the National assembly with the following reports in order to justify the observed expenditure:
4.1.1 Progress report on the turnaround strategy;
4.1.2 The overspending in the last quarter by the provinces;
4.1.3 The winding up of SERVCON;
4.1.4 The signing off of reports by the provincial treasuries.

The Chairperson asked the researcher why the Committee asked for a progress report on the turnaround strategy (4.1.1)

The researcher replied that there were challenges regarding spending in the provinces. Many provinces had overspent their budgets. The focus of the deliberations was on what intervention the Department had made to prevent it because it posed a financial threat to the budget. The Department said that it had a plan to address the problem. The Committee then said that the Department had to submit a progress report on its turnaround strategy.

4.2 That the Department of Basic Education submit a report to the National Assembly outlining how it intended to address the challenge of vacancies, particularly that of the Chief Financial Officer.
The researcher said that the Chairperson and the Committee had expressed concern because the CFO of this department had been an acting CFO for quite a long time. The filling of vacancies had proved to be a challenge to the department, because it hampered its capacity to deliver. Especially the post of CFO needed to be filled urgently. The Committee decided to put this point as a recommendation because many other departments had the same challenge, amongst other the Department of Trade and Industry.

The Chairperson said that according to a certain regulation of the Public Service Act, the longest period a person could occupy a position in an acting capacity was six months. This CFO was in that position in an acting capacity for about two years, which was unlawful.

The Chairperson said that the wording had to change to something approximating:
4.2 That the Department of Basic Education submit a report to the National Assembly outlining how it intended to address the challenge of the filling of vacancies, particularly that of the Chief Financial Officer who has been acting for an extended period in breach of a  Regulation of the Public Service Act.

4.3 That the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities submit the following reports to the National Assembly:
4.3.1 A breakdown in respect of the expenditure per programme, inclusive of reasons for over expenditure to the National Assembly.
4.3.2 A report in respect of the costs of international travels during the 2010/11 financial year. This report needed to be inclusive of how the Department intended to cut expenditure in relation to international travel.
4.3.3 Its approved organogram as well as reports on the advertising costs and outsourced services.
The Chairperson asked whether the Committee really wanted the reports, because the matters it referred to had been raised with the department concerned, and was it not wiser to wait for their next round of reports to see whether it had addressed the issues raised, instead of getting them to submit these reports.

The challenge that the Chairperson had with this Department was that it was in transition from the Office of the Presidency to a standalone department. The DG was not happy that the figure spent on international travel amounted to R 23 million, which was a big chunk of the Department’s total budget. She felt that her department was not responsible for the whole amount, that other people were making international trips on the account of her department. The Chairperson’s own take on the matter was: ‘let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, but monitor them.’

Mr G Snell (ANC) said that he agreed with the Chairperson but that the Committee needed a system within its administration to trace the summary of decisions. This report when adopted became a product of the House, The minutes became a product of the Committee, but there were a number of points that were also minuted that were not part of the recommendations. The administration needed to produce a summary of the decisions, resolutions and recommendations for its own records, which it could follow up on otherwise it just fell through the cracks.

A member said that he confirmed with this department that all the traveling expenses it covered were its own.

Ms R Mashigo (ANC) replied that the Committee had in depth deliberations with this Department and that what it found was exactly what happened as it was reflected in the recommendation. She would not advise the Committee to amend the recommendation as it stood. The fact that the Department was in transition was irrelevant. She felt that the Department had to account and submit a report.

Ms Yengeni supported the proposal of Ms Mashigo.

The Chairperson did not feel it was necessary to have the breakdown per programme that the recommendation asked for. He called on the researcher for assistance.

The researcher said that the main issue was the expenditure on goods and services of which the biggest expense was international travel. The researcher suggested that the Committee did away with 4.3.1 as the other programmes of the Department were irrelevant to the issue here. The Committee only needed information regarding its spending on goods and services and international travel.

The Chairperson asked the Researcher to re-phrase 4.3.2. to reflect what he explained.

Ms Mashigo asked the Chairperson to explain again what the researcher had said. He obliged.

Ms Yengeni did not agree that the over-expenditure only related to goods and services because she remembered the day the DG was with the Committee. She asked that the report on that meeting be retrieved, because if her memory served her right, the document was full of expenses amounting to huge sums of money that the DG could not explain. She felt that the recommendation on expenditure per program had to remain in the document, so that the Committee could see it.

She also believed that the Committee had not been told the truth about the Women’s Day Celebrations. The Department told the Committee that it had to do it themselves, because the Department of Arts and Culture did not want to pay for it. She had asked the Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Mashatile, why his department did not pay for the celebrations. He replied that the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities just took the event over without any consultations with the Department of Arts and Culture. She also felt that the fact that the department was in transition was irrelevant and the recommendation had to remain as it was.
The Chairperson said that this department had been asked for information in the past which it never produced, although it claimed that it did.

4.4 That the National Treasury monitors the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities more closely in future in order to ensure better compliance with the prescripts, especially section 32, of the Public Finance Management Act, No 1 of 1999.

4.5 That the above departments should fill all critical funded vacant posts and ensure that budget for payments of capital assets is spent accordingly.

Mr Snell asked whether this point also referred to Treasury. He wanted to know whether it would not be better to spell out the names of the Departments.
The Researcher said that this recommendation emanated from finding 3.4 on page 18 of the Draft Report. This point named 17 departments.

The Chairperson said that there were even more departments which had critical posts vacant. He suggested the wording: ‘In line with the President’s call to fill all vacant posts in the public service, we call upon all departments ….’

Ms Mashigo suggested that the wording could refer to the fact that in many of the quarterly reports, the Committee referred to the filling of vacant posts in its recommendations.

The researcher proposed: ‘All the departments affected by the issue of vacancies had to respond urgently to the call made by the President during the State of the Nation Address….’ subject to change as necessary.

4.6 That the Department of Health and its entities, i.e. Love Life and the Medical Aid Scheme Council address its differences given the lack of expenditure with regard to transfers and subsidies of its budget.

The Chairperson asked whether the Medical Aid Scheme Council did not spend its allocation.

The researcher replied that the Department of Health never made the transfers to these entities.

The Chairperson said that Love Life had never been invited to the Committee and that this year it had to be invited.

Ms Mashigo asked whether the researcher decided to add the three new issues to the recommendations.

The Chairperson said that it was not the researcher who decided. On the last day when the recommendations were discussed, he told the researcher to relook at the recommendations and add what was necessary for example the issue of under-spending in the Department of Communications.

4.7 That the Department of Communications develop mechanisms to address the low expenditure patterns.
The report was adopted with corrections as stated.

The Committee agreed to discuss the First Quarter Report for the 2011/12 Financial Year on 18 and 19 October 2011.

The meeting was adjourned.

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