Members discussed the legacy report of the Standing Committee of Finance. Discussion centred around the challenges faced by the Committee around time constraints involving its interaction with Treasury over the processing of legislation as well as developing some recommendations around support services to assist the Committee in terms of legal advice and very technical legislation.
The Chairperson said the meeting would deal with the legacy report of the Committee for the fourth Parliament, a reflection of what had been done by the Committee.
Mr Allen Wicomb, Committee Secretary, went through the draft report indicating that the first part dealt with the strategic plan of the Committee which had been adopted in September 2009. Thereafter the report dealt with the key focus areas of work for the new Parliament including two Bills that had been referred to the Committee. The report then looked at key challenges that had emerged. It followed this up with a listing of all the entities that fell under the ambit of the Committee. The report then listed the functions of the Committee. This was followed by a listing of key statistics regarding meetings, study tours, international agreements and interventions. There was a listing of the Bills that the Committee dealt with and passed excluding the Money Bills Amendment Act which was done in the previous Parliament, as advised by Adv F Jenkins, Senior Parliamentary Legal Advisor. The report then listed the oversight visits undertaken by the Committee as well as the international agreements that had been passed. It noted the statutory appointment of the Director of the Parliamentary Budget Office. It also listed outstanding issues for the next Parliament to consider, namely the two Bills and an outstanding resolution from the House.
The Chairperson said the focus of the meeting should be on outstanding issues.
On the subtopic of key challenges emerging, Ms Z Dlamini-Dubazana (ANC) questioned what the Committee was saying when the report noted that ‘time was limited’ and that ‘there were insufficient sector specific skills and knowledge’ within the Committee. If this question could be clarified then the Committee could come up with proper recommendations to address the matter.
The secretary responded saying that limited time referred to the time it took to process legislation. He used the example of the Customs Bills which had been presented late in the previous year. The Treasury had felt that the legislation should have been done immediately without taking into consideration the time frames involved and that public input also had to be taken into account. He said perhaps the report should consider saying that the Treasury should consider the time frames involved in processing legislation. Complex legislation, like tax legislation which was very technical, was referred to the Committee and again the time required was not taken into account. For example, the Financial Services legislation included holding workshops where technicalities could be discussed by the Committee. This needed to be highlighted in the report.
Ms Dlamini-Dubazana said that instead of key challenges, the report should recommend that Treasury needed to program the submission of legislation for the whole five year term of Parliament and another recommendation that Committee members would be thoroughly trained should legislation be technical.
Mr D Ross (DA) supported this proposal.
Mr N Koornhof (COPE) said the reference to overseas visits should be scrapped as there were none.
Ms J Tshabalala (ANC) said a recommendation should be included that the next Committee do oversight visits.
Ms P Adams said the oversight visits should be planned beforehand.
Dr Z Luyenge said the Committee had not visited any country to share with them what the Committee had done and learn from other countries, as this had rested only on the shoulders of the Minister.
The Chairperson said the Committee should reflect on what the challenges for the Committee had been and then make recommendations informed by their own observations. If there had been no challenges for the Committee then there would be nothing for the next Committee to be guided by. It was important that the Committee placed attention on the strategic plan of the Treasury. This could possibly be included in the recommendations to the new Committee.
Regarding complex legislation and the need to enhance sector specific skills within the Committee, he said this had to be mentioned so that when people were deployed to committees, they comprised people with a background in the field otherwise parliamentary oversight would be weakened. The challenges should be mentioned and the recommendations could provide possible solutions to the challenges.
Ms Tshabalala said departments and their subsidiaries sometimes underspent or overspent, like for example SA Airways, and would want a loan or grant and Treasury would intervene. The Committee however did not get that information until much later. Treasury should find the time to give the Committee a report back to keep Committee abreast. This would allow the Committee to monitor where the money came from and where it went to and in so doing provide proper oversight of the Treasury. There should be some way for the Committee to be kept informed.
Mr Koornhof said the Committee should recognise the importance of having a legal advisor in the Committee when dealing with tax legislation for example. There should be a recommendation noting the importance of the availability of legal services to assist the Committee.
The Chairperson agreed. On the issue of complex legislation, he said the Budget Office had been established and it needed to be capacitated. This should be reflected in the recommendations.
Adv Jenkins agreed and said what most committees needed was legal support and the Finance Committee needed to get it either from legal services or for the Budget Office to have the capacity to deal with legal questions that arose from the work of the Committee. This function definitely needed to be there.
Mr D Van Rooyen (ANC) said emphasis needed to be put on the need to prioritise the finalisation of the Money Bills Act. Secondly, there was a need to align the programs of the two Houses. The committees had done well on joint meetings but could do better. The strategic plans even, should be jointly discussed and agreed on.
Ms Dlamini-Dubazana said the first recommendation could read ..’to enhance support structures for members i.e. legal and research support to enable the day to day functioning of the Committee’.
The second recommendation to read ‘…to ensure that the Budget Office is capacitated to assist the Committee’.
The third recommendation to read ‘…on-going skills training for the Committee be done prior to technical legislation was presented to the Committee’.
The Chairperson said that with those amendments the report could be adopted.
The Committee agreed and adopted the report unanimously
The meeting was adjourned.