Standing Committee on Appropriations Strategic Plan & Planning Session Report

Standing Committee on Appropriations

27 August 2014
Chairperson: Mr S Mashatile (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee’s Content Advisor presented the Committee’s Draft Strategic Planning Document to Members. The gist of the presentation was to take the issues raised at the Committee’s planning session, and to turn them into activities for the Committee.

There were altogether four priority issues which were elaborated upon. The priority issues identified were, firstly, to improve collaboration between committees of both Houses of Parliament -- the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces -- to ensure proactive oversight and public participation. Secondly, the Committee needed to strengthen the relationship with its stakeholders and to increase collaboration and the capacity of the Committee.  There was, thirdly, a need to strengthen budget framework reform proposals, with the assistance of the Parliamentary Budget Office. The fourth priority issue was the need to strengthen the leadership and management capacity of departments and entities, in particular the performance of heads of departments and accounting officers.

The Committee’s Draft Planning Document was adopted as amended.   The Draft Strategic Plan for the Standing Committee on Appropriations 2014-2019 was also adopted as amended. It was essentially the same as the presented document, but it was the official Committee Report.

The capacity of the state was an issue that members felt always tended to come up.  It was therefore important that vacant posts in government should be filled. The suggestion was made that the Committee should perhaps attach timeframes to the filling of vacant posts. Members also felt that government departments needed to stick to the 30-day payment principle.  When government departments failed to pay, it had a drastic adverse effect on small, medium and micro enterprise (SMME) service providers. In some instances, they had to close down due to cash flow problems.

The issue of beneficiation was considered important and more needed to be done in the mining sector. The problem was perhaps that no funding was set aside for beneficiation in mining.  The Department of Trade and Industry’s funding went mainly towards the manufacturing sectors.  Accountability for the misappropriation of funds at all levels of government was another issue which the Committee had to look into.

Meeting report

Committee Draft Strategic Planning Document
Mr Tshepo Masoeu, Committee Content Advisor, presented the draft strategic planning document to the Committee on behalf of the Committee support team, which included Mr Masoeu, Committee Secretaries, Mr Darrin Arends and Ms Zandi Hulley, and Mr Musa Zamisa, the Committee Researcher.

At the outset, Mr Masoeu said that the presentation would be brief, given that Members had other engagements later on. The gist of the presentation was to take the issues raised at the Committee’s planning session and to turn them into activities for the Committee.

There were altogether four priority issues which were elaborated upon. He touched on the mandate of the Committee but explained why the Committee needed an operational plan. Firstly, the operational plan would guide the actions of the Committee in relation to fiscal issues which cut across department/sphere boundaries. Secondly, it would assist the Committee to set priorities on what it needed to accomplish in 2014 which in turn would serve as a learning input for the final strategic plan. And lastly, it was perhaps not desirable or possible for the Committee to interrogate every issue, and an effective oversight strategy would allow the Committee to prioritise certain issues which could be pursued over the course of the year.  

Priority Issue 1
The first issue that had emanated from the planning session was that there was a need to improve collaboration between committees of both Houses in Parliament -- the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces -- to ensure proactive oversight and public participation.

At the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) Standing Committee on Appropriations planning session for 2014, the point was made that there was a need to broaden participation, broaden communication channels and educate stakeholders on participation processes and the Committee’s relevance. Stakeholder surveys had shown that there were new civil society initiatives in SA, like the Budget and Expenditure Monitoring Forum (BEMF) and the International Budget Partnership (IBP).

The Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), in its 4th Parliament Legacy Report, had identified that there was a need by them to create sustainable working relations with the Appropriations Committee.
He pointed out that Action Plans were needed to address the four priority Issues identified. The action plan entailed setting operational objectives thereafter, to identify possible outputs and key activities within targeted areas.
Relating specifically to the aforementioned priority issue, one of the operational objectives set was to have collaborative oversight. Some of the outputs identified were joint reports and joint oversight visits. The key activities included ministry briefings and a research analysis support team. Targeted areas identified included education infrastructure and water services infrastructure.
Priority Issue 2
The planning session also identified the need by the Committee to strengthen the relationship with its stakeholders and to increase collaboration. The capacity of the Committee also needed to be increased. 
The Committee needed to thoroughly understand its stakeholders, which included institutes, experts, Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Community Based Organisations (CBOs). An interim database and positive relations had already been established since the planning session. These efforts could be further strengthened, for instance, by way of having expeditious timing and flow of information.

In relation to the aforementioned priority issue, one of the operational objectives set was to have enhanced oversight strategies. An output identified was to have enhanced analysis of Quarterly Expenditure Reports. The key activity identified was to request additional inputs and analysis on the First Quarter Expenditure Report from the PBO. Targeted areas would be areas of poor expenditure performance.

Priority Issue 3
The planning session identified that there was a need to strengthen budget framework reform proposals, with the assistance of the PBO.   At the planning session, the Committees on Appropriations had raised concerns about the timeframes prescribed by the legislation.  The Committee itself had emphasised that given the current macro economic outlook, state funding -- and thus appropriations -- needed to respond to the economic challenge and ensure spending supported economic growth and development, which would improve the growth trajectory of the country.

The action plan set out reforms to the Money Bill as one of its operational objectives. A possible output was to have a strategy plan to review the implementation effectiveness and challenges in respect of the Money Bills Act.  Key activities identified were meetings and deliberations between the four Committees, and to liaise with the PBO and Legal Services. The targeted area was the Money Bills Act.
Priority Issue 4
There was a need to strengthen the leadership and management capacity of departments and entities, in particular the performance of heads of departments and accounting officers.  Management capacity needed to be built with regard to the alignment between policy, planning, budgeting and performance reporting.
In the planning session, the PBO had noted that the Committee itself could not directly assess value for money. It had to rely on National Treasury, the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), the Financial Fiscal Commission and departmental reports. Often assessments were made on delivery at project/department level, but the question was, what about government (strategic and operational) integration?

Improving government planning and policy alignment was set as one of the operational objectives of the action plan for the priority issues.  One of the outputs identified was Committee outputs and reports to emphasise Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) planning principles.  A relevant activity would be to source inputs from the DPME and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and National Treasury on strategies for effective improvement in planning within government departments. Targeted areas identified were MTEF planning and the quality of performance information.

In conclusion, Mr Maseou said that on 7 August, government had released the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) for 2014–2019. The MTSF was the mechanism through which all five-year strategic plans and annual plans of the three spheres of government were being aligned to the National Development Plan, and were made to pull in the same direction.  Parliament had begun its own institution-wide planning process and it was envisaged that its strategic plan would be tabled on 10 October.

The Committee had also developed its operational plan for 2014, which set out the activities of the Committee regarding the issues identified. The Committee would finalise its five-year strategic plan in January 2015.

Ms Bridgette Diutlwileng, Parliamentary Senior Researcher: Finance and Public Accounts, noted that it was important for the Committee to hold departments accountable. It was important to know where the blockages were. The Department of Energy should explain the problems that were associated with the Madupi Power Plant. Under-expenditure by the Department of Water Affairs also impacted on economic growth. The Department of Public Enterprises should be called upon to address the Eskom issue. 

Mr M Figg (DA) found the findings of the Auditor-General’s Office for 2013 to be quite disturbing. He wished the Committee could do something about the issue.  Action was needed.  The Committee should make an impact and ensure that the citizens of SA received better service delivery.

The Chairperson suggested that Mr Masoeu send Members information on the breakdown of the various departments’ appropriations. It would assist the Committee to identify which projects would be visited, and why.

Mr A McLoughlin (DA) referred to the top ten service delivery complaints information contained in the presentation document, and said that a category should be added in relation to municipalities. It was municipalities, after all, which provided service delivery. This was especially relevant for planning action.

Ms S Shope-Sithole (ANC) referred to advertisements being placed in Sunday newspapers. In rural areas people, did not have funds to purchase Sunday newspapers, let alone daily newspapers. Whatever efforts were undertaken, the poor should be taken into consideration.  The poor were often excluded.
Departments should stick to the 30-day payment principle. There were government departments which owed small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) money. These SMMEs, if not paid by government, often closed down due to cash flow problems.

If R10.6bn had been allocated to the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) for industrial policy, then the Committee needed to invite them to elaborate on where the funds were to go. She felt that the IDC was not monitoring or implementing. There was a need for industrialisation to take place. Beneficiation also had to happen. R10bn was a huge sum.

Mr Figg agreed that the 30-day payment principle had to be adhered to. There were exceptions, where departments could not adhere to it. He suggested that perhaps the Committee could assist SMMEs.

The Chairperson noted that when public hearings were held, people could be encouraged to speak to the Committee about the payment problems that they had with departments.  People could also submit their complaints in written form. It was an important issue, and needed to be part of the oversight work of the Committee.

Mr N Gcwabaza (ANC) said that it was not only about putting up new infrastructure, but also about maintaining existing infrastructure. He pointed out that there were better maintained untarred roads in rural areas than there were tarred roads in townships.   Part of the problem why departments could not adhere to the 30-day payment principle was because departments did not use their Information Technology (IT) systems optimally.  Departments failed to capture invoices on to their systems. The failure of departments to do data capturing needed to be emphasised.
The issue of beneficiation did not fall within the mandate of the Committee. The issue was always being brought up, but mining houses were of the belief that it was not their business to develop, but rather to dig up and ship out.  No funds were allocated to mining for beneficiation, however.  Much of the DTI funds were used in the manufacturing sectors, and not in mining. He admitted it was a tricky issue.

The Chairperson referred to Priority Issue 4, and felt that the problem was much greater. Basically the issue was about the capacity of the state. People with skills needed to be put in place. Vacancies needed to be filled.   The Committee support team needed to re-evaluate what the Committee should focus on. The capacity of the state was an issue that was brought up all the time.  He pointed out that there was a National School of Governance. Was it going to be useful?  Were things changing?  Sometimes government departments could not perform because they needed to fill vacant posts.

Mr Zamisa, on the issue of vacancies and the adjustments budgets process, pointed out that departments often shifted funds that were originally provided for the filling of vacancies to other less important things, like the purchasing of desks and equipment.

The Chairperson responded that the Committee would keep an eye on such matters, and that timeframes would be attached to the filling of vacant posts.

Mr A Shaik Emam (NFP) stated that the issue of accountability was often looked at only from the top to bottom approach. Perhaps it should be looked at from a bottom to top approach. The emphasis should be on local government, and on making councillors more accountable. Accountability should be at all levels.

Ms Shope-Sithole noted that the Auditor-General’s Office complained year in and year out about the lack of consequences for wrong doing. Those who stole from the state must be held accountable. Funds were also misappropriated at provincial and local government level.

On the issue of beneficiation, she said that President Zuma had stated that beneficiation had to take place. Mines had to beneficiate.  It was considered crucial for the IDT to address the Committee.

Mr McLoughlin referring to Mr Shaik Emam’s comments, said that it was all good and well to have political will, but the difficulty was to turn it into administrative action. There was a need to consider both the political and administrative sides.

Mr Shaik Emam agreed with Mr McLoughlin. Another thing for the Committee to consider was whether people should be allowed to hold two jobs.  One of the two was bound to suffer. He gave the example of a school principal being a councillor. If the principal attended council meetings all the time, he would neglect his duties as principal.

The Chairperson said that there was an official Committee report titled the Draft Strategic Plan for the Standing Committee on Appropriations 2014-2019.  It was the Committee report on what Mr Masoeu had presented. There were thus two documents which covered the same subject matter -- the one was a presentation document which had been spoken to, and the second was the Committee Report circulated to Members.
He placed the Committee Report before the Committee for consideration.

The Committee adopted the Committee Report, as amended.

The Chairperson also placed the presentation document before the Committee for adoption.

The presentation document was also adopted as amended.

The meeting was adjourned.


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