The draft of the strategic plan for the Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) was discussed, with the focus mainly on the hearings and crafting of resolutions. The Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) presented the draft, and made it a priority for the Committee to provide a time frame. The dates of 25 and 26 November were proposed for finalization of the time frame.
Members wanted to know when hearings would take place. One cautioned against “re-inventing the wheel”, while another suggested that an extra hour be taken after meetings for the crafting of resolutions. Not all were convinced that the lengthening of meetings by an hour would prove beneficial. However, it was agreed that the Committee could not wait until the end of the term for the crafting of resolutions.
The importance of stakeholder engagement was noted, and how these would be structured was questioned. The issue of oversight visits was raised, and when these visits would be deemed necessary. AGSA pointed out that during the previous year, no resolutions had been adopted, and the Chairperson was asked for clarity on this situation.
The Chairperson welcomed all to the meeting, starting with the officials from the Auditor General’s office. The strategic plan of the committee was to be discussed, and it had been established that copies of the draft strategic plan were required and it would take between 10 and 15 minutes to have them photo copied. The Chairperson asked whether committee members wished to continue with the meeting and a consensus was reached that the meeting would continue while the copies were made.
Ms Thandeka Zondi, Corporate Executive: Auditor General South Africa (AGSA), identified three core objectives stretching from 2014 to 2019. These included an improvement in the public understanding of the work done by SCOPA, the enhancement of the effectiveness by the Committee, and the promotion of proper planning and research. Sub-divisions were also identified under each of these objectives. The proposals made included that the Chairperson would be required to engage with the Parliamentary communications office to drive the understanding of SCOPA by the public. Co-operation with other committees would be important, and invitations would be extended to other stakeholders to attend hearings. Effective monitoring, which would be quarterly, was also noted and tracking of progress against the annual plan remained the key.
The major question remained the maintenance of a balance between hearings and resolutions. Would a drive towards adoptions of resolutions be feasible from June onwards? Would it be acceptable to engage in oversight visits and study tours in July. After the recess, the focus would be on crafting the Committee plan. The focus was on the annual and general plan of SCOPA.
The point of discussion for the meeting was whether time was sufficient, and whether there was a need to wait for all hearings to be completed before embarking on resolutions. However, it had been identified that if resolutions were to be dealt with from June onwards, then a new financial year would have already started. The question remained how to capitalise on the end of year monitoring, and how to enhance the role of the Auditor-General. The key stakeholders and desired achievement had to be identified and the engagement had to be structured. SCOPA was fairly structured -- how could it be further improved?
Ms Zondi stated that October to November would be set aside for analysing and prioritizing, and January to May would be for hearings and resolutions. The manner in which these were to be achieved was questioned.
Mr T Brauteseth (DA) questioned when the hearings would take place.
Ms Zondi said that prioritising was important.
Mr Brauteseth asked whether the hearings were to take place from next week, or from January 2015.
Ms K Litchfield-Tshabalala (EFF) said that she wanted to support the suggestion, as she did not want to enter into a battle which she knew she would not win.
The Chairperson mentioned that a major challenge remained time. Effective time management was extremely important. If only 21 days were available for hearings, then it became a disabler and a week was sufficient for the decisions to be made. Before the recess, some work should be completed.
Mr Brauteseth said that it would be feasible to prepare properly and then set up a schedule stretching from January to May, and during recess individual research could continue. Before the session resumed notices could be sent to those concerned to be called for hearings.
Mr E Kekana (ANC) mentioned that in terms of process, as stated by the previous Member, he thought that the suggestion could prove feasible.
Mr R Lees (DA) noted that during hearings, matters arose which could become time consuming.
Ms Zondi wanted to propose the way forward. Sufficient time was required, but this did not involve a specific timeframe provided the parliamentary rules were adhered to. She asked Members for their views.
Mr Brauteseth said that the briefing by the Auditor-General to assist with prioritising was important, and division into two groups should follow. Research by the team leaders, and relying on the experience of the Chairperson, would also prove helpful.
The Chairperson agreed that analysing and prioritising in groups was important, but the Committee had to make the final decision and the Auditor-Committee would be involved at the level of the briefing so that the Committee was fully prepared by the time of the hearings. All Members would be briefed. Debating would continue and a joint committee decision would be taken.
Mr Lees cautioned against “reinventing the wheel”.
The Chairperson stated that he had engaged with the research unit for another researcher to be employed, as it was challenging for one researcher to serve more than one committee.
Ms Zondi wanted to know what the time frame would be, and when the Committee would be able to decide on the matter of recommendations.
Mr Brauteseth said that the Committee should refer to the schedule, and by next Tuesday the groups should meet and submit a list by Wednesday. 18 or 19 November would be feasible, and he questioned whether the researchers would assist. These meetings could take place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The Chairperson mentioned that 11 and 12 November had been set aside for other discussions, as the annual reports also required attention. If time was insufficient, then possibly 25 and 26 November could be set aside for the groups to meet before leaving for the recess.
Mr Lees wanted to know whether the documents would be completed by next Tuesday.
The parliamentary official said they would.
Mr Brauteseth wanted to know whether the briefing of the following day would include receiving a report.
Ms Zondi stated that copies were to be made of the reports. If the Committee could decide on the process, then AGSA could also tighten up their work schedule. 25 and 26 November would prove feasible for finalising the decisions surrounding the matter of briefings and recommendations.
Mr Brauteseth said that the Secretariat might have to decide on the meeting dates, as more than one day for meeting purposes might not be feasible.
Ms Zondi identified that during the previous year, no resolutions had been adopted and called upon the Chairperson for clarity on this matter.
The Chairperson answered that resolutions would be adopted as soon as possible. By June, no resolutions should be outstanding as thereafter, the House should engage in adoptions. The resolutions must also be driven from the groups. An extra day for meeting purposes -- a Friday – had been identified, as it remained a working day in Parliament. However, the challenge was that Members needed to travel back home on Fridays. A clearer look could be taken on 25 and 26 November at the matters for discussion.
Mr Brauteseth was concerned, as it seemed as if the Committee was rushing to have everything completed by June, while the Committee did not seem to have been too efficient since inception. A suggestion was made that resolutions could be adopted by the House by July or August.
Mr M Hlengwa (IFP) noted that proper planning and prioritising was required, and said: “Let us not shoot in the dark”.
Ms Zondi wanted to know whether an hour would be taken after hearings for recommendations to be processed, or whether hearings would first be completed before crafting the recommendations. Clarity was called for and 25 and 26 November were identified as the days upon which more clarity would be provided.
Mr Kekana proposed that an hour be taken after a meeting for recommendations.
Mr Brauteseth stated that meetings on Fridays would not be feasible, as Members had a lot of work in their own areas to conduct on this day. A longer meeting might be more feasible.
Ms Zondi supported the lengthening of meetings by an hour.
Mr V Smith (ANC) was not convinced that a resolution could be established in an hour after a hearing. However, the committee could not wait until the end of the term for resolutions. The last Tuesday or Wednesday in the month may prove feasible for establishing resolutions and in essence, the last week of the month would be the best for the adoption of resolutions at the plenary level.
The Chairperson agreed that the last week in the month would be preferable for the processing of resolutions. On Tuesdays, groups could meet and this would prove a guide for further decisions to be taken.
Ms Zondi mentioned that the above would allow AGSA to identify any outstanding resolutions and also to remedy the situation, if necessary. Both options of extending the day by an hour, or moving the crafting of resolutions to the end of the month, were noted.
The Chairperson stated that a decision should be taken which involved having resolutions at the end of the month.
Ms Zondi mentioned that oversight visits should be decided on by the Committee.
The Chairperson said that the Committee would decide on oversight visits on 25 and 26 November, or during the actual performance audit. The last Tuesday and Wednesday meeting days could possibly also prove decisive in respect of the oversight visits.
Ms Zondi mentioned that the incorporation of the Auditor-General’s report was important, as well as the stakeholder engagement. Whether it was a financial or performance audit, adjustments taking place by the time the Auditor-General arrived, caused qualified audits. Hence, quarterly reports and continuous monitoring remained crucial.
Mr Smith said that when critical issues were identified, SCOPA could be deployed to the meetings where these were addressed and become involved in the quarterly hearings.
The Chairperson stated that the Committee resolutions involved quarterly reports and continuous engagement with the National Treasury, and an annual report from Treasury was also important. The Auditor-General could also join in these discussions.
Ms Zondi identified a couple of “nuggets” which would assist in the crafting of the report. It was further stated that lots of work was ahead and the focus would fall on the meetings of 25 and 26 November. The high level of planning involved attending to the briefings and finding resolutions, the follow up of the quarterly reports and establishing the process for structured engagement with Treasury.
The Chairperson said that next year, the process of drafting the strategic plan would be less tedious, as this year was the first year of the new Committee, which could explain the challenges. Members were informed of the Auditor General briefing at 09h00 as scheduled, the following day. The Committee of Chairpersons would be briefed by the Auditor-General after the SCOPA briefing. The Members should therefore have a wider view when reading the report, and be mindful of the committee to be briefed after the SCOPA briefing.
The Chairperson concluded by thanking all Members present. The Committee researchers were commended for their contribution.
The meeting was adjourned.
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