The Committee expressed concern at the absence of the Secretary to Parliament, as an accounting officer, from the meeting to discuss its mandate, functions and powers. This would prevent them from seeking guidance and clarification on the issues involved. Several Members called for the meeting to be postponed, but after debate it was agreed that the meeting should continue and that the Secretary ought to be present at subsequent meetings.
Among questions raised by Members were whether the Committee had the power to summon any official of Parliament to appear before it; how unauthorised expenditure could be recovered; the procedural process for submitting monthly, quarterly and mid-year reports; what would happen with pending reports; the role of the Quarterly Consultative Forum (QCF); issues involving holding the executive authority and accounting officer to account; the approval procedure for departures from regulations and the condonation of failure to comply with regulations; the juncture between Members’ needs and facilities; and what other function, duty, or task could be assigned to the Committee.
Parliament’s Finance and Economics Cluster Manager provided a comprehensive response to the Member’s questions.
Absence of the Secretary to Parliament
Mr M Waters (DA) said the meeting could not take place without the Secretary to Parliament, who was the accounting officer, being present.
The Chairperson responded that had not thought that the Secretary was required at that particular meeting. As a result, he had not been invited. He apologised.
Mr N Singh (IFP) said that it was crucial for the Secretary to attend the meeting, because he could have clarified certain issues related to Members of Parliament’s work. It was unfortunate that the Secretary was not present.
The Chairperson responded that he was satisfied that there was a representative from the Office of the Secretary to Parliament, who would record everything said in the meeting.
Mr Waters suggested that the Secretary should attend every single meeting of the Committee.
Mr J Steenhuisen (DA) said that there was no other Committee to which the Secretary accounted, therefore he or she should always be present. The meeting should be adjourned, because there might some deliberations where his input would be necessary, or Members could seek clarity from him.
Mr N Gcwabaza (ANC) said that the Committee should not be split on the matter. The Secretary’s presence was essential. He seconded Mr Waters.
Mr A Masondo (ANC) suggested that the meeting should take a place, adding that meetings would be taking place whether the Secretary was present or not.
Mr Singh read the rules of Parliament in order to emphasise that an accounting officer ought to be present. However, he was of the view that the meeting should continue in the absence of the Secretary.
Ms N Mente (EFF) seconded Mr Waters’ motion. She remarked that the absence of the Secretary was problematic, because there was no one who would be accounting to the Committee.
Mr C de Beer (ANC) also read the rules regulating Parliament, and stressed that when a meeting was convened for an oversight mechanism purpose, the accounting officer ought to be present.
The Chairperson said that the Members’ sentiment was that the Secretary should attend all meetings, and if he was not available, he should apologise. However, he should delegate someone from his office to attend the meeting. He agreed that there could be matters which the Committee could not deliberate on if the Secretary or his representative were not present. Whether the Secretary of Parliament had to make himself available for every meeting, however, would have to be discussed further.
Members felt that the meeting should have taken place in the presence of the Secretary of Parliament and in his absence, it could have been postponed. After deliberation, it was agreed that the meeting should continue and that the Secretary ought to be present at subsequent meetings.
Briefing on Mandate, Functions and Powers of Joint Committee
Mr Montanga Tau, Parliament’s Finance and Economics Cluster Manager, took the Committee through the presentation. He focused on the mandate of the Committee, its powers and functions, the establishment and proceedings of the Committee, its guiding principles and oversight mechanisms. (See attachment.)
Ms Mente asked whether the Committee had the power to summon any official of Parliament to appear before it. She said if unauthorised expenditure was not approved, executive authority was responsible in its personal capacity; how could unauthorised expenditure be recovered? What power had the Committee to recover such money? Could it be recovered directly from the responsible person’s salary or pension?
Mr Steenhuisen sought clarity on monthly, quarterly and mid-year reports. Would the Committee be able to conduct oversight? There was a report that was still pending from Parliament on which some issues had to be raised, and it looked as if there would be no engagement with the report. What would happen with pending reports, and would the Secretary engage with the Committee?
Mr Singh asked about the Quarterly Consultative Forum (QCF). The QFC dealt with matters affecting Members of Parliament, and he wanted to know how the Committee would deal with these issues. He sought further clarity on holding the executive authority and accounting officer to account. Why would only the executive officer be responsible for unauthorised expenditure? The Committee could not play the role of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), as this went beyond of the Committee’s mandate. The Committee could engage only with the Auditor General’s report. The Committee had also the right to engage with, and consider, the Five Year Strategic Plan which was being implemented. He wanted more information on the approval of departures from regulations and condonation of failure to comply with regulations. At what point could this be done? Could it be done before the fact, or after the fact?
Mr Waters asked about the juncture between Members’ needs and facilities. The Committee dealt with the financial wellbeing of Parliament, and there was no other body or forum that dealt with the interests of Members. In this regard, what other function, duty, or task could be assigned to the Committee? Members should discuss whether they should take on other duties and whether another Committee should be established to deal with the Members’ interests. Finally, he said that the Committee should always be convened to interrogate the monthly report.
Singh asked what ‘matters of personal interest’ meant.
The Chairperson said that the Committee had inherited the legacy report, and wanted to know if it could be made available. If it was not available, it should be requested. The jurisdiction of the Committee included the legacy report.
Mr Tau said that the Committee had the power to summon any official of Parliament. An official could be summoned only if he or she had been invited to brief the Committee but had not complied. Any official or any institution that received funds from the government could be invited by the Committee to explain how it utilised its budget.
On the question of recovering unauthorised expenditure, he replied that a procedural process existed to do so. The concerned person should first be made aware of what he or she owed, and eventually be requested to pay back the money. If he or she could not pay, a letter of demand could follow, and if he or she did not respond positively, a charge could be laid against him or her. There was a policy that provided clear guidelines on how debts could be recovered or be written off.
On the issue of legacy report, he said that the Committee should peruse it and consider matters which were relevant and significant to it.
On the question of the QCF, he responded that he was not aware of QCF’s mandate. However, if the mandate was similar to that of the Committee, the Committee could assume its functions. The Committee should not assume those functions on the grounds that the QCF was no longer there. The Committee ought to focus on matters that fell within its jurisdiction. Those matters which did not fall within its jurisdiction should be directed to other Committees dealing with them.
On the question of the possibility of playing the role of SCOPA, he said that the Committee could act in a SCOPA-like fashion, but it could not assume the SCOPA’s function. The Executive Authority could also appear before the Committee, if the Committee deemed it appropriate.
He agreed that the Strategic Plan was subject to review. It could be reviewed even if it had been adopted for the next five years. On the question of when the Committee could consider any deviations, the enabling legislation talked about how and when the Committee could consider those deviations.
On the question of personal interest, he responded that personal interest might be situations where a Member conducted a business. A Member could not attend a meeting where such a type of business was under consideration.
Mr De Beer said that section 54 of the Parliamentary Act was clear on how reports should be submitted, and that the Committee would be applying the principles of the SCOPA. The Committee should learn from other countries how they were dealing with the same matter.
Mr Steenhuisen said that the Committee should adopt the rules of procedure pertaining to how the monthly reports should be submitted, to avoid crushes at the end of the year. This was how section 54 could be applied.
Mr Waters said that there were two different opinions with regards to condonation and approval of departure from authorised expenditure. The first opinion stated that prior approval could be given and the second opinion was that it could be given after the fact. The Committee should think how to deal with this principle. He suggested that the Committee should be giving its approval before the facts. Information should always be given beforehand.
Mr Singh said that the enabling legislation dealt with the National Parliament, and therefore it said nothing in respect of provincial legislatures. The provincial legislatures should adopt their legislation, applying the same principles, norms and values.
Consideration and adoption of the Draft Committee Programme
In considering the draft Committee programme, Mr Singh suggested that it should be adopted as a point of departure. Mr Steenhuisen seconded him. The programme was adopted without amendment.
Consideration of the required documents for meetings
The Chairperson said that the issue raised by Mr Waters should be clarified in writing, and then be submitted to the Chairperson.
Consideration and adoption of the minutes
The minutes of the meeting of 5 May 2016 were considered and adopted with a minor change.
The meeting was adjourned.
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