Committee report on expenditure patterns: discussion; Committee Programme

Standing Committee on Appropriations

25 October 2016
Chairperson: Ms Y Phosa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The consideration and adoption of the Committee report on expenditure patterns was postponed. There had to be further recommendations from Members, and engagement with the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO).

Discussion of the Committee programme centered on the proposed study tour. Agreement was reached that the tour had to be undertaken in January 2017, and that the countries prioritised would be Germany and/or Sweden.

Four sets of minutes were adopted. The issue arose whether the Committee could submit its own minutes of a joint meeting on 19 October, as a true reflection. It was decided that the secretariats of other committees should be engaged with on the matter.

Meeting report

Introduction by Chairperson

The Chairperson said the most important item on the agenda was the consideration and adoption of the Committee report on expenditure for the fourth quarter of 2015/16, and the first quarter of 2016/17. Minutes had to be adopted -- when the adoption of minutes was postponed, the Committee would begin to lose sight of the issues. At a previous meeting to consider a programme of action, the DA had asked to submit a proposal about a certain issue. The Committee’s approach was to take on any issue submitted, so the DA could brief on the matter, and a resolution would be taken as a Committee.

Dr M Figg (DA) raised the issue of Members who consistently rendered apologies, but rarely attended meetings. It was imperative that they attend meetings from time to time. The Committee had to keep track of how many apologies were received over time. He was concerned about Members who would suddenly appear from nowhere (or somewhere) when there was an issue of concern for them. Their presence could then be at the expense of Members who attended regularly.

Dr C Madlopha (ANC) agreed that it could have a paralysing effect on Members who attended regularly. It was only fair to prioritise those who attended regularly.

Draft report on expenditure patterns: Consideration and adoption

Mr Gcwabaza said that it had been decided that proposals submitted by Members on the Committee report, be highlighted.

The Chairperson asked who had made submissions

Ms Manana asked if a copy of the Committee programme could be distributed to Members.

The Chairperson reminded Ms Manana that the Committee was dealing with item 3 on the agenda, which was the Committee’s draft report on expenditure. She wanted to ask a controversial question -- which of the Members had read the report?

Members did not respond to the question.

The Chairperson asked what had to be done to do justice to the report.

Mr Gcwabaza said that he would not claim to have read the report. He proposed that the report be read through page by page.

Dr Figg remarked that he had suggested the week before that it was not proper to have to spend two and a half hours on editing a document. It was the responsibility of Members. Members had to look at the contents.

The Chairperson said that there had to be inputs to strengthen reports, for quality reports to be submitted. The Committee had to spend time on it.

Mr A McLoughlin (DA) asked when the report had been sent to Members.

Ms Zandile Hulley, the Committee Secretary, replied that it was sent on 10 October.

The Chairperson proposed that the report be discussed on the coming Friday, so that the Committee could confidently say that it was happy with it, and it could go through to the House. There had to be agreement on recommendations.

Dr Madlopha said that she supported Mr Gcwabaza’s suggestion that the report be read through page by page. There were many things to be done on the coming Friday. If more had to be done about the report, it could be added later on.

Mr McLoughlin noted that Dr Figg and himself would not be available on the Friday. The matter could be raised again on the following day. He had read part of the report, but could not remember the contents very well.

Ms E Louw (EFF) said that she supported the Chairperson. More input was needed, especially about under-spending in the Department of Health. She proposed that Members read the report again, and submit inputs to the Secretary on that day or by the following morning. Members would have to sit in the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) session the next day for three hours, reading the report by the Minister.  A Committee room could be made available on the same floor.

The Chairperson asked the Content Adviser to comment.

Mr Tshepo Masoeu, Content Adviser, said that issues raised by Members would be taken up in the budget speech on the following day, especially issues of under-expenditure in the Department of Health, and related issues. There would be an engagement with the Parliamentary Budget Office on the following Tuesday, after which PBO inputs could be integrated into the report. There were interlinked issues related to expenditure. Inputs from Members could be highlighted and the PBO could provide inputs to help the Committee to adopt the report.

Dr Madlopha commented that the report could not be approved on that day, but a read-through could prepare members for the MTBPS lock-up session on the day following.

The Chairperson asked who had a copy of the report.

Dr Madlopha suggested that it could be displayed on the power-point screen.

The support staff indicated that this was not possible.

Mr Gcwabaza suggested that it be left aside for the time being.

The Chairperson said that postponement had to be avoided, but there were areas of weakness and all had to be committed to improve. If the coming generation were to read the report, they had to be satisfied with it.

Dr Figg remarked that there were lessons to be learnt. The Committee had to stick to the time allotted to it. When entities presented to the Committee, Members were allowed four questions, but the entities were allowed to waste time with presentations that were too long. If time had been adhered to properly, the current situation would not have arisen.

The Chairperson added that staff members could assist with that by seeing that documents were received on time.

Committee programme: discussion

Dr Figg remarked that there were two draft programmes with material differences between them, which had to be synchronised. The dates for debates were not the same on the Committee programme as on the Parliamentary programme. According to the Committee draft programme, a debate on the revised fiscal framework was scheduled for 9 November. The Parliamentary programme did not show that debate. According to the Parliamentary programme, the debate on the MTBPS was scheduled for 22 November. The Committee programme indicated that it was to be on 9 November.

The Chairperson said that the latest Parliamentary programme had to be looked at.

Dr Figg replied that he was looking at the latest Parliamentary programme he had received.

The Chairperson proposed that the matter be looked into.

Dr Figg agreed that it had to be done when the latest programme was received from the Secretary.

The Chairperson suggested that management meet with a legal adviser about how to comply. The Committee programme had to comply in terms of its mandate. It was safer to be advised on constitutional matters. The Constitution was the supreme law.

Ms S Shope-Sithole (ANC) remarked that the Committee had a learned friend in its midst, namely Mr McLoughlin.

Mr McLoughlin replied that his experience had told him that it was sometimes best to remain silent, lest what he said be written down and held against him. He did, however, agree with the proposed consultation with a legal adviser.

Study tour

Mr Gcwabaza noted that thus far there had been tentative agreement on having the tour in the following year. However, time might not be available in the following year. The two months after the budget speech could not be used. There was a committee week in July/August, but the German parliament was closed then, and Germany was a first choice among possible countries to visit. The end of December was hard for a study tour. It would serve no purpose to go early in January. The following year would be packed. If the tour was postponed, it might not happen at all. It would be best to go during the January committee period. The Committee could cover ground for its work and be able to tour. He proposed that Germany be visited. It reportedly had the best appropriations committee. The Committee could learn from best practice and reconsider decisions it had taken. Preparation could start immediately for the time he was suggesting. He had considered early in December, but the Committee might be forced to meet at that time.

The Chairperson agreed that early December was inconvenient. Her suggestion was that it could be Germany and/or Sweden. The period from 24 January to 8 February seemed possible. The question was how long the Committee would be away from Parliament. The Secretary could be asked about the budget. There had to be a written proposal of what the Committee intended to do.

Dr Figg commented that the suggested time and places sounded good. To go for only a week would impose constraints. The Committee had to get as much information as possible. It would be best to go to both Germany and Sweden, and to compare them to each other, as well as to South Africa. One week was not enough. The proposal had to be looked at in terms of the norms of Parliament. With a proper plan, a programme could be drafted.

Dr Madlopha supported the suggestion of a two-week trip. There had to be ten days to utilize the time effectively. She suggested that both Germany and Sweden be applied for, and that there be an early submission.

Ms Shope-Sithole said that she supported her colleagues. The Appropriations Standing Committee was a new committee that had started only in 2009. It had greater needs than other Committees. She had been in the Justice Portfolio Committee in the previous term, and it had visited Germany. That committee had returned more knowledgeable. It was better than shorter trips she had undertaken with other committees. Preparation was the key, in order to secure a substantial period there.

Mr McLoughlin said that he supported everyone who had spoken. The beginning of the year was a good time. The American Senate was like an appropriations committee, but it was different to the Appropriations Standing Committee. It had to be seen if Germany was similar, or whether it was just a rubber stamp committee. It had been alleged that the Standing Committee was merely a rubber stamp committee. The Committee had to be effective, and to be that it had to understand itself. Additional inputs were needed to gain a better understanding.

Ms Louw commented that she was also in agreement. If visiting two countries was not agreed to, the Committee had to prioritise. She was in favour of Sweden, as she had already visited Germany. Mr McLoughlin might know something about the Swedish appropriations committee.

Dr Madlopha stressed that there had to be an urgent application. Other countries in Africa had to be considered to fall back on, if an overseas trip was not granted.

The Chairperson asked which of Germany or Sweden had to be prioritised. There had to be a document to help the Committee take a decision.

Mr Gcwabaza said that there was not much time left, as it was almost November. The Committee researchers could be asked who they thought best. It might not even be necessary to discuss it again. The Chairperson could communicate with the House Chairperson to arrive at a decision, and return to the Committee. The researchers could brief on what was best.

Mr A Shaik Emam (NFP) noted that the Committee had already been to Uganda and Kenya.

Mr McLoughlin said that research had been done but a relook was needed. If cost was an issue, a BRICS country could be visited, as the currencies were favourable.

The Chairperson said that there could be feedback at the next meeting.

Ms Shope-Sithole jested that Germany would be joining the BRICS group.

Mr Gcwabaza suggested that if it was to be a BRICS country, China could be considered. China had a good system.

The Chairperson suggested that the Committee work with what it had, and that China only be considered in future.

Adoption of minutes

Minutes of the following meetings were considered and adopted without comment: 
12 October (am and pm sessions), 13 October, and 18 October.

During consideration of the minutes of 19 October (am and pm sessions), Mr McLoughlin raised the issue that it had been a joint meeting, and had therefore also been minuted by the other committees.

The Chairperson asked if the Standing Committee could adopt its own minutes under the circumstances.

Mr McLoughlin replied that the minutes of the various committees would be different.

Dr Madlopha suggested that the secretariats of the various committees get together.

Mr Gcwabaza commented that the meeting had been convened by the Standing Committee, which meant that it had to adopt its own minutes as a record of the meeting. However, the secretaries had to consult with each other. He asked if the secretariat wrote back to suggest amendments.

Mr Shaik Emam agreed that the Standing Committee had convened the meeting. The minutes could stand as a true reflection, also of attendance. The document belonged to the Committee.

The Chairperson said that the correct way of doing it had to be found. If the Committee was ever taken to court for a wrong decision, the question was what kind of document it could produce. It had to be a true reflection.

Ms Manana remarked that this was not the first time it had happened. She had raised the issue previously. It was not known which support staff had been there. The Standing Committee had called the meeting. It was not in order for each committee to have its own minutes.

Ms Shope-Sithole said that someday, something like the Chairperson had alluded to could happen. The minutes had to state that it was a joint sitting, with the names of all in attendance stated. The Chairperson had made a wake-up call when she mentioned the possibility of a court case. She suggested that the minutes not be adopted.

Mr Gcwabaza said that the secretariat had to look at the rules. It was not sufficient for only the Committee to write its own minutes. If others wrote their own minutes, they could conflict with those of the Standing Committee. He did not wish to cast aspersions on the Committee’s secretariat.

The Chairperson said that the Committee had to be sure that it was acting correctly. It could not state that it adopted the minutes as a true reflection if the other committees were not present. The Committee secretariat was not being doubted.

Dr Madlopha suggested that the secretariat look at the rules and come back to advise the Committee.

The Committee was taken through the minutes of 19 October by the Chairperson, and minor technical errors were corrected.

The Chairperson requested a motion for adoption, with amendments.

Mr Shaik Emam remarked that the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (PRASA) had emphasised the challenges identified, related to audit outcomes. Credit had to be given to PRASA for the progress made since a previous meeting.

The Chairperson asked Mr Shaik Emam to craft a sentence to express that.

Mr Shaik Emam said that it had been an important engagement. PRASA had identified the challenges that had to be addressed with relevant stakeholders.

The minutes of 19 October were adopted with amendments.

The Chairperson concluded that Members had to come fully prepared to meetings so that quality decisions could be taken.

The meeting was adjourned.



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