The Parliament of South Africa is not doing oversight, but merely compliance. This comment by the Chairperson emerged during the discussion by the Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament in its first strategic planning workshop.
Since 1994, Parliament has never changed the way it works. The number of institutions they oversee is increasing over the years and things are becoming more intricate and complicated. They could not continue to do things they way they have been doing since ’94.T He indicated there is no reason why they could not work until late at night.
On the other hand, the Secretary to Parliament reported that Parliament is a broken organisation that needs to be fixed. Capacity building needs improvement. The Parliament has got no capacity. It requires better technology, more support staff and more funds to ensure the work of the institution reaches all the people of the country. Depth needs to be built to deal with this and quality of the support provided. Parliament needs to improve its identity. It should assert itself and its authority as an independent arm of the state.
The Secretary spoke on the interventions where there has been progress although they are “not there” yet. On strengthening oversight and accountability, the budget protocol has been adopted to provide the basis for the negotiation of the budget of the South African Legislative Sector. The concept of a parliamentary knowledge institution has been developed together with a strategy for knowledge management. For enhancing public involvement, the implementation of the Public Participation Model of Parliament has been improved.
The Speaker of the National Assembly, in her opening of the strategic planning workshop, said the Parliament budget is inadequate and is affecting the capacity of the institution. It would take them many years to see one MP having ten support staff as seen in other parliaments. The Speakers Forum had met with the previous Finance Minister last year to discuss the budget for the legislative sector. There is an unfortunate understanding that Parliament is like any other government department. Those engagements had been positive because they explained the constitutional role of Parliament and National Treasury got to understand the role of the legislature.
She highlighted societal issues that need to be addressed. Lack of social cohesion is one that stands out. The country is divided and people are still separated. That is a reality that manifests itself in the many expressions that come to the fore. In general, inequality manifests itself daily on gender issues, for example. Politics aside, she said if one looks at the situation in the country, as public representatives, they have to agree that people are still living in squalid conditions that they were put into in the past. These are the obstacles that make social cohesion difficult to achieve. Combining their energies could do a whole lot more for the country instead of focusing on prejudices and attitudes that are a baggage of the past.
The Speaker pointed out that the relocation of Parliament was raised by President Zuma as a means of cutting costs. The current system is going to be retained. No decision yet has been arrived at. It is not going to happen in our lifetime and that is how it appears for now. The Speaker, responding to comments from Members, stated that there is a need for Parliament to balance a range of imperatives.
Members remarked that the simple things are not done well and Parliament is not getting even the basics right such as ensuring journals in the library are available - yet money for travelling abroad is always available. They stated that executive oversight is not done well. There needs to be a tool to monitor the workings of the committees because no one knows how often they sit as meetings get cancelled at the last minute. Members said that as public representatives they need to take responsibility for the conditions the people they represent find themselves in. Members commented that the oversight exercise does not have the intended purpose because there is no consequence management. Also noted was that ordinary people do not have the luxury of those that are monied to interact with Parliament by making inputs via technology and travelling to Parliament; and that the legal advice Parliament receives internally is weak.
Secretary to Parliament briefing
Mr Gengezi Mgidlana, Secretary to Parliament: RSA Parliament, presented to Members the strategic plan of Parliament. The systems of Parliament were oriented towards a transactional approach. The systems were process oriented and limited to the MTEF. The budget process was incremental and things were operating in silos. What they are trying to do is to move from a transactional approach to a transformational approach which is result-based and outcomes oriented. There is zero based planning and budgeting. The transformational approach works in an integrated way and focuses on transversal development. It is a service-oriented and performance based system.
The strategic priorities of the 5th Parliament are strengthening oversight and accountability; enhancing public involvement; strengthening co-operative governance; strengthening the legislative capacity; and deepening international engagement. The 2018/19 programme structure is divided into five programmes.
He went through the elements of the strategic objectives and key results:
Programme 1: Strategic Leadership and Governance
Here they are making sure they have a strong legislative sector. The aim is to strengthen Parliament as an independent arm of state and deepen international participation. Another objective is to include the legacy issues of the 4th Parliament. There are plans to improve governance and administrative leadership mechanisms. This would ensure structures such as the audit committee are in place. The aim is to align the strategy, budget and structure to the institutional vision, and infuse efficiency and effectiveness to institutional systems and processes.
Programme 2: Administration
This programme is about strategy execution to improve co-ordination, co-operation and inter-governmental relations of Parliament with provincial legislatures, by implementing a revised Sector Strategy. The aims are to strengthen strategic management, governance, internal control, risk management, compliance; and reduce inefficiencies and increase savings. These would ensure the core business is aligned to the NDP, and it is improving on the quality of research, procedural and content advisory services provided. It would also consolidate the implementation of oversight models.
Programme 3: Core Business
This programme aims to increase public access and opportunities to participate in all processes of Parliament, enhance parliamentary international engagement and co-operation, and develop and implement a co-operative government oversight mechanism. It also aims to develop and implement a legislative model ensuring enhanced quality of legislation.
Programme 4: Support Services
The aim of this programme is to provide a member-centric approach and seamless and integrated member support. It also aims to improve ICT services and implement Members' capacity and development programmes.
Programme 5: Associated Services
This programme is related to Members of Parliament and party caucuses. It reviews the facility needs of Members. It ensures effective financial management of resources, financial support to political parties, and reduces average turnaround time for claims payment.
Mr Mgidlana talked about progress in the implementation of long-term priorities. On strengthening oversight and accountability, the budget protocol has been adopted to provide the basis for the negotiation of the budget of the South African Legislative Sector. The concept of a parliamentary knowledge institution has been developed together with a strategy for knowledge management. To enhance public involvement, the implementation of the Public Participation Model of Parliament has been improved. The platforms for citizen engagement have been expanded. To strengthen cooperative government and inter-governmental relations, the Draft Bill on the Interlegislative Sector has been developed and consulted upon. To deepen engagement in international relations, national priorities have been aligned with the SADC Master Plan, AU Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Areas that need to be addressed during the 2018/19 period and beyond were: Parliament needs to be resourced adequately in its ownership and control of the parliamentary space and facilities. Parliament needs to improve its identity. It should assert itself and its authority as an independent arm of the state. Capacity building needs improvement. Currently, Parliament is a broken organisation that needs to be fixed. Capacity is not there. Depth needs to be built to deal with matters. Appropriate technologies are needed to give Parliament a competitive edge and position it to be on par with parliamentary institutions oversees.
In his conclusion, he stated that in moving forward they are fine-tuning the institutionalisation of the results-based approach and improving the overall institutional performance. The focus is on monitoring implementation and aligning reporting with the value chain. They are working on reducing inefficiencies and moving towards the Sector Approach.
Tables and graphs were shown on the organisation's life cycle; team dynamics; employee engagement; 2016/17 allocations and MTEF; 2017/18 national budget; 2017/18 total allocations; and 2017/18 revenue.
Speaker of National Assembly address
Ms Baleka Mbete, National Assembly Speaker: RSA Parliament, stated it is important to look at where they are. They are celebrating 20 years of constitutional order. The Parliament is about people. If they look at the strategic plan of Parliament, they have to consider the effect of its plans on ordinary people. They have to find answers for the areas where they have not made progress as Parliament. As public representatives, they have to address poverty, inequality, and unemployment as contained in the National Development Plan.
There are also societal issues that need to be addressed. Lack of social cohesion is one area that stands out. The country is divided and people are still separated. That is a reality that manifests itself in the many expressions that come to the fore. In general, inequality manifests itself daily on issues such as gender. Politics aside, she said if we look at the situation in the country, they have to agree that people are still living in squalid conditions that they were put into in the past. These are descriptions of our families, communities and localities. These are the obstacles that make social cohesion difficult to achieve.
She noted that their combined energies could do a whole lot more for the country instead of focusing on prejudices and attitudes that are a baggage of the past. There is a need to discuss how to solve these social ills through the help of the committees and SCOPA. They need to have a better understanding of the issues they need to address. The NDP is better to get the country out of its past because it contains items they agreed on. She is saying this because at the beginning of 1994 two factors were highlighted: to ensure they begin to form a strong SA Parliament which plays its role according to the Constitution; and two, to play a role in nation building. Currently, people are too separated and not trusting each other. People are still making assumptions about each other. She asked if people ever think of making an effort to understand each other's culture so that they begin to build bridges for South African people to understand where they come from. This would enable future generations to play a meaningful role in nation building. They are playing a blaming game: apartheid did this, and now the ANC is doing this. She asked when are they going to start putting their heads together and move forward.
With junk status, the situation is going to get worse and it will have implications for Parliament business as its budget is connected to the national fiscus. The Parliament budget is inadequate and this is affecting the capacity of the institution. It would take them many years to see one MP having 10 support people as they do in other parliaments. In December 2016, they had a meeting with the Finance Minister to deal with the budget of the legislative sector. The Minister saw Parliament as an ordinary department. That engagement produced positive results because the National Treasury got to understand the role of the legislature. It cannot be left to Treasury to assume it understands the role of legislatures. She said they have got to leave this earth knowing very well they played a meaningful role in building a South African nation.
Manager of Strategic and Business Planning: RSA Parliament
Mr Herbus Burger, Section Manager: Strategic and Business Planning: RSA Parliament, said the idea behind the meeting was to look at how Parliament functions and what the Committee must achieve at the end of the day because it is a new committee. A meeting was held with the Co-Chairperson on what could be done. Inputs were also solicited from the executive authority. It was agreed the Committee should have a workshop on its mandate, functions, powers, and when to meet. The issue is the transparency and accountability of Parliament. The objective is to assist the Committee with its internal efficiencies. They need to look at the aspect of reporting to the House, and the Committee needs to take inputs from the executive authority and other role players.
Mr J Steenhuisen (DA) remarked there are things that the Constitution compels Parliament to do well. If these things are to be done, then they must be done well. Simple things are not done well and Parliament is not getting even the basic things right. If there is talk about capacitating Members of Parliament, that would not happen because there are no basic things like journals in the library - yet money for travelling abroad is always available. He said it is pointless to have the Office of the Institutions Supporting Democracy that cannot provide documents. It has reports that are lying around and they are made available to you only when you make noise. He said oversight committee reports are never given consideration by Parliament. The basics of the Constitution are not given consideration.
Ms N Mente (EFF) said the oversight of the executive is not done very well. There needs to be a tool to monitor the workings of the committees. No one knows how often they sit because meetings get cancelled at the last minute. She proposed changes to the oversight model, saying there should be unannounced visits because when a visit is announced, you find the place clean and then when you leave, it is a pig-sty. She is not proud of being in Parliament. The basic things that Members need are outsourced. For instance, cleaning and catering are outsourced yet this is an SA Parliament and the cleaners and catering people get paid peanuts by the service providers that got the tenders. This means poverty will never come to an end. Parliament is invoking policies of the past.
Mr A Shaik-Emam (NFP) remarked that as public representatives they need to take responsibility for the conditions the people they represent find themselves in. If there is a problem, Members should take responsibility. The oversight exercise does not have the intended purpose. Members identify problems but there is no consequence management. It is demotivating for Members to go back to the area they visited or to do oversight again because there is a lack of consequences. Smaller parties are marginalised and not well resourced just like the big parties yet they do the same work. Smaller parties need researchers. As a result, they play a lesser role. He was concerned that Parliament wants to serve a purpose but it is restricted in terms of the budget.
Mr N Singh (IFP) asked what progress is being made about the relocation of Parliament. He said politics should be put aside and Members should act as collective leaders, but that is easier said than done. There should be guidance on how to create a conducive environment because when they go to communities, people tell them the ruling party said they must not listen to anything said by the opposition. He asked how this is possible. He echoed Mr Shaik-Emam that there should be a threshold for support given to political parties. Smaller parties also need researchers just like the big parties. They do the same work as the big parties. He noted that staff morale is very low and asked how this would affect the output.
On the relocation of Parliament, the Speaker stated the matter was raised by President Zuma on the basis of cutting costs. The current system is going to be retained. No decision yet has been arrived at. It is not going to happen in our lifetime and that is how it appears. On low staff morale, she said Parliament is about politics and politicians. It is in their interest to ensure all is well. It is not humanely possible to deal with all these staff matters but they are working on it.
Mr C De Beer (ANC) commented there is a need to look at fiscal consolidation and it is a good sign that relations with National Treasury have improved because the Members have been dealing with the Money Bill Amendment Act for eight years now. On Taking Parliament to the People, he said Parliament is the connecting mechanism with the people, especially small towns. On the role of committees, he stated it is the responsibility of Members to enhance inter-governmental relations. They need to have a tracking mechanism for the resolutions they take so that there can be action plans. Members need to zoom in and see if there is progress in government departments. For example, after Taking Parliament to the People, Members need to go back to the community and see if progress is being made.
Ms C September (ANC) acknowledged they are in the middle of the five-year term of Parliament. There must be connection between the strategic plans presented in 2014 and the current ones. There is a need to know the trade-offs. There are obligations they cannot compromise on. Strategic plans should be linked to the annual reports they have received. Parliament should be responsive to public participation initiatives and this should be reflected in the strategic plans. Currently, it is a question of those who have money to come to Parliament to participate, but the rest cannot.
The Speaker, responding to some comments from Members, stated that there is a need for Parliament to balance a range of imperatives. In a given year they need to go abroad, travel locally and do constituency work. Complaints about spending more time in Cape Town have been received. All these matters compete with the programme of Parliament. There is the view that MPs need to spend 50% of the time in Cape Town. Time is limited.
[At this point, the Speaker excused herself for another engagement]
Ms September continued that the other area that is glaring in the report of the Secretary to Parliament is that they do not see strategic outcomes. For example, there needs to be an outcome on strengthening oversight. The report should draw on what was planned in 2014 or talk to the matters raised. There is a need to improve the oversight model even though many things have been done in that area. The report says little about the gender dimension.
Mr M Waters (DA) said he was deeply concerned about the attitude of the Speaker. She arrived late and left early. He asked how they are going to hold the executive to account if the Speaker comes and leaves willy-nilly.
Mr S Mohai (ANC), Co Chairperson, said any Member who wants to raise a point must speak on the matters under discussion. He said Ms September’s contribution was interrupted by the Speaker’s comments, but she was allowed to continue with her input.
Ms E Coleman (ANC) indicated that there was a promise they would find time to engage with the Speaker of Nation Assembly and NCOP Chairperson. The Committee should continue with its planned strategic workshop.
The Co Chairperson indicated that the Speaker’s input is the first part of the presentation. The Committee would invite her to engage with the Committee at another meeting.
Mr Steenhuisen and Mr Waters of the DA were upset that the Speaker left because they were not able to engage with her as she had a flight to catch to Johannesburg. They were not prepared to continue the strategic workshop without her and said they would leave.
Mr A Masondo (ANC), as the DA Members left, shouted that their walk-out was planned.
Both the DA Members reacted by criticising Mr Masondo for how he caused the collapse of the City of Johannesburg billing system.
Mr Masondo responded by shouting “voetsek” at them.
Mr Steenhuisen retaliated by saying “voetsek” to Mr Masondo.
While the three Members were exchanging “voetseks” both the Chairpersons did not intervene.
Ms Coleman stated the Speaker was there to open the strategic plan with her input, and there is nothing wrong to engage with her at a later stage when the Committee is ready for that.
Mr V Smith (ANC), Chairperson, wanted to set the record straight because a day before the strategic workshop the Committee presented a programme for the strategic planning session which Members had agreed to and where it was stated the Speaker would deliver her input during the strategic session. This gathering was not a normal committee meeting but a strategic planning workshop. Hence it is facilitated.
Mr Smith pointed out that since they arrived in Parliament they have never changed the way they work. Yet the number of institutions they oversee have been increasing over the years and things are becoming more intricate and complicated. They could not continue to do things they way they have been doing them since ’94. What they are doing is not oversight, but merely compliance. And there is no reason why they could not work until late at night. The Committee must discuss what needs to be sacrificed.
Commenting on the presentation from the Secretary, Mr Smith stated that retained income is committed money. If it was committed for 2015/16, there is no reason why it cannot be committed for 2017/18. If it is not used, it would compromise service delivery, and he asked if this is a result of a capacity problem. On human resource matters, he stated they need highly engaged staff members and he wanted to know what the status is regarding that. People do not want to stay in Cape Town because they say it is an expensive city or it could be that they are tied to the contracts of their superiors.
Mr N Gcwabaza (ANC), concerning public participation, remarked that ordinary people do not have the luxury of those that are monied to interact with Parliament by making inputs via technology and coming directly to Parliament. He said the congested programme of Parliament should be relooked at, especially where it involves the processing of the Bills. He stated that the legal advice Parliament is receiving internally is very weak because Parliament has been taken to court many times and has lost many cases. Some Bills have been brought back to Parliament due to legal weaknesses.
Ms Coleman commented that the zero-based budgeting process requires a lot of work and accountability. They do not have much time to look at the parliamentary budget, and there is a need to look at their own parliamentary business cycle. She said they are “just doing compliance”. She added much capacity should be provided for the work of the committees. Work is left to juniors who sometimes do not have the necessary skills. For example, if a secretary has to produce a report within three months, that report is only done within six months. Many suffer because the secretary has got too much work. Most committees are suffering because they do not have content advisors. They rely mostly on acting content advisors and some committees share a content advisor.
Mr Lechesa Tsenoli, National Assembly Deputy Speaker, tried to respond to some concerns raised by Members and remarked on some of the points the Speaker talked about. He said the strategic plan is crucial to lay the foundation for the work the Committee is going to do. He pointed out there is an overlap between the work they do and that of the departments over the reports. There is a need to look at those overlaps because both the departments and Parliament are providing service to the public. The long term vision the Speaker articulated is about efficiency. Efficiency could be erosion of capacity. They need to ask themselves if they are using the resources they have got in an efficient manner.
The Deputy Speaker reminded Members their responsibility is to prevent wastage and leakages by putting in place systems that avoid the re-occurrence of such. Capacity is about strengthening themselves as part of the developing state. They need to continue talking about inter-connectedness and inter-dependency amongst the three spheres of government because Parliament is not an island. On the capacity of Parliament library, he stated the journals are still there. If a Member wants a journal that is not there, the Member must make a request. If one wants a right winger journal, it would be made available. Regarding the unavailability of the reports of the Chapter Nine institutions, these reports were made available to the Justice Portfolio Committee because it requested them. The reports do not have to come to the Committee. The only thing the Committee is obliged to receive is the annual reports. Reports are available on request.
On unannounced oversight visits, the Deputy Speaker said parliamentary committees have the right to do them unannounced or announced. On the poor level of support to Members and proposed amendments to the budget, he indicated that support has to be done to boost the work of individual politicians on behalf of their constituencies. The power to amend the budget is a crucial one and evidence and research has to be gathered to convince Treasury about a budget amendment. In terms of gender and capacity building and ever changing realities, Parliament and the public service have conducted a gender self-assessment tool kit to determine how they are faring in their work on gender matters. When it comes to changing the way they do things, he explained that is the reason they are in the strategic planning workshop. There is a need to devise new ways of doing work and interacting with the public because this work is growing bigger and bigger.
Mr Mgidlana, in his closing remarks, stated there are no divergent views on the matters assessed based on the concerns raised by Members. However, there is a need to look at how they are going to tackle these. Their work has to be limited to the total output of Parliament. They cannot afford to be transactional in their approach. They fully understand that the success of the Constitution depends on the solid work of Parliament. Information and suggestions from the engagement with the Committee would be taken into consideration.
The meeting was adjourned.
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