The Constitutional and Legal Services Office took the joint committees through changes to the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act, which were made after instructions received from the Joint Workshop held on 13 June 2017.
The main highlights of the input by Members were the Democratic Alliance’s concern about the composition of the “Advisory board.” The democracy of the said Advisory board was questionable as it would consist of chairpersons of the committees of finance and appropriations in both Houses of Parliament as well as house chairpersons of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. In the current conjecture, all six chairpersons would be ANC Members. The DA suggested that the board reflect the configuration of Parliament by also including Members from the opposition. Ms T Tobias (ANC) pointed out the important role played by the Parliamentary Budget Office within the legislative framework. However, at some point, the appropriation of Parliament funds and the role of Treasury in same had to be looked into. It could never be correct that one arm of state makes financial decisions for another arm of state.
The Chairperson indicated that an independent expert would be engaged to go through the Bill before its release for public comments. Final decisions would only be made after hearings.
The Chairperson, in his opening remarks, indicated that the aim of the joint workshop was to agree that the Bill was ready to be published for public comment. The Bill was drafted by Parliament and ultimately it was Parliament to decide on processes.
Adv Frank Jenkins, Senior Parliamentary Advisor, took the joint committees through the new changes made after instructions received from the previous Joint Workshop on 13 June 2017.
Section 1- Definitions
Mr A McLaughlin (DA) expressed concern about the composition of the Advisory board. The democracy of the said Advisory board was questionable as it would consist of chairpersons of the committees of finance and appropriations in both Houses of Parliament as well as house chairpersons of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. In the current conjecture, all six chairpersons would be ANC Members. He suggested that the board reflect the configuration of Parliament by also including Members from the opposition.
The Chairperson noted the concern but pointed out that, characteristically, substantial and major decision were not taken in the said advisory board. ‘The meetings were more or less a drudgery- the board was like many other structures. In principle, the advisory board could be dropped and considered during public hearings.
Section 5- Procedure prior to introduction of national budget
Adv Jenkins said the term ‘strategic priorities’ was replaced by ‘strategic outcomes orientated goals’ to align the Bill with the reporting terminology used by the National Treasury in its regulatory framework.
Section 6- Medium Term Budget Policy Statement
Mr C De Beer (ANC) commented on subsection (2) (f). He suggested that the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement be tabled before the National Council of Provinces a week earlier to give it ample time to deliberate and report on it to the National Assembly as per the provision.
The Chairperson asked Treasury if giving Parliament a weeklong latitude to exercise its oversight role thoroughly would have implications on its reporting timeframes.
National Treasury agreed to the weeklong latitude.
The Chairperson commented on subsection (5). Committees had agreed that having committee reports within 30 days was not feasible; 30 days was not enough time. However, the terms ‘or as soon as reasonable thereafter’ did not take into account the balance of power in Parliament. Chairpersons were not in control of programmes. The wording gave programming committee whips control rather than the chairpersons.
An ANC Committee Member said the terms ‘or as soon as reasonable thereafter’ had to be defined as they were liable to various interpretations.
Mr A Lees (DA) pointed out the need for a critical path analysis. In isolation, it was quite difficult to decide on reasonable timelines unless it was known what happened in practise.
The Chairperson said the court ultimately decides what was reasonable. Also, the law cautions against being too prescriptive. Therefore, in practice, the reasonable timeframe would be five to ten days. The critical path was discussed prior but there was no consensus. Further discussions might be necessary.
Section 9- Passing the Division of Revenue Bill
Adv Jenkins said changes were motivated by the need to deal with the sequencing of reporting involved before passage of the Division of Revenue Bill. Changes were meant to ensure some alignment with the fiscal framework.
Mr Lees asked if in the event that the fiscal framework changed, public hearings on the Division of Revenue Bill would have to be repeated.
Ms Y Phosa (ANC) pointed out that the priority of the fifth Parliament was strengthening public participation- public participation was key. Once there were proposals for amendments- repeating public hearings could not be avoided.
Mr De Beer indicated that the amended Money Bill would have to go to the provinces as well. Processes had to be done within a six week cycle in terms of the rules of the NCOP.
Ms T Tobias (ANC) pointed out that on sequencing, the fiscal framework would be the guide because it influences the division of revenue. It was not just a technical arrangement. She suggested the sequencing be shelved for consideration after inputs from the public.
Mr McLaughlin said in the past, changes to the fiscal framework were not substantial and happened in rare circumstances. Could public participations be held in a looser framework on the basis that things could change- so that hearings are not repeated?
Adv Jenkins said the Act requires public hearings to be held after amendments. That was a constitutional requirement.
The Chairperson agreed to shelve the sequencing matter up until committees receive input from the public.
Section 12- National adjustments budget
Adv Jenkins said subsection (6) was amended because a joint seating was only required for section 76 Bills, not section 75 Bills.
Subsection (11), which initially gave committees on appropriations ‘nine days’ to report to the respective Houses on the division of revenue amendment Bill, was removed- nine days was an unrealistic timeframe. Therefore the timeframe was removed and left open for deliberation.
The Chairperson said the reasoning was tenable.
Section 14- Amendments proposed by the Minister
The Joint Workshop on 13 June had agreed that subsection (6) be rescinded. However, after further consideration it was agreed that it be reinserted.
Section 15- Parliamentary Budget Office
Adv Jenkins said insertion of subsection 10(A) (a) was based on clauses 53 and 55 of the Financial Sector Regulation Bill. The motivation was the need to articulate the responsibilities and accountability framework of the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO).
Ms Tobias commended the insertion of subsection 10(A) (a). The PBO played an important role as a legal persona within the legislative framework. However, at some point, the appropriation of Parliament funds and the role of Treasury in same had to be looked into. It could never be correct that one arm of state makes financial decisions for another arm of state.
An ANC Committee Member asked about the accountability framework for the PBO in the context of Parliament. Whenever public funds are allocated for any function, there must be an accountability structure overseeing use of the funds.
The Chairperson replied that there existed a structure consisting of the four committee chairpersons and representatives of the Speaker of Parliament. The highest authority was represented in the structure.
In closing, the Chairperson indicated that an independent expert would be engaged to go through the Bill before its release for public comments. Final decisions would only be made after public hearings.
The meeting was adjourned.
Carrim, Mr YI
De Beer, Mr CJ
Essack, Mr F
Gcwabaza, Mr NE
Hanekom, Mr DA
Kekana, Ms PS
Lees, Mr RA
Mabe, Ms BP
Madlopha, Ms CQ
Maynier, Mr D
McLoughlin, Mr AR
Motlashuping, Mr T
Nzimande, Mr LP
Phosa, Ms YN
Shivambu, Mr F
Tobias, Ms TV