Customary Initiation Bill [B7-2018]: public hearings report; Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs BRRR

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

16 October 2018
Chairperson: Mr M Mdakane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Committee Report available once published 2018 Budget Review & Recommendations Reports – BRRR

The Committee met to consider two draft reports. The first one was the Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) regarding the annual performance of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and its various entities.

The second was on the public hearings held in connection with the Customary Initiation Bill.  .

The discussion on the BRR report followed the Committee’s engagement with COGTA, and earlier with the Office of the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA) on the latter’s audit findings for the current financial year (2017/18). 

The Chairperson led a page by page reading of the reports, inviting members to comment, suggest, observe or recommend – to ensure that the final documents had captured all the relevant issues.

Members were happy with much of the BRR report’s content, but a few points provoked some discussion. There was difference of opinion on whether or not the report should note AGSA’s disclaimer finding on the Department of Cooperative Governance’s (DCOG) annual performance.

Members also expressed themselves on possible measures the Committee could take in asserting its oversight responsibilities regarding municipalities reported to have lost money in the VBS Bank swindle.

The Customary Initiation Bill report on public hearings also elicited some discussion, especially on the aborted hearings in KwaMhlanga, Mpumalanga province. A comment was also made around the possibility of developing a policy to de-link circumcision from initiation. 

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed members.

He indicated that the purpose of the meeting was to consider two reports. The first one was the Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) on the annual performance of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and its various entities.

The second was on the public hearings held in connection with the Customary Initiation Bill.  .

After a brief recap of previous engagements with the Department and AGSA, he invited input from Members on the various aspects of the BRR report as well as any other matters that they felt could be incorporated into the final document, which would be adopted by the Committee as its official position regarding COGTA’s performance for the current financial year. 

Discussion on the BRR report
Mr K Mileham (DA) said his view was that the report should “capture” AGSA’s disclaimer finding on DCOG. He was aware that the audit outcome was a consequence of DCOG’s failure to make available - within the specified period - information required for the AGSA audit. However, the fact remained that AGSA had made a finding on the matter, and a damning one at that. 

Ms N Shabalala (ANC) said DCOG had as yet not accounted for its failure to submit the requisite audit information. She felt that until DCOG’s “side of the story” was heard – in the form of a report – the Committee was therefore in a “dilemma” regarding what it could say on the matter with any degree of finality.

Mr Mileham agreed there was a need for a report from DCOG, but he reminded members that the BRR report would be tabled in Parliament as part of the Minister of Finance’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement, and therefore had to note “at the very least”  that DCOG had received a disclaimed audit finding from AGSA. In addition, a report by DCOG notwithstanding, the finding by AGSA was not going to change. DCOG’s failure to keep its side of the bargain could not disqualify the Committee from taking note of the Auditor General’s opinion on the matter. 

Ms B Maluleke (ANC) argued that AGSA’s report was not final because there were outstanding issues relating to DCOG‘s Community Work Programme (CWP), which to her understanding still had to be worked out between the two (AGSA and DCOG). It was therefore possible that DCOG could persuade AGSA to change its finding.  

The Chairperson agreed with Mr Mileham that the AGSA finding would remain the same regardless of a report from DCOG. His view therefore was that the final BRR report should include an “observation” on the finding.

Mr E Mthethwa (ANC) concurred that “reference” should be made to the matter as nothing prevented the Committee from “talking to that”.

Commenting on “key reported challenges” insofar as these related to the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB), Mr Mileham noted that the body had not made the capacity assessments which were part of its legislative mandate, despite the MDB’s previously stated commitment to do so. He proposed that the report should include this point as one of the MDB’s list of challenges. He said this was not the first time the MDB had been non-compliant on this matter.

The Chairperson said the point had been noted. 

Under the heading “Committee Observations”, Mr Mileham proposed that the Committee should state that the Commission on Religious and Linguistic Rights (CRL) and MDB’s non-compliance with financial reporting standards and National Treasury regulations, had been noted.

Referring to media reports that some municipalities had lost large amounts of money invested in an alleged fraudulent scheme at VBS bank, Mr Mthethwa asked members for ideas on how the Committee could deal with this issue. He was aware the VBS scandal had now exceeded the bounds of Parliamentary oversight, but he argued that the Committee could not just sit and do nothing. There was still a role to play.     

Mr Mileham commended Mr Mthethwa for a “point well made.” His own suggestion was that the Committee should call for an investigation of all the municipalities involved; and that these bodies should explain how “they could get it so badly wrong”. The investigation should also illustrate how the loss of millions of taxpayers’ money would affect service delivery in those areas, which were known to be already struggling financially.

Mr Mileham said for starters, the Committee should summon the municipalities to Parliament to account, and perhaps the Committee - in its BRR report - could call for a more comprehensive parliamentary inquiry into the whole matter.
The Chairperson said Mr Mileham’s comments had been noted. His own proposal was that Members should wait for a DCOG report on the matter before proceeding further.

Mr Mileham said he had noted the report’s observation on the loopholes in section 71 reporting which had allowed municipalities to place deposits in banks in contravention of National Treasury regulations, (as in the VBS Bank matter). The Committee needed to specify that the section 71 reports should henceforth be more transparent about where municipal funds had been deposited.

The Chairperson suggested that Mr Mileham’s input be made part of the recommendations of the report. But he also pointed out that municipalities had been warned against VBS Bank, yet they had gone ahead anyway. This had less to do with lack of transparency, or being ignorant of the situation, rather it strongly suggested that municipalities had been in “defiance” of National Treasury guidelines.

In response to Mr Mileham’s proposal that the Committee summon to Parliament all the affected municipalities (lest it be accused of inaction on the matter), the Chairperson said he had no objection on that score, except to add that DCOG would also have to be part of that process. He said one approach could be for the Committee to focus only on the VBS bank debacle and deal with it comprehensively. 

Ms Shabalala also expressed her support for the above and suggested that it be part of the BRR report, under “recommendations”.

Mr Mileham suggested a further recommendation that DCOG be urged to ensure that reports to the Committee were tabled on time to allow the Committee to properly conduct its oversight function.

Mr N Khubisa (ANC) also proposed as a recommendation that the Department should provide timeous reports on transfers of scarce resources and skills made to municipalities.

Discussion on the Customary Initiation Bill public hearings report
The Chairperson went through the report page by page and noted the great support the Bill had received in communities across the country.  The public hearings in KwaMhlanga, in Mpumalanga Province had been the only exception, as the Committee had to cut short its engagement because of objections from traditional authorities regarding the inclusion of women in the hearings.

The Chairperson said the Committee needed to make a final decision on whether to proceed with the KwaMhlanga hearings.  He also said the Committee had to meet the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (CONTRALESA) before the finalisation of the Bill, to sort out issues raised by the body in relation to the legislation. One of the objections raised by CONTRALESA was that the public hearings were conducted directly with communities without the mediation of Amakhosi, who were after all the custodians of the custom. A further objection was that royal palaces had not been approached prior to the hearings. This was also a factor in the KwaMhlanga debacle.

The Chairperson however said this amounted to Parliament being expected to ask Amakhosi for permission to do its work. Such expectations showed a serious misunderstanding of the nature of the South African political dispensation, in which Parliament was the supreme maker of all laws. 

A member of the Committee staff informed the meeting that the transcript of the Northern Cape public hearings was not yet available as it was still being translated from Afrikaans to English.

The Chairperson then took the Committee through a clause by clause reading of the consolidated summary version of the report.

On the KwaMhlanga matter, Mr Mthethwa said he still felt that the Committee should go back to the area, to show that no one was above the law. He also urged that CONTRALESA be given an opportunity to appear before the Committee to express its views on the Bill. This would enhance the credibility of the Committee as well as the Bill under consideration.

Mr Matsepe added that CONTRALESA should be asked to explain the conduct of the traditional leaders involved in the KwaMhlanga affair. He said those behind the disruption were affiliated to both CONTRALESA and the National House of Traditional Leaders of South Africa. 

The Chairperson said the Committee staff would make the necessary arrangements for a meeting.      

Mr Mthethwa asked the Committee to consider the separation of circumcision from initiation.

The Chairperson said Mr Mthethwa’s comments had been noted.

At this point the Chairperson asked the Parliamentary Legal Advisor for her input.

Ms Phumelele Ngema, Parliamentary Legal Advisor,  replied that she was reserving her comments for later, when the Committee went through the Bill clause by clause for purposes of adoption. The Chairperson accepted her explanation and expressed his satisfaction at how the process of finalising the Bill had so far run its course.

He was confident that a clause by clause reading of the Bill over a two day period would be all that was needed for the Committee to finally adopt the Bill.

To end off, the Chairperson asked if members were comfortable with adopting the BRR report the following day at the same venue.

Mr Mthethwa moved that a meeting be held to adopt the report the following day.

Mr Matsepe seconded the motion. 
The meeting adjourned.


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