The Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament was briefed on the scope, mandate, and funding challenges of Parliament’s divisions -- the National Assembly (NA), National Council of Provinces (NCOP), Information Communication and Technology (ICT), and Institutional Support Services (ISSD).
The Committee was informed that the purpose of the NA was to provide overall procedural advice and guidance and support in respect of National Assembly Parliamentary processes and procedures, and related administrative services. The House plenaries section was responsible for plenary advice and guidance, including rulings, oversight activities, processing of House resolutions, and responding to questions. Its key strategic objective was to reduce the average turn-around time for the provision of procedural and legal advice, content and analytical advice, research products, minutes and reports, and related services for Houses, committees and Members. It would be developing systems to track, manage and report on compliance to House resolutions; government assurances made to the House; provide reports by delegations of the National Assembly; and report on issues emanating from constituencies. Its institutional memory instruments had been delayed due to budget constraints.
The NCOP said its main purpose was to provide administrative, advisory, information and coordination services to enable delegates to fulfill their constitutional functions efficiently and effectively. Its objective was to improve the availability of advisory and information services, in support of plenary and committee proceedings, from 91% to 95% by 2021. This would be in respect of House papers, procedural advice, reports, and minutes. Support would be provided to clustered select committees; space and facilities would be made available; and improvements were being made to the NCOP chamber and building.
The ICT division reported its strategic objective was to improve the provision, usage and management of ICT solutions and infrastructure to meet the information needs of Members and staff. Access to information and the processes of Parliament were enabling greater accessibility, transparency and openness. It was also enhancing its effectiveness and efficiency in order to improve productivity. It was targeting to achieve 85% universal access for the current financial year. External factors that were impacting the budget for 2019/20 included the volatility in exchange rates could cause Parliament to pay significantly more for the same set of services budgeted for in the medium term expenditure framework (MTEF).
The ISSD said its purpose was to optimise facilities’ usage and provide adequate and appropriate functional space by creating a conducive working environment. The objective of this division was to provide catering services, household services, protection services, heritage and artworks, and manage the safety, health and environment (SHE) unit. The division was also responsible for the management of the Parliamentary precinct, liaison between Parliament and the Department of Public Works (DPW) on Parliamentary Villages services, management of contracts, and management of the precincts and the villages’ refurbishment projects. Of concern was that the visitors’ centre was considered too small to accommodate the public interest in Parliament, and there were no systems to verify the identity of visitors.
Members wanted to know if new Members would be included in the Member’s Booklet, because the existing one had Members who had left a long time ago; how capacitated the translation and interpreting services department was; and whether there was a tracking mechanism regarding House resolutions in place to ensure Members got responses timeously from the executive; They commented there was a tendency to treat the NCOP as a “by-the-way” division because it was rare to find ministers attending NCOP meetings. How safe was the Parliament email server, because there was a political party that preferred the use of a gmail account? They asked if the Parliamentary buildings were accessible to the disabled, and if Parliament has a safety committee. Was the maintenance budget enough, because the bathrooms were in a mess despite there being a service provider who was contracted to do the work.
Briefing by National Assembly Division
Mr Masibulele Xaso, Secretary to the National Assembly: Parliament, informed the Committee the purpose of the National Assembly (NA) was to provide overall procedural advice and guidance on, and support in respect of, Parliamentary processes and procedures and related administrative services. The House plenaries section was responsible for plenary advice and guidance, including rulings and oversight activities that include processing House resolutions and responding to questions.
The Research and Parliamentary Practice Section was providing procedural research and practice, non-plenary advice and guidance, petitions, processing of responses to House resolutions, tabling and referrals, house committees, and training and procedural publications. The Table Administration Section was responsible for human and administrative functions of the NA Table, reporting functions that included business planning and management, performance, financial reporting, chamber support, ceremonial, custodial and security of the NA.
The strategic objective of the NA was to reduce the average turn-around time for the provision of procedural and legal advice, content and analytical advice, research products, minutes and reports, and related services for Houses, committees and Members. Its key performance area was the provision of advice and guidance on plenary and non-plenary related matters. Its operational plan was to create a system for, and increase the level of, proactive advice on matters impacting the NA; create a system for managing procedural advice; increase the number of procedural briefs to Presiding Officers; and provide procedural advice on rulings, correspondence, requests, and house resolutions within seven working days. Other key performance areas were to ensure the availability of Parliamentary papers for sittings of the NA and maintain formal records of the National Assembly; and to provide content for briefings and capacity-building initiatives for Members of the NA within five days of request.
He identified emerging needs for Members, and plans to meet those needs. Members would be capacitated on Parliamentary procedure and processes, and in committees, plenaries and constituencies. The language policy would also be implemented in order to increase the use of indigenous languages and the translation of Parliamentary papers. Further, the usage of the “My Parliament” app would be enhanced to ensure accessibility of Parliamentary papers (order papers, question papers, etc), and they would improve on the tracking of matters involving House resolutions.
Challenges and mitigating strategies were also mentioned. The NA would be developing tracking systems to track, manage and report on compliance with House resolutions; government assurances made to the House; provide reports by delegations of the National Assembly; and report issues emanating from constituencies. With regard institutional memory instruments, the instruments had been delayed due to budget constraints. The Guide to Procedure would be updated and a Procedural Manual would be produced. Concerning training, the personal development of staff had not been fully realised due to budget constraints. Of more importance to the NA Table was training in governance, including budgeting, developing objectives, audit readiness and institutional performance reporting. For the current financial year, the NA had received a budget allocation R43 712 551. A table was shown to illustrate the budget allocation and expenditure.
Briefing by National Council of Provinces
Adv Modibedi Phindela, Secretary to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), said the main purpose of the National Council of Provinces was to provide administrative and advisory information and coordination services to enable delegates to fulfill their constitutional functions efficiently and effectively. The NCOP’s target was to improve the availability of advisory and information services, in support of plenary and committee proceedings, from 91% to 95% by 2021. This would be in respect of House papers, procedural advice, reports and minutes.
Planned progammes and projects were:
- Report back on “Taking Parliament to the People” (Gauteng);
- Provincial Week
- Local Government Week
- “Taking Parliament to the People”
- Planning sessions
In order to meet the emerging needs of Members, research and other content, legal advice and secretarial communication services would be provided to select committees and whips.
Regarding challenges and mitigating strategies, support would be provided to clustered select committees. Space and facilities would be made available, and improvements were being made to the Chamber and the building.
The NCOP had been allocated a budget of R21.337m for the current financial year. A table was shown to illustrate budget allocation and expenditure.
Briefing by Information Communication Technology
Ms Fatima Boltman, Acting Division Manager, Information Communication Technology (ICT) Division, said the strategic objective was to improve the provision, usage and management of ICT solutions and infrastructure to meet the information needs of Members and staff. Access to information and processes of Parliament were enabling greater accessibility, transparency and openness. The ICT division was also enhancing effectiveness and efficiency in order to improve productivity. It was targeting to achieve 85% universal access during the current financial year.
The following were the key focus areas of the division:
- ICT strategy and architecture -- ICT infrastructure support (Internet connectivity, broadband, Wi-Fi, software licenses, servers, databases, ICT security, network maintenance, and backups);
- Broadcast and audio-visual support (all committee rooms and Houses, oversight visits, broadcasters, the capability to record and broadcast up to 16 sittings);
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) support (HR, finance, supply chain management, Members’ iExpense, salaries, invoice workflow, iRecruitment, iAssets, iProcurement);
- ICT systems and application support (all business support systems and applications, tools of trade support for Members and staff, and training).
The ICT division had been allocated a budget of R81.830m. Key cost drivers were software licensing, end-user equipment (centralised), internet services, procurement (repairs, maintenance and rental of ICT and broadcast AV equipment), ICT infrastructure hardware, storage, contractors (short-term) for software support, travel (vehicle hire, accommodation, mileage, and transportation for support of oversight visits), training and development, and other administrative overheads. The ICT division had 72 Positions. 65 had been filled, and there were seven vacant funded posts.
Ms Boltman referred to funding challenges and said there were external factors that were impacting the budget for 2019/20. The volatility in the rand/US dollar exchange rates could cause Parliament to pay significantly more for the same set of services budgeted for in the medium term expenditure framework (MTEF). New tax legislation had come into effect on 1 April 2019 in respect of Electronic Services (e-Services), resulting in the payment of VAT to international suppliers, such as Microsoft licences and VMWare – R1.3m.With regard to broadcast-AV infrastructure and ICT requirements in order to enrich public engagement, Parliament would require funding over the next MTEF period for the following:
- Committee room upgrades – R73.3m;
- NCOP system upgrades – R2.5m;
- Video archiving – R5m;
- Increasing broadcasting capability – R3.8m.
The upgrades would include replacement of conferencing systems; the upgrade of presentation screens from analogue projection to digital; implementation of control systems, using wireless technology and touch screens; and digital recorders would be installed.
To meet ICT infrastructure and software requirements over the next MTEF period, the Parliament would require funding for bringing Members in direct touch with their constituencies and the public, a centralised platform for direct real time public involvement in the work of Parliament, with an estimated Capex budget of R2m and a five-year operating expense budget of R1.1m, excluding staffing costs.
For Member centricity, Parliament would further require funding for the following:
- Identity management and digital signatures – R3m;
- Video conferencing - Skype for business, telephone integration (IP telephony) – R 2,2m;
- A seamless, integrated, shared and collaborative platform for effectively managing services to Members and staff;
- Member support services, and institutional support services.
In 2018, Parliament had solicited the services of experts to assist with its Business Continuity Plan (BCP) plan. Apart from completing the business impact analysis (BIA) and the BCP, the experts had also provided a plan for ICT off-site disaster recovery, which was a key component in the institutional BCP solution. It had remained the back-up centre, where data and applications were stored in anticipation of any possibility of disaster. The estimated costing, based on the BCP assessment, was R17m. Currently, Parliament was exploring options that were cost effective.
Briefing by Institutional Support Services Division
Ms Mabatho Zungu, Division Manager, Institutional Support Services Division (ISSD), said the purpose of the division was to optimise facilities’ usage and provide adequate and appropriate functional space by creating a conducive working environment. The objective of this division was to provide catering services, household services, protection services, heritage and artworks, and managing the safety, health and environment (SHE) unit. She described the nature of the services provided:
- Effective and efficient catering service;
- Accessibility: Available at the ease and convenience of Members;
- Timeliness: Expected period as per agreed schedule;
- Members would receive services that were up to date, free of errors, and completed.
- Clean and readily available facilities;
- Maintenance of buildings;
- Mail/document distribution and courier services;
- Effective and efficient transport and parking services;
- Cleaning of buildings and offices;
- Safe and regular refurbishment projects as per industry standards.
- Improve safety and security in Parliament;
- To provide a safe and secure environment for the functioning of Parliament;
- Identifying and mitigating possible security threats;
- To effectively control the movement of visitors and contractors within Parliamentary buildings;
- Provide building security through patrols, inspections and use of monitoring facilities;
- Providing office security by managing office keys;
- Providing Chamber security by ensuring no unauthorised access to Chambers and galleries of both Houses, and supporting the enforcement of House rules;
- The facilitation of screening and vetting of all officials, contractors and prospective employees;
- Provisioning and coordination of security at Parliamentary special events and visits.
Heritage and artworks
- Safe and effective storage and display of artworks and heritage items;
- Ongoing maintenance, repairs and conservation of artworks, antique furniture and other heritage items;
- Provide art and heritage research and consultancy services internally and externally;
- Relevant members, heritage institutions and the public would receive services that were up to date, free of errors, and completed;
- Provide art and heritage tours/viewing and event support.
- Conduct incident and accident investigations;
- Conduct health and safety training and talks;
- Provide event support;
- Provide plans and guidelines for emergency evacuation.
The division was also responsible for the management of the Parliamentary precinct (electrical, mechanical, structural, plumbing, lifts, fire systems, security infrastructure); liaison between Parliament and the Department of Public Works (DPW) on Parliamentary villages’ services (buses and housing); management of contracts; and management of the precincts’ and villages’ refurbishment projects. The focus areas in support of the APP were:
- Building two extra committee rooms in Parliament Towers;
- Acquiring the entire 90 Plein Street building (floors 9-14);
- Upgrading of lifts in the 90 Plein Street building;
- External security infrastructure upgrade;
- Upgrading of kitchen equipment;
- 100 Plein Street external repairs and redesign of ground floor;
- Re-sleeving of the sewerage and storm water pipes in the Parliamentary precinct;
- Transferring of Hope Street and Nieuwemeester parking facilities to the control of Parliament (installation of boom gates, upgrading of security);
- Space design project, and taking over the maintenance budget from the DPW.
The division’s budget allocation was R6.427m for household services, R1.252m for catering services, R6.84m for protections services, R400 000 for the SHE unit, and R9m for projects.
The division was also offering art and heritage tours to new MPs to familiarise them with the history of the precincts. It would continue to build sufficient committee rooms to accommodate all committee meetings in Parliament; improve security to ensure the safety of Members in the precinct; improve the product offering and functionality of existing catering facilities to accommodate diverse stakeholders, and cater for differing needs. Regarding challenges, the visitors’ centre was regarded as too small to accommodate the public’s interest in Parliament, and it had no systems to verify the identity of visitors. The plan was to upgrade 100 Plein Street, and the plan had been registered already. With regard to reliance on the DPW for all maintenance work, the proposal was to transfer the maintenance budget for minor works -- the replacement of globes, repairs of doors, minor plumbing etc -- from the DPW to Parliament.
To accommodate the additional space needs of Members, such as additional committee rooms and meeting room facilities, a request had been made to re-assign the adjacent Belvedere building to Parliament, in order to accommodate the museum and Parliamentary gift shop. A process had started to relocate the South African Revenue Service (SARS) from the eighth floor of 90 Plein Street to the ground floor. Engagements had been started with DPW to acquire the remaining floors of the 90 Plein Street building. Because there was insufficient parking for Parliament, designated parking bays in Hope Street and the Nieuwemeester parking facility would be created for the exclusive use of Parliament.
Mr N Singh (IFP) complimented Mr Xaso for heading the division so well over the years, but expressed disappointment with the challenges regarding the tracking of House resolutions. He wanted to know if new Members would be included in the Member’s Booklet, because the existing one had Members who had left a long time ago. How capacitated was the translation and interpreting services department?
Mr Xaso replied that they would consider looking at the inclusion of new Members, but it would need to be continuously updated as Members resigned. He added that if plenaries were going to be a permanent feature, they would need to employ more language practitioners for the translation and interpreting services department.
Mr J Steenhuisen (DA) asked if there was a tracking mechanism in place for House resolutions to ensure Members got responses timeously from the Executive.
Mr Xaso agreed that the current system in place was not effective. Not everyone was directing his or her responses to the Speaker, but to the committees. The challenge was that no one knew if the right hand was communicating well with the left hand. No one was seeing to it that things were tracked well.
Ms R Lesoma (ANC) remarked it was clear there was no mechanism to track the implementation of the reports adopted by the House. A clear tracking mechanism was desperately needed.
The Co-Chairperson wanted to find out if the NA was seeing the MPs using the Parliamentary platform effectively in order to direct services to where they were required. If they were not effective in doing their work, she asked that the Committee be given areas for improvement.
Mr Xaso said it was difficult to comment on the effectiveness of the MPs. However, at the end of every year, many reports were lapsing and these could be passed on to the constituencies, especially the recommendations.
Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape) wanted to know if there was a way to infuse the rulings taken by the presiding officer, which was usually used as a precedent, into the main rules. He also wanted to establish why Parliament papers were in English Afrikaans only, yet the country had 11 official languages.
Mr Xaso explained there was always an addendum attached to the rules, but they would look into the matter to try and find better ways of making the rules accessible to Members. The NA was about to produce a digest dating back from 1999 to the 5th Parliament. He added that they were much alive to the problem of languages used in the documents. They were already looking at expanding language usage, in line with the constitutional imperatives.
Mr Steenhuisen commented that there had been an imbalance in terms of resource allocation when it came to researchers and research capabilities. The High Level Panel reports pointed out there had been a skewed allocation of resources. The proposed model of fusing researchers between the two Houses was not going to work, and would not see the light of the day. The idea should be broadened instead, because it was not continuing to empower the Members, but only giving the executive the upper hand.
The Co-Chairperson said the committees were in need of specialist researchers to carry out their work. It was not known whether the suggested model was going to work or not, but it appeared to be reducing capacity.
Ms Baby Tyawa, Secretary to Parliament, said that when content advisors were roped in, the intention was to promote specialisation. She added that when one had a Masters degree, one was considered a researcher because one had used both qualitative and quantitative research methods. An Honours degree was not sufficient for research work. The division had conceptualised areas of shared services where, for example, there would be a senior researcher looking after researchers and fieldworkers. This would pull together the knowledge of the officials employed, in order to groom researchers who would grow inside the Parliamentary system, and eventually rise to the top.
Adv Phindela added that the research capacity had been one of the problems facing committees of the NCOP. Having one researcher for a committee that had got five portfolios was unfair. The NCOP had 54 Members and fewer committees than the NA, yet it was expected to perform like the NA.
Mr Singh suggested Parliament should consider making use of new technologies like video conferencing, because delegates were coming to the NCOP from other provinces to deliver a mandate for only two minutes. He also suggested the duplication of resources should be avoided. Public engagements should take place after the NCOP had engaged with the provinces. An example was the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, which was out already and which the NA was canvassing to the public. It was clear the NCOP would continue where the NA had left off. He also wanted to know if there had been an opinion from the AG regarding the NCOP, and asked for details of the renovations that were being done on the NCOP chamber and building.
Adv Phindela agreed with the idea of using new technology for communication. The concept had been agreed to at the planning stage, especially for joint committees that would be sitting for less than an hour. The issue of joint public hearings had been debated for a long time, but even if it could be implemented, the NCOP would continue to work with provincial legislatures. They would need to look at the constitutional requirements when the two Houses jointly facilitated public hearings. He told the Committee the renovations to the NCOP buildings were being done because the paint on the walls was peeling off due to leaking pipes that were built inside the walls. He said there had been no findings from the AG regarding the NCOP.
Ms Lesoma asked if management had ever considered reconfiguring the work of the NCOP with the new changes taking place outside and inside Parliament. She was wondering whether “Taking Parliament to the People” was still delivering like before, because there were continuing service delivery protests. She asked if there were better tools to assess how best to use the “Taking Parliament to the People” space in relation to the scope of new technology and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Adv Phindela said the NCOP was doing its work according to the requirements of the constitution.
Mr Rayi remarked there was a tendency to treat the NCOP as a “by-the-way” division. It was rare to find ministers attending NCOP meetings. Usually, they sent deputy ministers and department officials. There was a need to ensure the NCOP was treated equally, just like the other House. For instance, meetings would not start if the NA plenary was still sitting, but if those of the NCOP were still in action, meetings would happen. He also pointed out there had been complaints about the quality of the committee minutes in general. As a result, Members ended up using Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) reports, yet Parliament had the resources and people employed to do the job. He asked Parliament to encourage the public or interest groups to attend NCOP sessions when public issues were debated, because the NCOP gallery was usually empty most of the time.
The Co-Chairperson added it was vital that it was understood that Parliament was in existence because of the two Houses, and that they were independent of each other. They should therefore be given the respect they deserved. Everything done in the NCOP was done according to legislation. At a previous workshop, a resolution had been taken on joint committees and joint public hearings.
Adv Phindela said he took note of the comments from Members.
The Co-Chairperson wondered if the packages offered to staff members were in line with their qualifications. Her worry was that they were often poached to join the departments and entities.
Ms Lesoma added that management should be mindful when it recruited and consider the demographics of the country and people with disabilities.
Mr Rayi commented that “Taking Parliament to the People” was a very good programme, because it was identifying matters to be focused on. Members would go out and visit the programmes of the departments. Accounting officers and officials of the departments had to be there to listen to the concerns of the public or communities. The President would be there on the last day, after having been briefed on what happened during the week, to address peoples’ concerns. This was usually followed by a follow-up programme.
Ms Lesoma commented that a turn-around would improve matters only if funding could be found for challenges with regard to the committee room upgrades, the NCOP system upgrades, video archiving and increasing broadcasting capability. It was difficult to access Wi-fi in rural villages, and that was making it hard to communicate with people in outlying areas. She wondered if the ICT unit could help in the tracking of House resolutions to ensure Parliament was working for everybody.
Ms Boltman indicated they had spoken a lot about Wi-fi, but it was not in the ICT budget. A decision needed to be taken on whether Parliament needed to consider its inclusion in the ICT budget, or if it should be left to the Department of Public Works.
Mr Rayi asked how safe the Parliament email server was, because there was a political party that preferred the use of gmail accounts. He also remarked Members could access the Press Reader only when using their own Wi-fi. He asked for an update on the Day TV Channel.
Ms Boltman replied that a service provider had been appointed to ensure internet security. The Press Reader was being run by the Parliamentary library. The requirement with Day Channel TV was to move it from analogue to digital.
Mr Steenhuisen commented that the implementation of the online registration tracker would be a huge asset for Parliamentary operations.
Ms Boltman said the online tracker was a work in progress.
Mr Singh asked if the past persistent problem with internet connections had been resolved.
Ms Boltman replied that Parliament had employed the services of another internet service provider for more efficiency.
Mr X Qayiso (ANC) wanted to know if Parliament’s buildings were also accessible to the disabled, and whether Parliament had a safety committee.
Ms Zungu replied that the buildings catered for the disabled, and that there was a safety committee in place.
Mr Singh asked who was occupying floors 9 to 14 on 90 Plein Street. He wanted to know which gyms were going to get an upgrade, and if the upgrades would be extended to squash courts. Could the Committee be furnished with the relocation report in terms of costs and feasibility? Lastly, he asked for a ball park figure on the refurbishment of the building and its ablution facilities.
Ms Zungu said floors 9 to 14 were occupied by the Department of Rural Development, which would be moved later to another identified place. She said the budget would focus only on upgrading gym facilities inside the precinct.
Ms Tyawa enlightened the Committee they had had a meeting with the Deputy Minister of Public Works. It had become clear that Parliament belonged in the prestige portfolio, and there was no indication of how much the DPW was spending on the maintenance of this portfolio. Parliament had no service level agreements (SLAs) with the service providers used by Public Works. It had then been resolved that the Deputy Minister would be responsible for the maintenance of Parliament, and that a certain percentage of the budget should be transferred to Parliament’s Facilities Management Unit.
The budget for relocation had been submitted and included a socio-economic impact study, but the executive authorities were in the dark as to when the relocation would happen.
Mr Rayi asked that security be tightened in Parliament, especially before 7 am, because he had observed there was no security at that time. It was just a free-for-all -- people were getting in and out without being screened.
Ms Lesoma commented that the Batho Pele principles should be upheld by everybody in the public service. She also suggested the Facilities Management Unit should be more efficient in managing the facilities. Village committees should be established because the 6th Parliament Members had brought their families, and it was therefore important to assess if the services were covering everybody. Lastly, she proposed a facelift of Parliament should be looked at, including air-conditioners in all the offices.
Ms Zungu said there were structures provided by Public Works in the villages for gyms, but there was no agreement as to who was going to be responsible for buying the equipment. There was also a model that had been developed which looked at moving Members closer to Parliament, and was something all Members should consider looking at. Air-conditioning was a challenge due to the age of the Parliament buildings. R500m was needed for installing and upgrading air-conditioners at 90 Plein Street.
The Co-Chairperson asked if the maintenance budget was enough, because the bathrooms were in a mess despite there being a service provider that was contracted to do the work.
Ms Tyawa said cleaners had been in-sourced from Fedics and other organisations that were servicing Parliament. Now they were permanent and comfortable. They were currently being paid four times what they had previously been were paid. It had been an issue of management.
The Chairperson wanted to know what had happened to the piece of land that had been donated by the late President Mandela in the Good Hope Building for a pre-school, because Parliament had “become young” now, and this would ensure mothers received support to bond with their young ones. She also suggested Parliament should consider having shops in the villages just to buy the basic necessities, even if that service was outsourced, because Parliament was only providing transport.
Ms Zungu replied that the piece of land earmarked for the day care centre was currently used by the presidency. Unfortunately, the Facilities Management Unit would not be able to reclaim that space, but would continue to look for a place for a day care centre. Other issues related to the villages should be raised with the Parliamentary Villages Management Board, because Public Works had a representative there.
The meeting was adjourned.
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