The Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament was briefed by the Parliamentary divisions responsible for member support services, international relations and protocol, and Parliamentary communication services, on their roles and responsibilities.
The Member Support Services Division was asked to provide Members of a list of areas where they were liable for tax so that they did not find themselves in trouble with the South African Revenue Service (SARS). Members asked why their airport access card could be used only at Cape Town airport, as they travelled throughout the country; why the policy that Members who were serving their third term could be upgraded to business class or premium travel was not happening; and what the turnaround plan to assist Members with special needs was.
The Members complained that the internet signal was incredibly low on any of the networks, which made it difficult for them to work from their homes. They also said it was in the interest of their wellness that gym facilities be made available in the Parliamentary village. The Chairperson, in particular, rejected a suggestion that a commission may be establish to review Members’ benefits, saying that if anything the benefits should be enhanced to compensate for their having to leave the comfort of their homes to serve the country.
Other issues raised included the need to increase public awareness of what happens in Parliament by extending its media coverage. Its DSTV Parliamentary channel had a restricted audience, and the public broadcaster should be approached to give support. Community radio stations also had an important role to play, being close to the communities they served.
The Committee was told that South Africa’s participation in observer missions at elections on the continent were being curtailed owing to the costs involved, and would take place only if they were considered important to the country’s interests. A concern was that Parliament signs protocols with certain countries, and then provincial and local governments would also go and sign something different from what Parliament had agreed on, which leads to a lack of synergy among the three spheres of government in respect of international relations work.
Briefing: Member Support Services Division.
Mr Vusi Mavuso, Division Manager: Parliament, said that the division was responsible for the provision of services and facilities in accordance with the prescripts of the Members’ Facilities Handbook. They also seek to improve the usefulness, relevance and accessibility to integrated development programmes for Members of Parliament. Additionally, they create an effective and efficient support service that delivers enhanced support to Members.
The roles and functions also include Member’s travel management, Members’ facilities administration, which involves dealing with Members pensions, gratuities and medical aid matters, the registration of incoming Members and support thereof. They also provide Member’s support services -- for example, providing the necessary support to Members with special needs, handling tax-related matters and processing their travel insurance. They also help the Members’ capacity building programme in which they coordinate all capacity building-related programmes, and provide support for the enhancement of the skills, knowledge and competencies of Members in fulfilling their constitutional objectives.
He went on to state the division’s objectives. (See presentation)
The challenges they were facing include high transactional volumes, which could impact their ability to consistently meet turnaround times. What they were doing to mitigate this was to introduce a self-service facility for Members.
Other challenges were:
- The rising of travel costs and the availability of the service. They were mitigating this through low-cost carriers and discounted fares.
- The verification of travel for reimbursement. Their strategy was the introduction of electronic logbooks for mileage mitigation.
- Changing administrative and support assistance to presiding officers requires immediate synthesis. A handbook for a presiding officer was urgently required to manage their specific needs and requirements.
- The preponderance of younger Members in the sixth Parliament, and their related needs. The mitigation strategy was the introduction of a child-care facility for Members to be introduced in the new financial year. There was also a need for engagement with a space planner and service advisor to commence.
- There was frequent congestion in the Members’ lounge and adjacent passageway. The strategy was to consider expansion of the service on a scaled-down basis at another location in the precinct.
Ms R Lesoma (ANC) made a suggestion that because they now had younger Members than before, they should establish what their needs were to improve their working situation whilst they were still in Parliament.
She said that the Members should be empowered regarding the requirements for tax returns, so that they did not get on the wrong side of the South Africa Revenue Service (SARS). She did not know that in terms of their information technology (IT) equipment allowance, if it was not utilised completely they had to include it when they were doing their eFiling otherwise it would be taken as if they had used that money. Also, if they did not account for it, they would owe SARS. These were the things Members should be made aware of, especially the new Members, to avoid placing themselves in an uncomfortable financial situation.
The airport access card was nice to have, but Members were able to scan these cards only at the Cape Town airport. Since the airports were managed by the same company, Members should be able to use them at other airports to make their life easier.
Mr T Brauteseth (DA, KwaZulu-Natal) said there was an incredibly low signal on any of the networks, which made it difficult for them to work at their homes. As a result, he always had to use his cell phone to hotspot his laptop to be able to research and do other sorts of things. He was happy to engage with Telkom and get an asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) at his own cost to have proper WIFI at his residence, but this was not possible. He had been trying to do his own intervention, but unfortunately it still had not come right. His colleagues were sitting with very bad phone signals and they could not even use hotspots. Some of them were willing to pay for other alternatives from their own pocket, but Parliament should start using its influence and talk to Telkom, or other service providers, about providing a better service which was stronger and reliable.
Regarding airport access cards, he commented that installing scanning machines should not be a major issue.
On the travel procurement issue, he said a number of smaller service providers had indicated that they had not received an invitation to bid. He understood that from time to time contracts needed to be refreshed, but they had a situation where this contract was being refreshed, the money being spent was about R120 million which was going through one agency, which was really a chunky contract. Although it was certainly a contract which went through a tender process, his concern was that it appeared that not all parties had been invited to bid. If that was the case, it fell short of the prescripts of section 217 of the Constitution, which says that all procurement of any government department must be open, fair, accessible, cost-effective and competitive. He requested the list of all providers who had provided in the last five years, and corresponding papers that showed the invitations to each and every one of the suppliers asking them to bid. The government was urging support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and now they had moved the entire R120 million contract to one company. They were supposed to be empowering smaller entities rather than moving it to one.
Mr X Qayiso (ANC) said that they were the ones who were making laws encouraging people to adhere to a healthy lifestyle. They should be leading by example, but looking at the facilities where they stayed, these were not exemplary. They should include a gym or a standardised place for them to do some exercise after working hours. Using gym facilities at places where they had to travel about 5kms was time-consuming, so it was better to have them at their residential places.
Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape) said that generally he was satisfied with this division. However, there was a need for the division to follow up on the monitoring mechanisms. They needed to establish systems that monitored the services. For example, when they started in the sixth term, particularly with the ICT, it took them weeks before they could obtain devices they were utilizing, and no one was monitoring this.
Ms Lesoma commented on Members’ capacity building, and said the higher learning institutions were closing at the end of next month for registration, and no one knew who to talk to about preferred universities and programmes. She asked them to speed this up so that they could register.
Co-chairperson Mahlangu said they needed to call the Department of Public Works (DPW) to appear before them to raise some of these issues with them directly, rather than using the Member Support Services Division as the conveyor belt for communication. Even the intercom and alarm systems at the houses were not working, and they had been like that ever since she started working in Parliament. There were many problems that involved the DPW, and it would be best to raise the issues directly with them.
The division should provide guidance on identifying institutions for Committee capacity building. Members needed this assistance as individuals. There were some programmes, such a public relations, which were not included in their programmes, and if Members wanted to study that, they would have to get a bursary. She asked if the Members could be assisted with that.
She felt that the division was understaffed, and as a result it took forever for them to provide proper service.
They sometimes failed to register at educational institutions like the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) because they were told that Parliament had not paid. Another concern involved the programme which they completed at Nelson Mandela University, where some people still had not received their qualifications, even if they passed with distinctions. She asked them to look into the payment of these
She said her understanding was that Members who were serving for the third term would be upgraded to business class or premium travel, but this was not happening. She had not found anyone to help with this issue. They should talk to their staff so that they could provide quality service and give the Members clear answers.
Mr Brauteseth said that he received confirmation that he had passed all his courses at Wits, but he could not make it to the graduation because he had been too busy. He had been told to pay about R22 to get the certificate, because getting it through Parliament took too long. He was grateful for the opportunity they got to study, but if Parliament could assist them to get their degrees after they had finished, it would be much better.
Chairperson Mabe said the only problem she had was that they were given quite expensive gadgets which were very sophisticated to operate. She proposed that they coordinate a workshop where they could get service providers such as Apple to come and give them basic training.
She also proposed that they work on a model and package programmes that were interrelated so that they could come and present in provincial caucuses so that they did not have to get everyone in one place. This was because this presentation was just for induction purposes.
On the issues relating to taxes, she said that Members should be informed about the things that they were going to be taxed on so that they could plan their finances better.
Additionally, the division had indicated in the presentation that there was a possibility of cutting some of the benefits for Members. She said the division should be informed by the Members’ mandate. They would not support any commission that would want to take away benefits from Members, because for them to be in Parliament they had left the comforts of their homes to come and serve the country. Therefore, if there was any commission that was going to be established, it should be about enhancing what they had currently.
On the subject of ICT, such as the profiling of Members and the use of social media, Members needed help with the content that they posted so that people could be informed about the work they were doing in Parliament.
At the previous meeting, she had raised the issue of death benefits for Members, and had thought the division would going to touch on this in their presentation because they were informed that it fell within their unit. She said that the response time and the support that was given to Members needed to be improved. Also, the payments took time and sometimes Members were told to bring documents that they do not know about, and it was difficult if there was a lack of support.
She endorsed Mr Rayi’s point that the services were there, but the issue was monitoring them to ascertain if they were beneficial and if they were happy with them. Another issue was that they want the vending machine to be improved so that it could accommodate the 400 Parliamentarians, because even during House sittings the Ministers also use that facility.
Mr Rayi said that he wanted to follow up on the issue that had been raised by Co-chairperson Mahlangu with regard to the Department of Public Works (DPW). He served in the Select Committee that oversees the DPW and that there was a programme called “Prestige.” He made a suggestion that the person who was responsible for that programme should be invited regularly to their meetings because they had two issues which involved the institutional support division for Members which was provided by the DPW, and the Member support that was provided by Parliament. The Select Committee had been attended by the Deputy Minister who had confirmed that she had a list of Parliamentary villages she had visited, as she had been mandated by the Minister. He suggested that they should invite her to this Committee so that she could provide them with an update about her visit to the villages with regard to the conditions and state of those villages. In future, the person who was responsible for the Prestige programme should be reporting to this structure.
Mr Mavuso said that the physical wellness of Members was a very critical aspect. However, the difficulty they were having in establishing gym facilities in the villages was that the DPW had not been coming on board. This was also the case with IT, and the division would do their utmost best to extend the IT coverage into the villages. This would be a costly exercise, but they believed it was a very important aspect because Members required it in order to do their work.
An insurance scheme for Members was not within their control. They would have to deal with the Public Office Bearers Pension Fund POBPF. He would be able to clarify this matter later in order to give them a more comprehensive response on this issue.
On Members’ tax issues, he said they had provided accommodation for SARs to provide what was called a “VIP service” to Members for them to be able to deal with tax-related matters. If Members find they are not deriving any satisfaction from this, it would be important for them to provide feedback so that the division could see how best to assist in applying corrective measures. However, this did not preclude Members from seeking advice from their own financial advisers.
Ms Lesoma interrupted that Mr Mavuso had misunderstood her question. What Members needed was a list of things that SARS taxed them on -- this was the information that they required.
Mr Mavuso said he would follow up on that issue.
One of the challenges with regard to Members with special needs was that the policy required the Member to specify the special needs in writing so that it came to the division for consideration. If they did not receive that information, there was very little that they could do. In certain instances, a Member might have a temporary disability and the support needed would be for a short duration. It would also have to be reviewed every time, and they would require the information from a doctor to say that this was not a permanent feature but a temporary one in order to reduce the cost that comes with the support.
He agreed with the Members regarding airport access cards. It was an unfair situation, and it was important to engage with the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) so that all airports could provide the facility, because Members travelled all over the country.
On the procurement aspect, as far as he was concerned, it was an open tender -- it had been advertised, due process had been followed and supply chain management (SCM) had been involved. He would follow up on whether some companies had not been informed to find out what had transpired. There might have been a communication problem which needed to be looked at.
Mr Brauteseth suggested that the procurement procedure should be stipulated in writing so that the issue could be cleared up. However, if they had followed all the steps, then there should not any problem. He had found it very odd that some of the companies that had been providing a service to Parliament for over 20 years did not even know that a bid was happening. They should prepare a report clearing stipulating what they had done and the report should also include a list of the past suppliers.
Mr Mavuso said that monitoring was a matter that required serious consideration.
Referring to capacity building, he said the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) example was a classical case in which the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) was involved in a programme that dealt with a specific committee of Parliament. The division had provided a “top up” for Members to be able to embark on that programme, because it required a minimum number of participants. They had had a meeting with NMU the previous week to try and resolve some of the outstanding matters, and he believed they have resolved them. They understood that graduation would be taking place sooner, rather than later.
He supported the suggestion of involving the DPW in their meetings to provide information on matters such as the Prestige projects.
He was really concerned about delayed payment to institutions for Members’ capacity building. If a Member experienced and delays, they should get in contact with him directly so that he could follow up. For those who had qualified to get their degrees, he would follow up to ensure that they got their qualifications if they were unable to attend the graduation ceremony.
On the question of Members who had more than two terms and qualified to move to a different tier (business class), he was surprised that this had not yet been resolved because it ought to be automatic. He would follow up on that.
He would reserve the social media issue for the Parliamentary Communication Services Division.
Regarding the vending machine, Members would have to use the tokens that they were given to activate the machine, and once they were finished, they would get a limit so that they could obtain replenishments.
He said workshops for the sophisticated gadgets were absolutely essential, and he would follow up on that.
Mr Brauteseth referred to the issue of the gym, and said the DPW had indicated that they had built the building, yet they were telling the Member Support Services Division something else. They needed a clear picture of what actually was taking place.
Briefing: Parliamentary Communication Services
Mr Moloto Mothapo, Division Manager: Parliamentary Communications Services (PCS) said that the purpose of PCS was to support the institution's strategic plans by increasing the reach, access and flow of empowering information regarding the business of Parliament for a better-informed citizenry. They also seek to improve communication of the business of Parliament in order to increase public involvement by developing and implementing a comprehensive communications strategy, and to improve relationships with stakeholders by developing and implementing a stakeholder management plan.
He then went on to describe their focus areas in support of the annual performance plan (APP). (See presentation)
They were facing challenges in terms of funding. Although the current remuneration budget represented 77% of the overall PCS budget, it was under-resourced in certain areas and would require additional funding to enhance the efficiency of the Communications Division. For example, currently there were eight Parliamentary communication officers (PCOs) servicing 46 committees, which equated to six committees per PCO. This situation was not conducive to strengthening and supporting the committees, especially when all of them were sitting or doing oversight visits, as it was difficult to prioritise support in terms of importance. Also, the position of Webmaster and Social Media Coordinator was vacant, and this function was being performed by PCOs.
The radio programme budget which was used for mass-based communication platforms to disseminate communication on the business of Parliament was only R1.4m for the year. This amount was insufficient, and expenditure on creating awareness of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) had already used up 50% of this budget.
Another challenge was storage and archive facility. Currently they were using a temporary storage facility for all of Parliament’s footage. An effective storage system was costly, and a Request for Information had been issued.
There were plans to collaborate with radio stations, especially community stations to partner with Parliament to disseminate content; for the expansion of Parliament’s television reach and licensing; and to ensure full broadcasting capabilities in all committee venues, with 100% audio-visual broadcast capabilities.
Ms Lesoma suggested that instead of waiting for the all Parliamentary portfolio and select committee chairpersons to be available, they should have two proposed dates on which they could make themselves available.
She asked if PCS engaged with outside stakeholders, or if this was done through oversight committees or their own special programmes. There was a need to look at the target audience and also other stakeholders that might be left out because the tools of communicating to them were not user-friendly to them.
She referred to the IT gadgets which publicised meetings that were happening in Parliament, and said that sometimes they were not functioning and when they were, they were not frequently updated, so she questioned their usefulness.
Regarding the financial budget, there was a need to modernise the communication tools that they used in this unit. This could be costly in the short term, but would be cost-effective in the long term.
Mr Brauteseth said Parliamentarians lived in a “bubble,” thinking that everyone could see what they were doing, but in actual fact they had to ask themselves how many people in South Africa had access to DSTV – and also, how many with DSTV were actually interested in watching Channel 408. There was a need to ascertain how much of their work was actually being seen by the people. He suggested they should get out of channel 408 and move to another channel like the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), which was desperate for content. A vast majority of people could not afford DSTV, so moving it to SABC would give them access. He also suggested they could develop an application which a person could download on to their phone that would enable them to easily access Parliamentary activities.
Mr Qayiso said that since all of them were new in the sixth Parliament, they needed to be exposed to media communications. They should not just assume that now that they were new MPs, they could handle media enquiries.
Mr Rayi said PCS had indicated that because of the number of committees and the number of PCOs, the division was failing to ensure that each committee had a communication officer and they were therefore talking about serving the committees on a rotational basis. He said Members had not benefited from that rotational system since the start of the term -- they had not even seen a communication officer in their committee. Perhaps it would be better if they communicated that rotational system to the committees so that they would know when it was going to be their turn.
The training should not be for only chairpersons, because it was only one party that had chairpersons, and this gave the impression that only one party was benefiting.
He commented on the use of the communications platforms that were currently there for public involvement. Even though Channel 408 channel was on DSTV, it could be utilised to advertise the work of Parliamentary committees, rather than just showing what was happening in Parliament. For example, it could publicise the Z list so that the public would know what issues Parliament would be focusing on in a particular week. This could encourage the public to take an interest in participating in the activities of the Parliament. The Z list could also be shared with the community radio stations so that communities were also aware of the activities taking place in Parliament.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu said that if they compared the budget of this financial year to that of the previous year, it was R5 million less, and there were areas or programmes that were highly affected, such as social media. According to the presentation, the social media coordinator position was vacant, as was the webmaster. Whoever was doing this job had to keep these platforms updated because there was always a problem of making sure that the website was up to date.
She really appreciated the plan to collaborate with the radio stations and community radio stations, because this Parliament was known as the “Parliament of the people.” Therefore as an institution of the people, they should take the radio stations seriously and utilise them. The community radio stations were near to the communities, and they were reachable.
She warned that public relations was a profession on its own, and Members should not be excited and just talk on media, because this aspect needed to be managed. Each committee needed a responsible person, or a communication officer, to deal with public relations matters. She supported the proposal that they needed to have training or capacity building of some sort on how to deal with the media because they did not want to have a bad relationship with the media -- it would not help them or the public they were serving. Through the media, they could communicate information, activities and in that way the public would know why they had voted for them and what this Parliament was doing to add value. It could also help the public to have views about the activities of the Parliament.
Her other concern was the budget reduction on public participation. Her expectation had been that they would have increased the budget, because public participation helped take Parliament and the legislature to the people. Also, when there is public participation, they invite stakeholders to come to committee meetings in Cape Town, but they should ask themselves how many people could afford to come to Cape Town to make presentations. This showed up disparities. had hoped that in this sixth term, they could improve as far as public participation was concerned because it was important for the citizens of South Africa to be involved in the activities of Parliament so that their views could be catered for.
Chairperson Mabe said that the division seemed to be concentrating more on media relations although communications was a broad function. She asked the division to comment on that.
The presentation had also not said anything about the special social media policy. She asked where that policy was, and if they were implementing it or not.
A number of issues had been raised in different divisions which they needed to package and raise directly with Treasury, especially those related to budget cuts.
She was happy that they were going to improve their use of radio stations, because they wanted people to know what was happening to the Parliamentary committees. The committee agendas had to be communicated in all languages.
There had been an allegation about managers in their department who were not getting support, and that there were serious salary discrepancies, with female unit managers earning less than their male counterparts. She asked them to respond to this and if they were not aware, they should investigate.
What were their future plans for staff development?
Mr Mothapo said that most of the comments made were recommendations to improve the services and support that they provide to Members in the area of communication, as well as service to the public in terms of opening up about the business of Parliament, which they welcomed.
The training of Members was important, and they had specially prioritised the training of the chairpersons because these were chief spokespersons for the very important structures of Parliament, normally called “the engines of Parliament.”
He welcomed the suggestion that the PCO rotational programme needed to be communicated to the committees so that they were aware of the specific times and meetings where they would have the PCO’s support. They were striving for the communication officers to provide extra support on things like media statements, interviews and updating social media accounts and conducting videos of the chairpersons concluding the meetings, and broadcasting the outcomes in at least three languages. Where PCOs were unable to attend meetings, they would be encouraged to get in touch with the chairpersons, who could direct and provide guidance on which areas to highlight for issuing media statements and other information. They had created a database for their contacts, their responsibilities and the committees they were responsible for. They would circulate it to make sure that every chairperson had a copy, so that if the CPO was not at the meeting the chairperson could call him/her and give instructions om the issuing of a press statement, or any form of support they might need.
Access to public television was very important. Their survey had shown that about 82% in South Africans said they were currently receiving information about Parliament on television, and that they actually preferred television to radio. This meant that if the PCO was serious about direct communication of information about Parliament to the people of South Africa, they needed to focus on television as the surveys were suggesting. This was why they were saying they needed to broaden the reach of their Parliamentary divisions. The number of DSTV subscribers was also increasing, and that they were having discussions about the Parliamentary channel being available not only in the premium bouquet, but also the lowest bouquet. They also going to make sure that the Parliamentary channel was available on all the regional channels. They had been in discussions with the public broadcaster to have some kind of partnership so that they could access the audiences that were on the free to air channel.
He said the PCO was also in discussions to build a state-of-the-art television studio, which would be the first to be built. They were also in the process of establishing a service panel that would assist with the production of educational material and documentaries on the business of Parliament.
Regarding vacancies, he said an institution such as a Parliament should not be without a webmaster and social media coordinator position. Although the PCOs were providing the social media support, they did not have someone who was dedicated to that, and given the kind of website they would be launching very soon, they would need a webmaster. They were looking at ways to enable them to have one.
They were continuing to collaborate with community radios. They were investigating ways in which they could directly communicate with community radio stations because currently it costs them between R250 000 and R300 000 to run a one- or two-hour programme connected to about 60 community radio stations across the country. They were continuously trying to find ways to ensure that they reduced that expenditure without compromising their strategic objective.
The decrease in the budget was significant, because publicising the participation of the public in the law-making processes was important. Previously, the courts had found out that Parliament had not engaged fully in public participation because there was no evidence showing that communities had been invited to participate. Therefore the cut in what they called radio programming, where they used about 16 radio stations of the SABC to invite public participation, might have a very negative impact on this constitutional obligation of Parliament.
On the issue of the social media policy, they had just concluded the communication policy a couple of months ago, and part of it included the area of social media. If it was not comprehensive enough, they would have to investigate it and ensure that they had a separate comprehensive version that deals with social media.
The CPO’s focus was not only on media, but rather that media was just one of the platforms they used. They also embarked on direct engagement with the stakeholders, the public, facilitate public involvement, facilitate the visits of schools to Parliament, the attendance of the public to committee meetings, and also the sittings of the House. They also had a programme of stakeholder engagements that was normally led by the presiding officers and chairpersons.
He was not aware of discrepancies with regard to gender-discriminatory payments. As far as he was aware, all the unit managers were being paid at the same level.
Chairperson Mabe said that he must investigate this, as there might be a possibility.
Briefing: International Relations and Protocol Division
Mr Dumisani Sithole, Division Manager: International Relations and Protocol Division, said this division was informed by the core objectives of the fourth Parliament’s Strategic Plan, which had been “the need to improve and widen the role of Parliament in international relations, cooperation and participation by developing and implementing an international relations strategy.”
He then went on to state their objectives, their roles and functions, which include operations management, policy analysis, protocol and ceremonial services, and multilateral and bilateral relations. (See presentation)
A challenge that they were facing was the coordination of international engagements correspondence. What they were doing to mitigate this challenge was the secondment of a liaison officer to the executive authority, to work closely with the Executive Director.
Another challenge was the restructuring of the division. A team had been set to conclude the process by the end of July 2019. This date had not been achievable, as human resources (HR) were still working on the process.
The final challenge was budget allocation. They were dealing with this through the prioritisation of international engagements as advised by the Parliamentary Group on International Relations (PGIR).
Ms Lesoma said there was an allegation that no South Africans were working at the African Union (AU). There was nothing wrong with that, but there had to be a balance because it was almost 100% funded by South Africa. It could be the issue of language, but it needed to be addressed because it had been raised in other forums that she belonged to, and had become an issue.
Mr Rayi said an issue one faces when out of the country was not being able to communicate because cellphones did not work, no matter how much data one may have. The issue of roaming needed to addressed, because if one was just an ordinary Member, or even a chairperson of a committee, one did not qualify for roaming facilities.
He did not see the role that members were playing at observer missions. What role were they playing because there were a lot of elections happening on the continent, and he did not see any reference to observer missions from the Parliament.
Ms Mahlangu said that she was still digesting how the division worked, and how it could be used to benefit the country more than the Members. Last year, Parliament had hosted the African network of Parliamentary Budget Offices (PBO) conference, and this year the same conference was taking place in two weeks’ time in Ghana, and the invitation to attend had been declined. Was this because they did not see the importance of the exchange in knowledge? Why was this conference in Ghana, especially after it had been hosted here in the previous year? Some of the Members who would have gone there would have gained knowledge that would benefit Parliament, and helped the country to run its budgets better.
Chairperson Mabe said that Parliament signs protocols with certain countries, and then provincial and local governments would also go and sign something different from what Parliament had agreed on, which leads to lack of synergy among the three spheres of government in respect of international relations work. She asked who was supposed to be driving this -- should it be left to the politicians to decide, or must Parliament run that process?
She said that in each and every country were there were elections, South Africa normally sent delegates as observers. She asked how much that costs their budget.
Mr Sithole said that in recent years South Africa had been reducing the number of election observer missions. What was also happening was that the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) had taken a decision that weighs a lot not only on them as a country, but on the region itself, because when a country decides to participate in the observer mission there was an observer fee that they must pay. For example, if they had to observe elections in Mozambique, they would have to calculate a certain percentage. Therefore, because of the cost, decisions to participate in were based on what was strategic at that point in time. He added that they were planning on training members for observer missions so that when the time came for them to go and observe they would be ready.
Accepting invitations that they receive from government and ministries to participate in overseas event would depend on the decision that had been made, and they would then get involved. For example, if the minister invites ten people from the Labour Committee to go to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) event, they would get involved in making arrangements and ensuring that they facilitated that particular space.
On the issue of Ghana raised by the Chairperson, he was not aware of that invitation.
The matter of roaming facilities was a policy issue that would impact on all the committees, so he was going to raise it as an institutional issue.
Regarding the participation of members in the AU, the directives that they had received was that they should try to ensure that all the members belong to some form of friendship or focus group at the PGIR level, and because it was voluntary, members could decide which way they wanted to participate. However, their duty was to find a mechanism to support it and make sure that they assist Members to be able to participate in those international engagements,
On the issue of coordination of the three spheres of government, particularly at the legislative level, remained a challenge in respect of both policy and the manner in which they do things. They needed work particularly on the side of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) to find a way to coordinate that particular space and deal with these issues. They hoped that if they managed to get the legislative sector together, coordination would be possible.
With regard to the Pan African Parliament (PAP), it was important for the sixth Parliament to discuss in detail how South Africa should respond and manage its hosting obligation and the role that Parliament and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) was playing in supporting the PAP. The difficulty was that when there was a crisis in the PAP, Parliament was called to intervene. However, DIRCO primarily did the support of the PAP, and that obscured the role that Parliament needed to play, given the fact the PAP was a legislative body. What they were seeking to do now was to change that role so that DIRCO must support their Parliament in dealing with the challenges in the PAP, because there were a number of challenges, like the accommodation and the general conditions at the PAP. The bottom line was that there was a need for a change of mindset --that the primary responsibility for the PAP rests with Parliament and not with DIRCO. Parliament could therefore make decisive interventions, which meant there was a need for a policy shift.
The Chairperson said due to time constraints, they would engage with the other departments in the coming week.
The meeting was adjourned
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