The Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament was briefed by the Committee’s content and research staff on the performance of Parliament during the first half of the 2019/20 financial year.
Areas highlighted were the decline in performance – only six of the nine targets had been achieved – the over-expenditure of the budget, the number of challenges carried through from previous years which had not been addressed, and inconsistencies in some of the figures presented.
Other matters drawn to the Committee’s attention were the need for clarification of the role of the Office of the Institution Supporting Democracy (OISD), the need for quarterly reports to supplement annual reports so that progress could be monitored, and for mitigation plans to deal with long standing issues like irregular and fruitless expenditure.
Another issue was the need for clarity on whether the restructuring of government, such as reducing the size of Cabinet and cutting the number of Committees from 57 to 46, had resulted in any saving of resources and if so, what the savings were being used for.
The Committee agreed that they would make their inputs at the following meeting.
Parliament’s mid-term performance
Mr Mbuyiselo Hlekiso, Committee Researcher, highlighted issues from the mid-term performance of Parliament for the 2019/20 financial year.
The first point referred to five policies carried over from the fifth Parliament because the current Parliament had not yet established their own.
In programme 1, the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) office had set a target of six analytical reports per year. The problem was that for an office which had about five analysts, one could not set a target for just six analytical reports throughout the year. He pointed out that they had already exceeded that target in the first quarter, during which they had produced about ten analytical reports. This meant that if there were no requests from the committees, they had completed their work for the year. He suggested that the Committee push for more analytical reports to be produced.
Also in Programme 1, the Office of Institutions Supporting Democracy (OISD) needed to clarify its role and be specific, as it had set targets that were not specific.
Furthermore, the Treasury Advice Office had not been established, although it was required by the Act to be established, and Parliament needed to explain why it was not in place until now. This office was important, because it advised the executive. Currently the executive authority was advised by the Chief Financial Officer and the Accounting Officer, to whom they had to account, which meant that there was a conflict of interest.
In programme one, there were two set targets, of which only one was achieved. The one met was the number of reports prepared on the implementation of sector strategy. The other was not achieved because the programme that was initially intended to be implemented in the second quarter had been deferred to a later quarter of the financial year.
In programme three (core business) there was one performance indicator called the service charter, where the targets for policy advice, Hansard and documentation were not met in the second quarter. The reason given had been the high volumes experienced in the second quarter.
Programme four consisted of Parliamentary communication services, human resources, information communication technology (ICT), Members’ support services and institutional support services. A problem here was that the performance targets were not measured throughout the year, as they were measured only at the end of the financial year. There were five annual targets were progress made on a quarterly basis was not reported. Therefore, there was a need for Parliament to set milestones for annual targets so that it could report progress made on a quarterly basis. A more frequent, shorter survey to gauge progress should be utilised. In this way, it would be easier to analyse the reasons for declining or increasing satisfaction, and it would indicate what worked and what did not.
Programme five, which dealt with Members’ facilities and payments of political parties, had achieved all payments in compliance with the policy. The only target which was not achieved was that the average number of days for reimbursement of expense claims should be 2.5 days, but it had taken an average of 4.25 days.
Mr Xolisile Mgaxaji, Committee Content Advisor, gave an overview of Parliament’s financial performance for the first two quarters, and said that the budget had been overspent by 1% during this period. This was primarily due to the compensation of Members as a result of the payment of gratituities to non-returning Members after the elections. They projected an over-expenditure of R139 657 over the year. Of the nine targets that Parliament had set to achieve during this period, they had achieved only six. This performance represented a decline as compared to previous financial years.
The same problems identified in the 2018/19 financial year report -- for example, the delay in the reimbursement of Members -- were still recurring. There were no explanations on mitigation plans so that they could monitor the challenges and decide what steps should be taken so that they did not happen in future.
Some issues raised in the annual report had involved irregular and fruitless expenditure which had not been cleared, and though it had been identified in 2017/18, it was still sitting in their books in 2018/19. Therefore, even though they had not incurred fruitless and wasteful expenditure last year, it was still appearing in their books. These issues need to be cleared from their books to avoid a situation where this was repeated in the following financial years. There should be a report on how far they had gone in clearing those issues in their financial reports.
Another issue was the non-achievement of targets. Information need to be provided on the progress made in dealing with the issues identified in the annual report.
After the elections, Parliament had embarked on cost reduction measures. One of the cost-cutting measures was the Cabinet reconfiguration, which resulted in committees being reduced from 57 to 46. It should be obvious that the use of resources had been reduced, but it was not clear how Parliament was using the savings from that reduction.
Under programme three, he pointed out anomalies in the core business programme related to the deputy secretary expenditure, and said clarity was needed. Another discrepancy was a target in programme two, involving programmes implemented by Parliament to develop Members, which was reported as achieved. However, that target had been deferred, which meant that the target had not been achieved. This also needed clarification.
It had been reported that the organisational realignment project was in the second phase. For that project, R13 million had been budgeted for the restructuring, but this had never been presented to the Committee for its inputs. He suggested that it would be better if Parliament could provide a breakdown of that budget.
Lastly, regarding the Adjustment budget, there were some issues according to the Act that were supposed to be included that were identified in the annual report, and one of them was that the accounting officer should recommend whether an adjustment budget was necessary.
The Chairperson commented that they should have more of these briefings, as they help them to have better “ammunition.” Members would make comments and contributions at the following meeting.
The meeting was adjourned
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