The meeting was convened for Members to consider and adopt the Budget Vote Report and to adopt minutes from previous Committee meetings.
Members enquired about progress on the Public Works Amendment Act, the forward plan for the Independent Development Trust (IDT), and the impact of COVID-19 on the Department’s budget spending, such as the border fence and quarantine sites. They also called for more information on the upskilling of expanded public works programme (EPWP) workers, the ARCHIBUS system, and the filling of staff vacancies in the Department, particularly at the Property Management Trading Entity.
There was consensus that the Minister had overstepped the mark by not properly consulting with the Committee on the issue of the Independent Development Trust, which had created confusion among the Members. It was also suggested that the Department may be using COVID-19 as a scapegoat for its under-performance, and that it was necessary to engage with the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) and the Auditor-General to review the Department’s budgets.
Members suggested that a functional system should be put in place to strengthen accountability and transparency at the IDT. They also highlighted the importance of finalising the immovable asset register, and for a timeframe for its completion.
Budget Vote Report
Mr Shuaib Denyssen, Committee Content Advisor: Parliamentary Research Team, briefed Members on the Budget Vote report.
Find the Report here https://pmg.org.za/tabled-committee-report/4172/
Ms S Graham (DA) commented on Clause 7.3 in the recommendations. She said the report did not make reference to finalising the Public Works Act. Given the Bill’s vital importance, she suggested they should either work on the Bill and skip the White Paper completely, or incorporate the White Paper into the Bill. She recognised the vital enforcement role the Public Work Bill could play once it was passed.
She noted the contradictions among clauses 7.13, 7.14 and 7.15 of the recommendations. These contradictions would create confusion around the issues involving the Independent Development Trust (IDT). She expressed frustration at the Minister’s unilateral decision on the IDT without proper consultation taking place with the Committee. She believed that the Minister had overstepped the mandate, since she had been given the impression that at a previous meeting, the Director-General had expressed confusion on the matter. She said there had to be a social infrastructure arm in the Department, but she thought that the Committee would require more information from the Department on the IDT issue. Should the Committee close it down and create a new body, or restructure the entity all over? She suggested that the Minister needed to come up with a proposal and report back to the Committee.
There was no indication of COVID-19 spending and the budget in the report. She was concerned that there money had been taken from other programmes in the Department without informing the Committee, such as the border fence and the quarantine sites. There was a need to establish a mechanism for the Department to recover money from client departments involved in those initiatives.
Mr W Thring (ACDP) agreed with Ms Graham on the IDT issue. He emphasised the need for the Committee to know about the way forward for the entity. He believed that the Minister had erred by not having consulted with the Committee, despite the fact that the issue may have been included in the Department’s annual performance plan, as claimed by the Minister. The Committee needed to take a tough stand against the Minister -- it could not encourage the Minister’s behaviour and the path she was taking any further.
He suggested putting in place a functional system which was similar to the one which the National Treasury had, to improve accountability and transparency. The purpose of having the system was to ensure that the IDT would not in an untenable position where they worked for client departments, but did not receive payment.
Ms M Hicklin (DA) agreed with Ms Graham that the COVID-19 budget appropriation must be provided to the Committee. She remarked that there had been some absurd items in the Department’s budget, such as the R28 million which was spent on quarantine sites and R37 million which was spent on border fence.
She emphasised that the unilateral decision taken by the Minister on the IDT shows that she had ignored the three branches of government, and it was Parliament’s mandate to hold the executive body accountable and to ensure good governance. In the matter of the IDT, the Minister was clearly oblivious of that.
She stressed that the Department’s immovable asset register needed to be finalised. The importance of having the register was to ensure that the Committee and the Department could plan around maintenance of properties which were owned by the Department.
Ms A Siwisa (EFF) commented that the report had covered everything which she had raised in previous meetings. However, it had not included the quarantine sites. She recalled that the Committee had asked the Department to provide it with a list of its own buildings, but this request had never been honoured. She needed a time frame that indicated when the immovable asset register would be finalised. During her constituency work, she had noted that the chaos regarding the asset register was not only a national department issue, but also a provincial issue. She commented that it was difficult to get the provincial department to account for asset information.
Ms L Shabalala (ANC) asked when this Committee was going to meet with the Auditor-General’s office and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), saying that it was very important to meet with them to discuss the matters that had serious implications.
She commented on the lack of clarity surrounding the COVID-19 budget and adjustments. She wanted to know what the Department thought the future would look like in terms of COVID-19’s impact on its budget. She understood that there would be budget adjustments in the Department, but needed clarity on that.
She asked for more specific details on the upskilling of expanded public works programme (EPWP) workers. Since they were operating as frontline workers now, she commented that it would make more sense for the Department to engage in some ways to build on the disaster management practical skills which they were learning, and using every day to upskill them.
Mr M Nxumalo (IFP) agreed that the Committee needed to engage SCOPA so that it could have a microscopic view of the DPWI from its perspective.
He recommended the Committee should engage with the Department of Home Affairs over the border fence, as this would help Members to get clarity and ensure there were no overlapping areas in terms of performing their oversight responsibilities.
How many properties were involved where the Department and local municipalities were at loggerheads due to disputes on ownership? He reiterated the importance of finalising the asset register so that Members could perform their oversight duties according to the register.
He suggested that the Council for the Built Environment (CBE) needed to ensure that those who graduated in the discipline would become professionals. This also echoed the government’s need to build internal capacity and capacitate people.
He commented on the shutting down of the IDT, saying he believed that the Minister needed to come to account for her decision. He could not accept that Members were being informed by the media, but not through the Minister on the matter. What was the Department’s plan on the IDT?
Ms S van Schalkwyk (ANC) said that her inputs all had been incorporated into the report. She thanked the staff for their excellent work. On the immovable asset register and the roll out of ARCHIBUS system, there was a proposed date for the Department to report to the Committee, which had been set for September. However, she suggested moving the date forward, as the Department had promised that it could present in June. She suggested moving the date to July.
She expressed her concern of the Department’s lagging behind in terms of adhering targets on its vacancy rate. The Property Management Trading Entity’s (PMTE) staff vacancy situation in particular needed to be included in the report because it was worrying.
Mr T Mashele (ANC) commented that the Department’s annual performance plan was not a true reflection. He warned that the Department could be using COVID-19 as an excuse for its underperformance.
He believed that the Minister had to come to the Committee and account for her decision on the IDT. He called the Minister’s action reckless. Since the Committee was mandated to approve budgets, the Minister herself could not make the decision before informing Committee members.
Although he agreed with the Clause 7.7 recommendation, he wanted to know if the ARCHIBUS system was privately owned because if it was, then the Committee would not in a position to instruct the roll out. What the Committee could do was to ask the Department to provide the asset register within a specific time frame.
The Chairperson echoed Members’ views, and added two points:
- The Minister and the IDT board needed to come back to the Committee to account for the IDT’s exit plan, its strategy plan and the annual performance plan. All of these had not been presented to the Committee. She also pointed out that the Minister had back-tracked on her words, because what she had said last year was not what she was telling the media now.
- She recommended inviting the Property Management Trading Entity’s provincial and regional heads and directors to the Committee
Mr Denyssen said that he did not want to respond to questions, because everything had been covered in the report. He would show members the COVID-19 recommendation in the report.
He recommended the Committee obtain the minutes of the meeting that the Minister had had with the Auditor-General and SCOPA.
He highlighted the vacancy issue raised by Mr Nxumalo, and recommended that the Committee should appoint a few members to be present at the Department’s meetings.
He would give more input at another stage on the Public Works Bill, or the incorporation of the White Paper.
Mr Denyssen agreed that the regional heads of the Property Management Trading Entity should meet with the Committee. He also agreed with the suggestion that the Department should report to the Committee on its progress with the asset register in July. The timeframe allowed the Department adequate time, because according to the information that had been given to media, it should have been provided much earlier.
He commented on the recommendation in Clause 7.15, in response to the Member’s question on COVID-19. He said that it was included in the report. It was known that there a budget re-allocation happening which the Committee was not being made aware of, and the Department needed to account for that.
Mr Denyssen asked Members who had served on other committees to be mindful of the astronomical amount spent on personal protective equipment (PPE). He did not believe the cost should be that much.
On the issue of PMTE’s vacancy rate, he clarified that he had put in a recommendation which pointed to the concern. Its low expenditure on the compensation of employees (CoE) clearly indicated that there was a looming crisis at the PMTE when it came to professional services.
He confirmed that ARCHIBUS was a privately-owned software company, but the system’s roll out had taken place already. The roll out of these modules had been delayed because ARCHIBUS and SAGE both involved Excel-based software property management. He assured the Committee that there would be a meeting for the Committee to interrogate the matter soon. The information communication technology (ICT) that had been referred to in the report would account for the purchases of ARCHIBUS and SAGE. It would start to make sense after the meeting.
The Committee Secretary indicated that in terms of programming, the Independent Development Trust (IDT) issue was scheduled for discussion on 27 June. However, given that there was development on the IDT issue, the Secretary proposed to rather have a presentation by the Minister and the IDT board on the exit strategy of the entity on 27 June.
Ms Graham and Ms Hicklin moved the report. The report was adopted.
Mr Thring supported the adoption of the report, but indicated that he had not heard anything about the direction the Committee was taking towards IDT. The way the issue had been presented in the Committee report was contradictory.
The Chairperson explained that the Committee would need the Minister and Independent Development Trust board to come and brief the Committee so that Members would be more informed on the issue.
Adoption of Minutes
Ms Van Schalkwyk moved the adoption, and Mr Thring seconded. The minutes were adopted.
The Secretary indicated that the Committee was still waiting for the Department to send through a list of all companies that had been doing maintenance for the DPWI during the period 2014-2019 in Tshwane and Cape Town. The Committee had so far not received all the information, even though the Committee had made several requests to the Department. She said a follow-up on that was needed.
The Chairperson recommended putting in place a resolution tracker so that Members could follow up on which resolutions had been implemented.
Mr Mashele said that there had been no absence recorded in the minutes. He moved adoption
The Committee secretary corrected Mr Mashele, and pointed out that Item No. 2 was the attendance list.
Ms Hicklin seconded. The minutes were adopted.
Ms Van Schalkwyk said that there was no mention of the Deputy Minister being at the meeting, but she was almost certain that she had attended.
The secretary said that if her memory served her right, the Deputy Minister had not been at the meeting as she would’ve definitely been recorded on the attendance register if she had been present.
The Secretary had also made enquiries into the possibility of Committee Members conducting oversight visit to quarantine sites in Zithabiseni in Mpumalanga. The House Chairperson had responded that due to the situation, which was under lockdown Level 4, Members were not allowed to cross provincial borders. However, a Member from that province could perhaps do an oversight visit.
She explained that the Committee had a resolution tracker which assisted them in programming. The programmes of Committee meetings were informed by committee reports and resolutions.
Ms Hicklin said that to her knowledge, the Zithabiseni site had been closed down and was thus no longer in operation. However, she believed that the Committee should go and have a look.
The Chairperson said she recalled that the DPWI had instructed the provincial Department to acquire that quarantine site. However, this impression needed to be backed up by an actual site inspection. Since it was now at Level 3, maybe some travel would be allowed.
Mr Mashele moved the adoption and Ms Van Schalkwyk seconded. The minutes were adopted.
The minutes were adopted.
Ms Van Schalkwyk moved the adoption and Ms Hicklin seconded. The minutes were adopted.
Ms Hicklin moved the adoption and Ms Van Schalkwyk seconded. The minutes were adopted.
Ms Van Schalkwyk proposed that the Parliamentary staff should compile spreadsheets that included those items that had not been concluded in the meetings, and have them sent to both the Portfolio Committee and the Department to improve accountability. She had noticed that there was a continuous pattern, where Members kept on raising the same issues over and over again. This made Parliamentary Committees ineffective.
The Chairperson supported her proposal.
The Committee secretary explained that Parliament already had a tracker, but it was not shared with Members. She agreed that from now onwards, she would be sharing that tracker information with Members on either a bi-monthly or monthly basis.
The Chairperson said she could share with Members on a monthly basis.
The meeting was adjourned.
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