The Select Committee on Appropriations went through the Committee Report on the 2020 Appropriation Bill page by page, and the Report was adopted. Members of the Democratic Alliance (DA), the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Freedom Front Plus(FF+) opposed its adoption, however.
The main point of contention was the Minister of Finance’s statement that the government did not have the money to bail out State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Some Members wanted to include this in the recommendations of the Report. However, the Chairperson decided against this, as it was not a recommendation -- it had been discussed previously, and it had been determined to be a political statement.
She encouraged Members to shy away from playing politics within the setting of the Committee. This matter could be taken to the debate on Thursday, 18 June 2020, where Members were free to politic. The report covered all the necessary points as far as the process of the Bill was concerned.
The Chairperson took the Select Committee through its Report on the Appropriation Bill [B4-2020] page by page.
Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) said that the wording in 5.1 and 5.2 of the Report that stated, “The Committee welcomed the contents of the Bill” should be changed, as the Committee had not yet deliberated on this. The wording should therefore be changed to “noted”.
Under 5.10, it should state that the Committee had “noted with concern” the slow release of the broadband spectrum.
The Chairperson asked for clarification on why the Committee had not welcomed the Bill, which had been presented to the Committee in February 2020? She asked if the Committee supported Mr Ryder’s proposal to add “noted with concern” to the wording of 5.10.
Mr Z Mkiva (ANC, Eastern Cape) said that as far as he recalled, the Committee had welcomed the contents of the Bill and had not simply noted it. The matter of the Bill was serious, so as a working Committee, it would not just note the matter.
Mr S du Toit (FF+, North West) said he supported Mr Ryder’s suggestion.
The Chairperson said that Mr Mkiva had made a clear statement that the subject matter was indeed serious to the Committee, as it dealt with appropriations. Considering that the Bill had been tabled before the House in the National Assembly, it needed to be dealt with, with the respect it deserved. She did not agree with changing the wording from “welcoming” to “noted,” and encouraged other Members to make their input.
Mr E Njandu (ANC, Western Cape) said the prior consultation had been well considered. In the recommendations, there needed to be greater emphasis that the Minister of Finance and other Ministers should ensure that proper governance systems were in place to ensure full compliance as soon as the Bill has been approved. National Treasury should work closely with the Land Bank and offer continuous support to it. The Provincial Treasury should put clear monitoring mechanisms in place for expenditure and performance activity. At a local level, the prioritisation should not affect budgets that were meant for basic services such as water and sanitation. The reprioritisation of the education sector budget should ensure that rural schools received much needed support during COVID19, as schools were expected to open gradually. The government should follow a systems approach to the budget, which should consider the data on spending patterns from previous years. For the purpose of monitoring and evaluation, feedback from conditional grants should be made in a timely fashion, in a simple and understandable format, as this would help with oversight. He suggested that the Report be approved.
The Chairperson asked Mr Njandu if he agreed with Mr Ryder that the wording should be changed?
Mr Njandu replied that it should remain as it was.
Ms Nelia Orlandi, Policy Analyst, Parliament, said that the Appropriations Bill was based on previous outcomes, and was not talking in terms of the adjusted budget that would still be tabled on 24 June 2020, and later this year.
The Chairperson thanked Ms Orlandi for her contribution. She said it was easy to be taken up by the circumstances that were affecting the Members and the people they represented. However, the issue of the COVID19 budget would be tackled once it was brought to the Committee.
Mr Y Carrim (ANC, KZN) said that National Treasury needed to address the financial challenges of the Land Bank urgently, and work closely with it. This should be added in, in 5.20. He suggested that the Government engage in a give-and-take manner with the public sector unions on the wage bill. There should be a generic recommendation that the Committee fully supports the need to reduce unproductive spending, and in the supplementary budget, every effort should be made to reduce unproductive spending that was not at the core of service delivery and development. There needed to be a firmer recommendation that the National Health Insurance (NHI) needed to be accelerated and savings needed to be found in other programmes to facilitate this. As discussed before, the NHI was crucial, as could be seen with COVID19. It should be recommended that the Auditor-General South Africa (AGSA) should audit more of the government entities mentioned in 5.11.
In response to Mr Ryder, Mr Carrim said that the Report was the final part of the process that had occurred over months. The Bill had been in discussion since the last term of Parliament, and if an issue had not been discussed it was currently being discussed, and nothing prevented a Member from adding something regarding the discussions in the report.
Mr Ryder said he did not agree with the acceleration of the NHI. There was an ideological difference, where probably half the Committee agreed, and the other half did not, but he wanted to state that it did not have universal support. He agreed with the rest of Mr Carrim’s recommendations. He encouraged the inclusion in the report of the Minister of Finance’s statement that the government had no money for State-Owned Enterprises’ (SOEs’) bailouts.
Mr Carrim said he did not believe that including the Minister’s statement in the recommendations was necessary. It was usually the ANC that was accused of being lapdogs of Ministers, and the DA used every opportunity to attack the Ministers. It was surprising that when it came to the Minister of Finance, the DA clutched on to his every word. Parliament held Ministers to account -- no Minister was God. It was a constitutional right to reject what a Minister says. Should the Minister’s statement be added to the report, it should be included in an earlier section, and not in the recommendations. The Minister had been right in saying that the government did not have large pools of money to bailout SOEs. However, using the Minister’s statement should not be used opportunistically. This could be the Committee’s own observation, that the government did not have money for the bailouts of all SOEs. Each SOE needed to be judged on its own merits, and where it was delivering a basic service like electricity, it could not be said that there was no money to bailout Eskom. Therefore, it should be said that there was no money to bailout all the SOEs, but there was money to bailout some SOEs.
The Chairperson said that the recommendations and observations had to be separated. The Minister’s statement was not a recommendation -- it had been discussed previously and it was determined to be a political statement. It had been mentioned at the conclusion of a discussion, and was not part of the actual content or body of the discussion. She discouraged Members from continuing to raise the issue of adding the Minister’s statement as a recommendation, as it did not speak to any findings. Should Members feel strongly about it, it could be addressed on the right platform as a political statement.
Mr W Aucamp (DA, Northern Cape) said it was strange that when a Minister said something which the ANC did not like, it was brushed under the carpet. It was an extremely important point. One of the biggest reasons that South Africa was in the situation it was in, was due to the bailing out of SOEs that failed time and time again. Thus, a Minister stating that the bailing out of SOEs should stop was a huge statement. It was a well-thought out statement, as nobody would make such a big statement for it to just hang in the air. It should be included in the report, not for political gain but for the mere fact that a Minister had said a well-thought through statement based on the history of SOEs in South Africa.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Aucamp for his input, but said the Committee must avoid being swallowed by politics. The report must stick to resolutions and recommendations that were going to assist the government. Once the report began to refer to parties, it would lose its focus. This matter could be taken to the debate on Thursday, 18 June, where Members were free to politic. The report covered all the necessary points as far as the process of the Bill was concerned.
Mr Njandu said that the mandate of the Committee was to ensure that appropriations were proper and the outcome was good governance. That focus must not be lost. He encouraged Members not to use the platform for politics.
Mr Carrim stated that if the majority of the Members were adamant on the Minister’s statement being included in the Report, then it should go in another section as it was not a recommendation -- the Minster could not recommend on behalf of the Committee. Furthermore, the majority of the Committee agreed that there was indeed no money for all SOE bailouts, but that was a blanket statement as well. The Chairperson was seeking consensus on the recommendations, and this was not a recommendation.
Mr Carrim moved the adoption of the Report, and Mr Njandu seconded.
The Report of the Select Committee on Appropriations on the 2020 Appropriation Bill was adopted.
Members of the DA, the EFF and FF+ opposed the adoption of the Report.
The meeting was adjourned.
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