The purpose of the meeting, held via a virtual platform, was for the Executive Authorities of Parliament to give a political overview of the Sixth Parliament’s Annual Performance Plan (APP) for 2020/21, and for the Acting Secretary to Parliament to brief the Committee on the strategy, content and special adjustments appropriation of the 2020/21 revised APP and budget. The Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) stressed that Parliament was committed to addressing the growing inequalities that had recently been exacerbated by the number of COVID-19 infections, in compliance with the values of the Constitution.
The Acting Secretary to Parliament said the main priority of the Sixth Parliament was to strengthen oversight and accountability. This required more time for Committee oversight work, greater Member capacity-building and empowerment, the improvement of research and analysis to provide deeper insights, and ensuring the effectiveness of public involvement and submissions. If Parliament exercised effective oversight and accountability, South Africa would see a reduction in poverty, unemployment and inequalities by 2030.
The 2020/21 budget for Vote 2 had been reduced by R80m, and more downward adjustment might follow later in the year. The situation after October 2020 was uncertain. The COVID-19 pandemic was forcing Parliament to be more efficient and to become more reliant on technology. The adjustment budget had allocated R2.7bn for the operation of the five main programmes of Parliament, which included strategic leadership and governance, administration, core business, support services and associated services. Parliament would report on a quarterly basis on the achievement of the outcomes and indicators for each of the five programmes.
Members’ concerns centred on the need to ensure that Parliament’s budget was not treated the same as the budgets of the departments, and to avoid unnecessary and prejudicial budget cuts. The target for public participation was exceptionally low, given that the Parliament should be “for the people.” It was unacceptable that only 23% of the population was aware of the business of Parliament, and that had to be addressed. Members endorsed a proposal that Parliament consider using a more accessible non-DSTV channel for the public to be able to easily access the work done by the Committees and the two Houses. The funding of Parliament should be reallocated and reprioritised according to the current needs, as it was unacceptable to simply cut 3.6% across the board, regardless of the content of the programmes of Parliament. Petitions to Parliament had to be fast-tracked. Members also expressed concern that Parliament was unable to exercise its core business of doing oversight over the Executive branch of government under the declaration of a national state of disaster.
Parliament responded that the Committee would be provided with a detailed breakdown of the people able to access information about Parliament on the social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Engagements were being done to facilitate the feeding of parliamentary information into 70 community radio stations to reach more people. The Committee would be provided with the analytical information that went into the decision to make a uniform 3.6% budget cut. The Executive Authorities must be approached regarding the possibility of Members conducting oversight visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the costs and risks associated therewith.
Co-chairperson Mabe said the purpose of the meeting was for the Executive Authorities of Parliament to give a political overview of the Sixth Parliament’s Annual Performance Plan (APP) for 2020/21, and for the Acting Secretary to Parliament to brief the Committee on the strategy, content and special adjustments appropriation of the 2020/21 revised APP and budget.
Ms Cindy Baile, Secretary to the Committee, said the necessary quorum for the meeting was present, despite the Committee not planning to take any decisions during the meeting.
2020/21 APP and Budget: Political overview
Mr Amos Masondo, Chairperson: National Council of Provinces (NCOP), said that the Sixth Parliament was one for the people of South Africa. Parliament did not act alone, but was part of the overall situation in the country. The economy was not performing well, and the levels of unemployment and poverty were high. He expressed Parliament’s commitment to addressing the growing inequalities that had recently been exacerbated by the number of COVID-19 infections. When Parliament and its Members discussed issues relating to the National Assembly (NA) and the NCOP, they had to do so in compliance with the values of the Constitution. Parliament was charged with the responsibility for ensuring oversight and accountability, but also for providing a national platform for debate regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. It sought to reinforce diplomacy and ensure that Parliament was an activist institution that was responsive to the needs of its people. It sought to build a capable, ethical, and developmental institution by the end of the term of office for the Sixth Parliament.
Co-chairperson Mahlangu said that the Committee and Parliament were finding it exceptionally difficult to hold the Executive accountable and keep the people informed about what was happening nationally and globally in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic.
2020/21 APP and Budget: Parliamentary briefing
Ms Penelope Tyawa, Acting Secretary to Parliament, said that the 2020/21 APP and budget was not a new document. It had been signed and tabled, and the purpose of the briefing was to highlight the revised areas of these documents for the Members. The APP and budget, as presented, was currently being implemented in Parliament.
Strategy of the Sixth Parliament
The Sixth Parliament’s policy priorities and strategic plan had been tabled on 27 February 2020. The main priority was to strengthen oversight and accountability. This required more time for Committee oversight work, greater Member capacity-building and empowerment, the improvement of research and analysis to provide deeper insights and ensuring the effectiveness of public involvement and submissions. If Parliament exercised effective oversight and accountability, South Africa would see a reduction in poverty, unemployment and inequality by 2030. The outcome target for 2024 was to increase the government’s responsiveness and accountability, and to ensure improved oversight over budget legislation. The COVID-19 pandemic had made the achievement of these goals and objectives even more crucial.
Draft 2020/21 APP and budget
The draft 2020/21 APP and budget was presented in May 2019, and tabled in June 2019. The APP served as a transitional instrument, as it was tabled before the finalisation of the strategy of the Sixth Parliament. The revision of the APP had been delayed, accommodating the special adjustments appropriation, and the revised documents were tabled on 16 July 2020.
Special adjustment appropriation
President Ramaphosa had declared a national state of disaster on 16 March, setting measures in place to combat the effects and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The special adjustments appropriation was subsequently tabled by the Minister of Finance on 24 June. The 2020/21 Budget for Vote 2 was reduced by R80m, and more downward adjustments might follow later in the year. However, because of unutilised funds from the first quarter of 2020, there would be no direct negative impact immediately because of the downward adjustment of Parliament’s budget. The situation after October was uncertain. Parliament had experienced a lower budget cut than the departments.
Revised 2020/21 APP and budget
As the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and tax revenue decreased, Parliament’s budget would come under downward pressure. This disrupted the old style used by Parliament to conduct its work, and the COVID-19 pandemic had brought additional health and security risks. It had forced Parliament to be more efficient and to become more heavily reliant on technology.
The revised 2020/21 APP used the existing budget structure, which dictated performance information and the utilisation of existing performance indicators for 2020/21. The adjusted 2020/21 budget allocated R 2.7bn for the operation of the five main programmes of Parliament, which include strategic leadership and governance, administration, core business, support services, and associated services. The existing performance indicators had been retained for 2020/21 because of the structure of the budget, but would be transitioned out to operational plans in 2021. The 2019-2024 Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) that outlined the 2024 and 2030 targets enabled Parliament to monitor the performance of government.
Parliament would report on a quarterly basis on the achievement of the outcomes and indicators for each of the five programmes. The administration was currently busy mapping out the shape and structure of conducting the business of Parliament on the way forward, to accommodate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020/21 APP would be revised in November 2020, and the draft 2021/22 APP would be adjusted in March 2021.
Mr J Julius (DA) referred to the proposed expenditure for Programme 5 (Associated Services), and asked for clarity on how the outcomes would be measured. Parliament’s focus must be on reducing the poverty, unemployment and inequalities faced by the people of South Africa. What was the plan of the Committee to measure this outcome and hold the Executive accountable to ensure the implementation of Parliament’s goals and outcomes? What was the effect of the R80m budget cut on Parliament’s ability to realise its goals? He proposed that the Chairperson of the NCOP provide the Committee with a report outlining the current state of poverty, unemployment and inequalities being experienced. What would each department in the government do to reduce poverty, unemployment and inequalities? The annual survey could not be the only measure available to the Committee to measure Parliament’s progress in this regard.
Mr B Radebe (ANC) thanked the delegation from the Executive Authorities for the presentation. He said it was important for Parliament to pull together to fight poverty, unemployment and inequality. It had to ensure that it achieved its goals. The ultimate outcome for 2030 was that unemployment was reduced, and that there was a marked improvement in the quality of life of the people. He expressed his appreciation for the administration of Parliament that had fought against National Treasury and managed to reduce the budget cut from R340m to R80m. What would happen next year if Parliament had weaker administrative officers who could not achieve the same outcome? The Executive Authority of Parliament must meet with the President to ensure that Parliament’s budget was not treated the same as the budgets of the departments. Parliament was another arm of the state and must be treated as such.
He stated his concern that a substantial portion of the budget cut would be taken from the core business of Parliament, as it affected the service delivery of the institution. The work of Parliament would become redundant if the oversight abilities of the Portfolio Committees were not strengthened, or if public participation was neglected. This could result in unfulfilled goals when they got to 2030, and their work would have gone to waste.
Referring to parliamentary diplomacy, he said it was part of the work of Parliament to reach out to other international parliamentary institutions. On the issue of public participation, people had to be knowledgeable about the work of Parliament. The target for public participation was 24%, which meant that they should reconsider how the work of Parliament was marketed to the public. The petitions of the public must be taken into consideration quickly, so that the work of Parliament always remained relevant to the people. He stressed the importance of appointing a permanent Member as the Secretary to Parliament. Who would be held accountable if the targets and goals of the APP were not implemented?
Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape) emphasised the point made by Mr Radebe, stating that Parliament’s budget must not treated the same as the budgets of the departments. He proposed that the mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) be extended to take on the work of monitoring whether the measures and the targets set out in the APP were met. The PBO could update Parliament regularly on the progress against the targets of the APP. He said the target for public participation was exceptionally low, given that the Parliament should be for the people. It was unacceptable that only 23% of the population was aware of the business of Parliament. The need for public awareness and participation was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as there was no gallery for members of the public to sit and listen to the debates in Parliament. He proposed that Parliament consider using a more accessible non-DSTV channel for the public to be able to access the work done by the Committees and the two Houses. Even at the level of the committees, there should be a way for the public and stakeholders to be part of the meetings held.
Mr N Singh (IFP) emphasised the point raised by Mr Rayi on the need for Parliament to consider using a more accessible non-DSTV channel for the public to be able to access the work done by the Committees and the two Houses. Proportionately, few members of the population had access to the parliamentary channel on DSTV. When there were important discussions being held in Committees and the two Houses, it was imperative that Parliament engaged with the South African Broadcasting Commission (SABC) and other public broadcasters to buy time to air the discussions. This would allow all communities to participate in the work done by Parliament.
He proposed that the Executive Authority provide the Committee with more regular reports of where they were in achieving the goals and outcomes of the APP. He requested clarity on how much had been saved on the travel and accommodation costs of Members because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the funds were being used. The Minister of Finance had talked about zero-based budgeting, which meant starting budgeting for Parliament as if it were a new institution. However, Parliament’s budget had been drawn up using incremental budgeting, where percentages were added every year. How was the Minister of Finance’s advice being considered? What amounts and programmes would Parliament require in its budget if this approach was adopted?
Ms O Maotwe (EFF) referred to the reduction of 3.6% in each budget of the five programmes of Parliament. This showed that there had been no intelligence involved in choosing what amounts to cut from the budget of whichever programme. Parliament must apply its mind to how it allocated the budget cuts. It was unacceptable to just cut 3.6% across the board, regardless of the content of the programme. The information communication technology (ICT) infrastructure of Parliament must be given extra attention because of the heavy reliance thereon by the Members and Parliamentary staff. The COVID-19 pandemic had caused serious disruptions, and it was imperative that funds were allocated to programmes and infrastructure that would ease the way of Members and staff to adapt to new ways of doing things. Parliament was learning to be more efficient and this should not be hindered by budget cuts that were made across the board, regardless of the importance of each programme in comparison with others. The funding of Parliament must be reallocated and reprioritised according to the current needs.
She expressed her support for the point raised by Members that advocated Parliament needing to consider using a more accessible non-DSTV channel for the public that was easier to access for communities. It was important that the PBO consider cutting unnecessary costs, such as eliminating the need for disinfecting the parliamentary buildings that had arisen because of unnecessary access by Members and staff, who could work from home using virtual platforms. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was paramount that unnecessary expenditure be curbed.
Ms R Lesoma (ANC) stressed the need to have a dual participatory democracy methodology that could be applied to address the needs of the public, who had to compete with buying data against fulfilling basic household needs. What progress was Parliament making to ensure the capacity-building of Members went ahead using e-training or other virtual platforms?
Mr T Brauteseth (DA, KwaZulu-Natal) commented that research staff should not summarise documents, but should conduct in-depth analytical research that was of use to the Committee. The current policy priorities of the Sixth Parliament were due to be realised in 2024, which meant that only the Seventh Parliament would be able to evaluate the outcome and progress of the work they were doing now. The priorities scheduled to be achieved by 2030 were problematic, as it was not even the Seventh Parliament that would be able to evaluate their success. The Committee and its Members would not be able to evaluate the effectiveness of the APP and the current progress made. Distant policy priorities were problematic as they did not allow for effective evaluation by the oversight Committees tasked with monitoring their progress. He proposed that the Committee consider requiring the parliamentary researchers to provide biannual reviews of the progress in terms of the policy and strategic priorities of the Sixth Parliament.
Regarding the issue of petitions, his opinion was that the petition system of Parliament was a forgotten mechanism during the COVID-19 pandemic. Petitions took more than ten months to even be considered by the parliamentary Committees. By its very nature, a petition came up as a source of immediate concern, but by the time it was under consideration by Parliament, the issue had expired. Parliament needed to fast-track how petitions were dealt with.
He noted his support for the point raised by Members that advocated Parliament should consider using a more accessible non-DSTV channel for the public that was easier to access for communities. Parliament must be the “people’s Parliament,” and not available only to the digital elite who could afford DSTV to be knowledgeable of the work done. He described the problem of experiencing complete silence from the study providers of Members, who would like to continue their studies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The core business of Parliament was doing oversight over the Executive branch of government.
The Committee seriously needed to reconsider whether it was in the interests of the people of South Africa that Parliament was unable to exercise oversight over the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and the Cabinet during this COVID-19 pandemic. Ministers merely got criticised in Parliament for their actions, but there was no oversight interaction between the Executive and Parliament. There had been no normal input from the Portfolio and Select Committees on any form of law before it was enacted, or on any regulation that was passed. Oversight over the Executive was a fundamental constitutional duty of Parliament, and must not be eroded during these challenging times.
Co-chairperson Mahlangu asked for clarity from Mr Brauteseth regarding his concern on the passing of laws and regulations that were made without parliamentary input.
Mr Brauteseth said that he was referring to Cabinet’s legislative power to renew the period of a national state of disaster every month, and yet Parliament had no insight into how regulations were made. It seemed like the violation of a simple constitutional principle that Parliament must provide oversight and accountability over the actions by the Executive.
Co-chairperson Mahlangu emphasised the importance of keeping the Committee informed of the real impact of resolutions taken in the two Houses, as this would enable the Committee to hold the Executive and departments accountable, and ensure the implementation of the adopted resolutions. She commended the Executive Authorities for employing social media platforms to allow the public to access the work done by Parliament. She also stressed the difficulties in facilitating oversight site visits for Members because of the unsafe public environment and the lack of the tools of trade for parliamentary staff members during these times.
Ms Tyawa said that all executive secretaries had been allowed to take home their desktops to provide them with the necessary tools of their trade. Parliament had signed off on 170 Wi-Fi boosters for those staff members who needed data connectivity for their laptops and desktops. The division managers would continue to follow-up with Members and the parliamentary staff regarding their needs to complete their jobs effectively. The ICT steering committee was working on the tracking system of resolutions made in the two houses.
The research unit would start to develop criteria that would inform the performance indicators that measured poverty, unemployment and inequalities. She took note of the Committee’s need to be assisted by researchers who provide the necessary analytical data and information to Members to allow them to track and monitor the progress of the Sixth Parliament in achieving its goals and outcomes. Parliament must be supported to allow the Members and Committees to exercise their oversight duties effectively.
The Committee would have a discussion on the emerging patterns of alliances in the world regarding parliamentary diplomacy, as the awareness thereof was too low.
Ms Tyawa said that Members were aware of the system that provided real-time data on the progress against the performance indicators. However, the Executive Authority and parliamentary research would report to the Committee on how each of those indicators had been met, considering the service delivery processes of the Sixth Parliament. She agreed that conducting an annual survey was not enough, and that the Committee must be provided with quarterly updates on the progress of Parliament in realising its goals and outcomes as outlined in the APP. This would show the Committee the categories and variables of people able to access the information of Parliament.
She said Channel 408 on DSTV was a complementary channel provided for Parliament at no cost, but the reach of such platforms had to be extended. The Committee would be provided with a detailed breakdown of the people able to access the information of Parliament on the social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Engagements were being done to facilitate the feeding of parliamentary information into 70 community radio stations to reach more people throughout South Africa. This would improve the communication of Parliament to the public.
Regarding the savings made on the travel of Members during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said that the funds were used to provide a budget to facilitate the full-time salaries of staff and additional personnel, and also to facilitate the in-sourcing of catering at improved pay rates that were not categorised as ‘slave salaries,’ as the Bidvest services were. The expenditure had not impacted the targets of 2020/21. When the Committee was briefed on the performance and expenditure in the future, it would highlight the shifts and non-shifts per activity against the allocated budget.
Regarding the concern over the uniform 3.6% budget cut across the programmes of Parliament, it should be noted that Parliament had applied its mind regarding what had been requested from Division Managers, and what could be reduced. The Committee would be provided with the analytical information that went into the decision to make a uniform 3.6% budget cut.
Regarding the Minister of Finance’s endorsement of zero-budgeting, Parliament had been conducting zero-budgeting for four years. Before the budget allocation began, the PBO annually requested the cost of commodities from the various entities that it worked from to create the budget of Parliament. The Executive Authorities had to be approached regarding the possibility of Members conducting oversight visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the costs and risks associated therewith. This Committee costs the individual actions and site visits where Members exercise their oversight duties. When it knew what the cost of oversight and accountability was in South Africa, it would be beneficial to the PBO to conduct zero-budgeting. Parliament needed to develop an institutional risk plan that had mitigation processes, and outline how it would impact the Budget and the performance of Parliament’s oversight functions.
Ms Tyawa said that Ms Lesoma had submitted a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to the Executive Authorities, and that memorandum would have to look at the type of training courses undertaken. It was important to discuss how they were going to be able to make the modules and the costs of the courses reflect the needs of the Members as discussed in the multi-party plans of the NCOP, and which informed the strategic and policy priorities of the Sixth Parliament. Members must be satisfied with the content of the curriculum of the courses before Parliament committed itself to a training programme.
The PBO was never funded, but it remained important for Parliament and the Advisory Council to engage with the Executive Authorities on how to get around the work of the PBO to ensure that it was not compromised. There were people in the precincts of Parliament, together with ten service providers, who were proceeding with security, disinfecting, technological or renovation duties. Parliament was working very closely with the occupational health and compliance sectors to ensure that the premises were safe for the staff and Members who returned or accessed the precinct. The biggest challenge for Parliament was to consider how it would conduct its public participation to enable people to access the information of Parliament. Parliament had been profiled very well and got daily monitoring reports from the communications sector to highlight the number of people that accessed the platforms available.
Mr Joe Nkuna, Acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Parliament, addressed the 3.6% budget cut across the programmes of Parliament. That figure applied to the appropriated budget received from National Treasury. Initially, the budget of Parliament would have been cut by R340m, but after various discussions, the entities had agreed on a budget cut of R80m. Parliament had had to indicate how much it would cut from each programme for National Treasury to publish the cut. The Executive Authorities then had to go and appropriate the budget for Parliament. The bulk of the budget deduction was made from associated services. National Treasury compiled their budget on an incremental basis. Because Parliament was on zero-based budgeting, each office had to go to their operational plans and indicate how much they needed for the financial year. The core business budget had been reduced by R11m. The bulk of deductions were made from associated services, where the budget was reduced by R60m. The Committee would receive a regular breakdown of the budget for goods and services as allocated, which included expenditure unrelated to the compensation of employees.
Ms Lesoma proposed that the Committee have the view that Parliament should continue using its hybrid platform, to allow Members to conduct their work efficiently. The premises of Parliament could not be closed, and the hybrid system of facilitating both in-person and virtual access must be continued.
Co-chairperson Mahlangu emphasised the importance of keeping Parliament physically and virtually open, to counter allegations that Parliament was not doing its job during the COVID-19 pandemic. It must be clear that the operations and leadership of Parliament were running and in effect.
Ms Thandi Modise, Speaker of the National Assembly, said that when the lockdown was announced, Parliament was ready for either an ordinary lockdown or going into a state of national disaster or emergency. Parliament had had to suspend the way it used to do business. Members should read up on the conditions under which countries operated when a state of national disaster had been declared. One of the first things that had been discussed with the Executive Authority, after the NCCC had been established, was how it would be ensured that the decisions and resources deployed were in accordance with the law and the Constitution. It was untrue that Parliament had not been working, and this perception must be addressed.
Parliament’s focus was now on sharpening the individual abilities of Members to ask the unpleasant and sharp questions. The focus was on capacitating the Members and making sure that the administration was there to support them, in doing their jobs. While legislation allowed Ministers to make valid regulations, Parliament could not amend the regulations. However, oversight parliamentary Committees retained their right to ask questions and probe the actions of the Ministers. Members must ensure that the people of South Africa were protected and that their constituencies were represented, and Parliament must provide them with the tools needed to analyse research and ask probing questions. Members must be capacitated to such an extent to enable them to become experts in their own field during their terms of office.
Parliament was adjusting to the hybrid system of conducting business, as necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gender-sensitive budgeting had to be implemented to allow the Committee to highlight the issues of gender and poverty. She agreed with the Members’ collective proposal of having more accessible platforms, such as the SABC, continuously running and airing information relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Radio must be used more often.
The legislative arm of state must be strengthened, and Parliament could not be expected to fight for budget allocations like departments had to, as Parliament was not a department.
Mr Masondo agreed with the proposal of having more accessible platforms to continuously run and air information relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Scientific, hygienic and other useful information could be made available using the SABC’s channels that were accessible by the people of South Africa. These platforms must also be employed to run and air the work of Committees and the two Houses.
Ms Modise stressed the importance of Parliament having a sit-down discussion regarding petitions. Members had various avenues to ask questions within the Committees and the two Houses. The exact type of petition that Members could bring to Parliament must be discussed. When petitions were taken directly from the people to the Committees, it was hard to monitor their progress. It was important to communicate effectively with the petitioners on the feasibility and length of process that a petition would take to finalise.
Co-chairperson Mahlangu thanked the parliamentary delegation and the Members for their engagement in the discussions.
The meeting was adjourned.
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