The Joint Committee convened in a virtual meeting to be briefed on the 2020/21 2nd quarter performance of Parliament. The institution achieved its sixth clean audit. While there were challenges with some aspects of remote working, the mid-year performance was mixed – overall, institutional performance stood at 71,4% at the mid-point of the financial year.
Regarding financial performance, Parliament has spent R1,093b or 40 percent of the annual budget of R2,706b for the first half of the financial year..
During the discussion, Members enquired about internet connectivity in members’ parks, possible Treasury budget cuts, the internal audit performance of Parliament, salary increases and the payment of catering staff given that Parliament was still operating on a hybrid model. Concern was expressed on under spending.
Members commended Parliament for the sixth clean audit and said the institution was moving in the right direction.
Co- Chairperson Mabe thanked Members for attending after a long marathon in an earlier meeting and hoped to keep this meeting short.
South African Parliament Midyear Performance Report 2020/21 April – September 2020
Ms Baby Tyawa, Acting Secretary to Parliament, briefed the Committee on the institution’s performance in the 2nd quarter of the 2020/21 financial year. Given the time limit and that Members had already read the slides, she proceeded to highlight a few key elements in the presentation slides only [see attached document]
Ms Tyawa highlighted the business of Parliament and the work it had done during COVID-19 lockdown.
Whilst the6th clean audit outcome and high level of institutional performance (71.4%) reflect that Parliament is on the right track, there remains much work to be done to achieve the goals, objectives and ambitions outlined in the Strategic Plan of Parliament. As always the success of the plan hinges upon the symbiotic relationship between Members of Parliament and the parliamentary administration. While there were challenges with some aspects of remote working, the mid-year performance was mixed, but promising. Of the 14 indicators in the Annual Performance Plan, 7 were tracked at the mid-year, while 7 were not measured in this period. Of the 7 tracked, 5 met or exceeded target, while 2 did not meet target. This translated to overall institutional performance of 71,4% at the mid-point of the financial year
Parliament’s financial performance by per programme was outlined and provided to the Committee.
Ms Tyawa touched on financial performance noting Parliament has spent R1,093b or 40 percent of the annual budget of R2,706b for the first half of the financial year. Spending for the first and second quarter against the annual budget is at 20 and 24 percent respectively, and indications are that there will be an underspending of 5 percent or R128,788m at the end of the financial year.
Parliament responded quickly to COVID19 during the quarter under review. A COVID-19 Task Team and Rapid Response Teams were established to simultaneously develop business continuity plans to ensure the continuity of Parliamentary operations whilst minimising the risk of transmission on the Parliamentary precinct. A proactive approach using scenarios was used to anticipate and agilely adapt to the evolving threat and lockdown regulations.
Parliamentary ICT capability and infrastructure was ramped up significantly to support virtual plenaries, committee work and remote working conditions for Members of Parliament and staff. The hybrid model of operations supporting a mix of virtual and physical enablement has been highly successful thus far but with limitations imposed by the internet infrastructure in the country. Resources and procurement plans have been directed toward enabling the new business operating model
Mr B Radebe (ANC) expressed his appreciation to the staff of Parliament for listening to Members’ appeals to get more information on goods and services. He commended Parliament’s 6th clean audits as it shows Parliament’s respect for public funds.
Mr Radebe enquired about the disproportionate spend on international travel. In 2018, the amount was R17 million whereas it was R44 million in 2020. It did not make sense as international borders had just been re-opened.
Mr Radebe asked if any effort had been put in by Parliament to improve internet connectivity in Members’ parks. He was aware that Parliament had reached out to Vodacom. He asked what about other Members who were using other network providers’ services.
Mr N Singh (IFP) rectified Mr Radebe’s mistake in reading those figures for international travel. The correct figure was that only R44 000 had been spent in 2020 so far.
Mr Singh said that documents such as provided by the Secretary to Parliament will be archived and will become part of the nation’s history. People will ask in future how could this Parliament underspend to the extent it had. Hence, he asked Ms Tyawa’s office to add COVID-19 related explanatory notes to explain the causes for underspending.
Mr Singh requested for the letter that Parliament had received from National Treasury on 16 October be made available to Members since the letter spoke about budget cuts for Parliament.
Mr Singh noted the concern raised by the audit committee regarding Parliament’s internal audit functionality and asked Ms Tyawa to provide more clarity on the issue.
Mr Singh enquired about the Ipsos survey that he was asked to complete. He wanted to know why Members needed to complete the survey given that they had not been physically in Parliament for eight months.
Mr Singh noted the huge cutback in terms of catering in the presentation and wanted to know what happened to the staff and whether they are still being paid or not.
Mr Singh enquired about the annual salary increases for Parliament’s staff and Members. He wanted to know how Parliament is going to deal with annual salary increases.
Mr Singh was confident that the savings which Parliament made would carry the institution through and enable it not ask National Treasury for more funds. He emphasised the importance of Parliament using the funds efficiently and effectively.
On park’s connectivity, Ms Tyawa explained that as the main network providers in South Africa are MTN and Vodacom, other networks, such as Cell C and Telkom, are dependent on these two. Parliament has only reached out to Vodacom to discuss connectivity. However, the internet access and speed at Parliament’s villages falls within the mandate of DPWI and hence the DPWI has the budget for the item. She reported that although this work is not within the mandate of Parliament, Parliament had made in roads on that and has individually engaged with network providers in the country. The general feedback from network suppliers is that there is concerns on vandalism where people nearby either damage or steal cables which caused connectivity challenges for Members. In light of that, it is recommended there is one committee at each village and each committee can work with the service providers. MTN has not reverted to Parliament with feedback due to resource challenges. Nevertheless, the internet connectivity issue has to be resolved as Members with comorbidities may not be able to attend Parliament physically.
Ms Tyawa guaranteed the Committee that the letter which Mr Singh referred to would be shared. To date she had not received an official letter from National Treasury that gave instructions on the budget cut. So far what has transpired between Parliament and National Treasury were only proposals and discussions. She emphasised the fact that her office had communicated with National Treasury and had met with the Deputy Director-General in charge of Public Finance and indicated that National Treasury could not assume a percentage of R2.7 billion was the real budget for Parliament as subtractions had to be deducted from that amount such as associated expenses, Members and support staff cost of employment etc. it is important to look at the real budget of Parliament – Treasury has never connected with this. Parmed itself is a huge liability that Parliament carries along with previous Members’ support.
Ms Tyawa pointed out the explanatory note on COVID had been included in the presentation. She will show Members further reports that detail Parliament’s COVID-19 related expenditures.
Ms Tyawa said the question around her office’s internal audit functionality is not very clear. The Office of the Auditor-General did however point out its concern on the vacancy within Parliament’s audit structure. This was a result of some vacancies being created in 2013, 2015 and 2016 but were never filled. As the budget for those posts remained in Parliament’s budget, it directed those budgets to fund some other key prioritised businesses. Currently, two more audit vacancies were being filled. Parliament’s internal audit team works very well with the Office of the AG during COVID-19.
The Ipsos survey had been sent to Members as her office did not want to miss an opportunity to evaluate and assess Parliament’s work and to ensure accuracy of Parliament’s own research. She however agreed that greater communication with Members is needed in order to get more Members to complete the survey.
Ms Mabatho Zungu, Division Manager: Institutional Support Services Division, responded to the question on catering staff - all catering staff had been paid. The 90 Plein restaurant, the Marks Building restaurant as well as the National Assembly restaurant are all open but Parliament has decided to manage catering staff on a two-week rotational basis.
Mr Mpho Mokonyana, Executive: Human Resource Management Division, responded to questions around annual increases in salaries. An agreement was reached by the national legislature, as well as all provincial legislatures, with the exception of the Western Cape legislature, that a bargaining council for employees in the legislative sector should be established. This bargaining council had successfully negotiated its first annual salary increases for all its members. The annual increase rate will be 6.5%.
Ms R Lesoma (ANC) raised an issue which not related to the presentation. She requested Parliament support staff to organise to have some broken items, such as the doors at the main entrance chamber, fixed. She also complained about the dust in the NCOP chamber. Parliament is the image of South Africa and such untidiness of the building is very undignified and an embarrassment to the country.
Ms Tyawa said that her office will look into that and will get these things repaired.
Co-Chairperson Mabe was pleased to hear that Parliament is doing its mandate in a cost-effective manner. She doubted that things would go back to normal soon so Parliament needs to proactively devise strategies to deal with the current pandemic. The importance of cost-effective running of Parliament means that more money can be directed to housing, health and education, where more funds are needed. She agreed that so far, Parliament is moving in the right direction.
Mr Singh noted that Parliament has been achieving at around a 70% clean audit for the past few years and urged Parliament to think how it can improve its audit to close to 100%.
The meeting ws adjourned.
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