The Standing Committee on Appropriations met on a virtual platform to discuss its strategic planning for the Sixth Parliament. The key issue highlighted was how the Committee could play a better role in enabling effective public participation and ensuring that strategy at the policy level could be translated into reducing poverty, inequality and unemployment at the ground level.
Members asked whether the recommendations and resolutions contained in the Committee’s reports were ever being followed up, and recommended developing a tracking system to monitor the implementation of committees’ resolutions and recommendations.
They also flagged the issue of public participation and Parliament’s accessibility for the general public, particularly those who were poor and lacked mobile gadgets and means of transport. They urged Parliament to be innovative and creative in order to reach out to the poorest of the poor in the country, as the true reflection of effective governance should be measured by the standard of service delivery to the poorest communities.
The separation of power among different government organs was highlighted. Members were of the view that Parliament needed to do more public education so that the public would understand the role of Parliament in government.
Members suggested that there might be overlapping work areas between different parliamentary committees, which indicated a need to streamline certain processes.
They stressed the importance of tracking how the appropriated funds were being spent, and the need to see the desired outcomes at the ground level.
Members enquired about the relation between the Appropriation Committee’s strategy and Parliament’s overall strategy; whether certain important issues that had happened before the current financial year would be included in the Committee’s oversight strategy; Parliament’s resource provision for people who did not have the means to attend Parliament’s activities; and Parliament’s support for Members of Parliament now that they were working from home.
The Chairperson welcomed all Members and Parliament’s Content Advisors on the virtual platform.
The Committee noted the apologies from Mr E Marais (DA), Ms N Hlonyana (EFF) and Mr Z Mlenzana (ANC).
Parliament’s 2019-2024 Strategic Plan
Ms Ressida Begg, Division Manager: Core Business Support, took Members through Parliament’s five-year strategic plan.
The strategic management cycle of the Sixth Parliament was outlined.
The strategic management framework consisted of two components -- the formulation part and the implementation part. The key missions which the Sixth Parliament aimed to address were poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Institutional strategic initiatives included the strategies for the oversight plan/programme, public participation, knowledge management, digital technology, human capital and the governance framework.
The Committee’s implementation plan included five broad themes:
- Better budgetary oversight;
- Increased governmental response and accountability;
- Reducing poverty, unemployment and inequity;
- Social cohesion and safe communities, incorporating the gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) framework; and
- Regional and international relations.
Ms Begg explained how Parliament planned to integrate those themes into its oversight structures to maximise its oversight efficiency.
Parliament’s public participation model, implementation strategies, as well as its public participation mechanisms under the new normal, were all described and explained in detail.
The Chairperson acknowledged the importance of this briefing, as it would impact on the Committee’s own strategy going onward to perform its oversight work.
Ms M Dikgale (ANC) asked if she would be permitted to ask the Chairperson himself some clarifying questions.
She said someone had stated that Members were not sharp enough and that they had not known what they were supposed to do on their oversight visit to the Zondo Commission. It was also said that sometimes Members did not follow up on the recommendations contained in Committee reports. She therefore wanted to know if the Chairperson had done follow-ups on all the recommendations from their oversight visit.
The Content Advisor explained that although each committee had its own strategic plan, those plans needed to be aligned to Parliament’s broader framework.
The Chairperson indicated that a committee’s oversight work formulated what it planned on achieving. Committee reports include Members’ own observations and recommendations. He clarified that chairpersons did not dictate doing anything. The principle of oversight work was to carry out oversight without fear or favour.
Mr O Mathafa (ANC) understood that Parliament’s core business support dealt with the strategic plan. He thus asked at which point a committee initiated its own strategy.
He commented that this Committee appropriates funds and tracks government expenditures. There were areas that overlapped with the expenditure of the previous financial year. The Committee’s appropriation would be following the pronouncements of the President and the Minister of Finance. However, as the President and the Finance Minister made pronouncement for the current financial year, there would have been events that had been unfolded prior to that. For instance, there had been the Committee’s oversight at Eskom, as well as special appropriations that would have happened before the current financial year, so he wanted to understand whether the device of Committee’s strategy would incorporate those aspects.
He suggested that the Committee should reach a resolution today to consider streamlining certain committees’ overlapping work. The Committee on Public Enterprises played an oversight role over Eskom, the same as this Committee. He therefore believed there was need to streamline those processes done by the different committees.
He commented on Parliament’s resolutions because there would always be new resolutions coming up. He strongly urged the development of a tracking system so that resolutions were followed up and implemented.
Mr Mathafa urged Parliament to explore other means to widen its reach and expand its access to ordinary South Africans, especially in deep rural areas which were without any mobile gadgets. So far, means of public participation were limited in soliciting submissions and public hearings. He pointed out the lack of coverage to those people who do not have a phone, or a WhatsApp installed on their phone. This section of the population remained inaccessible to Parliament.
Mr X Qayiso (ANC) concurred with Mr Mathafa on the issue of public participation. He emphasised the importance of engaging with working class communities. He suggested Parliament should identify them and then invite them to participate on a particular topic as a trial. Parliament’s strategy usually targeted only certain levels of communities, but the measuring of service delivery standards could be known only by reaching into the poor communities.
Mr A Sarupen (DA) raised the issue of citizens’ knowledge on the separation of power and the branches of government. There were growing expectations from citizens that once they logged a complaint with a Member of Parliament (MP), the issue would be resolved -- as if MPs were implementing agents. In his experience, what people were lacking was the understanding that Parliament was the legislative branch of government that played an oversight role. The executive was the policy implementing body.
Ms D Peters (ANC) complained about having received the presentation only in the morning. She remarked that the issue on tracking resolutions had been mentioned many times in the past. Many of the issues in Parliament’s legacy and committee reports needed to be incorporated in the new Parliament in order for those recommendations to be implemented.
She raised the question of how people without means or resources, but wanted to attend public hearings, could attend Parliament. How could people who did not have internet access attend a virtual Parliament meeting? She enquired about what had happened to the People’s Assembly platform, which she thought had been doing a great job in expanding access to, and coverage of, Parliament.
Since Parliament had adopted the hybrid sitting approach, the virtual platform had made Members’ homes the Parliament. She wanted to know how it fitted into Parliament’s strategic plan, given that Members had offices, printers and desktop computers, etc, to support their work. How could support be provided to Members now that they working from home?
The Chairperson commented that what made things more difficult for this Committee was that it dealt with recommendations affecting other committees’ work. However, he did not think that anything so far had happened after those reports were tabled. He agreed that there should be a tracking and follow-up system on those issues that Members had raised.
He described public participation as the centre stone of democracy. It needed to be strengthened and translated into action, otherwise people’s enthusiasm would be dissipated. There should not be a 'tick box' approach, and there should be effective public participation.
Arising from the interaction, he remarked that the way in which the Land Bank was structured resulted in very little of its allocation benefiting emerging farmers. This issue needed to be followed up.
He commented on the Money Bills Act and public participation, questioning whether certain set timeframes were practical, as the short time period would not permit public participation. Set time frames might make public participation too elitist, as they would involve situations such as virtual platforms which would be available only for those who could afford such means.
Regarding the public’s lack of understanding on the roles performed by different arms of government, he agreed that there were members of the public who believed that once an issue was raised with an MP, it must be resolved because they had implementing power. There was need to correct that view and improve people’s understanding on the separation of powers.
The Chairperson emphasised the importance of monitoring the effectiveness of government spending, as currently all indicators had shown that the government’s funds had not been translated into outcomes.
Ms Begg apologised for the late submission, since she had not originally been assigned to the task, and had to assist at the last minute. She had to re-prioritise her work schedule yesterday because one of her children had tested positive for COVID.
She agreed with the Members’ view on the lack of change at ground level that would reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment, in spite of all the government spending. She recalled a commentary contained in a high-panel report, that argued that the executive was good at developing strategies but was not good at the most critical step, which was implementation. The report said that this left a gap in which Parliament should play a more proactive oversight role.
Ms Begg explained that committee strategy was informed by the overall strategy of Parliament. In the past, the focus had been on what the administrative side of Parliament did. In the Sixth Parliament, the focus was now being shifted to what the Members were doing, since they were the key stakeholders representing the citizens in Parliament.
She said that budgetary issues should be incorporated by this Committee and the Finance Committee. To do that, Parliament’s content advisors and researchers were developing this plan, and coming up with action plans, bearing in mind that the strategic plan of the Committee must always be aligned to the overall plan of Parliament.
Parliament had a public education office developing materials on its role in all eleven South African languages. The materials focused on the roles of the executive and Parliament. The office produces education material in relation to the different contexts. For instance, during the State of the Nation Address (SONA), the material would be explaining what the President’s role and Parliament’s role were, respectively.
Ms Begg further informed Members that the office had 15 staff members who were tasked to do the public education for South Africa's 60 million population, on how to participate in Parliament. Given the huge challenge, the office was considering using alternative mechanisms, such as partnering with civil society as well as establishing networks with constituency offices in order to expand the influence and information of Parliament. Three parliamentary democracy offices had been established between 2008 to 2011 in the Northern Cape, North West and Limpopo, and those offices had the responsibility of making sure that citizens knew about the activities in Parliament.
She noted the concern raised around the tight timeframe for the Money Bill Act, and the impossibility of engaging with the public. She suggested having an engagement between officials, committee Members and the public education unit, so that public education on the bill could be properly planned. She agreed with Members’ view on effective public engagement.
Her division had involved information communication technology (ICT) to develop a monitoring system in order to keep track of the resolutions and targets contained in annual performance plans (APPs). The proposal was to develop a dashboard for each committee so that Members could see updates on the implementation of those resolutions and targets made by each committee.
Ms Begg said Parliament was creating avenues to reach out to more citizens via its parliamentary democracy offices. It also relied on provincial legislatures to reach a wider section of the population. Parliament also made provision for transport to assist citizens to attend its public hearings.
She was uncertain about the People’s Assembly platform, but agreed that it was a good platform.
She was aware of the work from home policy for Parliament’s officials, but was not sure about the policy for committee members.
Her division had identified an oversight gap between the work of committees and both Houses, which had led to a lack of follow-ups on adopted resolutions. She agreed that there should be a system to capture the recommendations in committee reports, and those that the House had agreed on. In the interim, she suggested developing a manual system, such as Excel spreadsheets, to track and monitor recommendations and resolutions.
For those who could not attend virtual meetings in Parliament, she pointed out that Parliament did make data provision for citizens.
Ms Begg commented on the issue of public participation and coverage. The 6 000 WhatsApp submissions had been Parliament’s first trial as a method to reach out to citizens on Section 25 of the Constitution -- the Expropriation Bill. For rural residents, because of the lack of broad band access, Parliament had also engaged with 79 community radio stations to broadcast the message. In addition, the Parliamentary studio was up and running this year. All these efforts had been made to expand Parliament’s visibility to the public. For instance, on the National Health Insurance (NHI) bill, Parliament had received more than 300 000 responses via email, and 36 000 responses had been hand delivered.
Adv Mongana Tau, acting Section Manager: Procedural Matters, Parliament, re-emphasised the alignment of Parliament’s overall strategy with each committee’s strategy.
He advised the Chairperson that for this Committee, it may select one piece of legislation that was passed and call the institution to which the fund was transferred to assess whether the desired outcome had been attained.
He suggested the Committee should include the institutions that had been recommended to implement resolutions as part of the resolution tracking process.
On the Committee’s resolutions that affected other committees, Adv Tau said that the Chairperson could use chairpersons’ meetings to discuss those issues with other colleagues.
He reiterated that Parliament made provision for transport and data for those people who did not have the means to participate in Parliament.
Committee’s priority areas for the Sixth Parliament
Mr Sifiso Magagula, Committee Content Advisor, said that the Committee’s founding legislation was around money bills and appropriation bills, which he could put under budget policy as a priority area.
He gave an assurance that the capacitation of Members and staff, and the point of inviting international delegations, would be included in the Committee’s strategic documents. Members should inform him of all their views on the priority areas for this term, and should also include their views and reflections on the presentations of the previous day. Then, after gathering all of their inputs, he would consolidate them for Members to determine the priority areas for this Parliament and would then package them into programmes .
Mr Sarupen emphasised the importance of the Committee’s oversight role in monitoring key issues on public spending. He also suggested that the Committee should learn the best practices of monitoring public spending from other countries on the African continent, and perhaps from a leading country in Asia as well.
Mr Maubane, Committee Content Advisor, made a suggestion regarding tracking the Committee's resolutions and implementations. He suggested that it could include in its strategic plan that it should meet at least once a quarter with other committees. He agreed that it should have a mechanism to check the resolutions it had agreed on, or even holding other committees to account.
The Chairperson corrected the view that said that the Standing Committee could not hold other committees account, as they were all parliamentary committees.
Mr Magagula responded that many of the recommendations and resolutions which Members had made in Committee reports had been responded to. The Office of the Speaker had sent those responses to the Committee Secretary. What was lacking was the review of all those responses versus the recommendations, as Members needed to see if they were satisfied with those responses. He suggested that Members should do this at least once quarterly.
Mr Mzamisa, Committee Content Advisor, commented that public participation was happening on the ground, but he also noted Members’ concern that it should be deeper, more inclusive and more meaningful.
He also suggested integrating public participation in the public education process.
Adv Tau said that although the given time frame for the Money Bill was tight, the Committee could use the budget process to involve public participation as a trial. In this process, the Committee could use other means to engage the public, besides inviting submissions. He also suggested that in the event that the Committee knew that a bill would be coming up, it could plan in advance and target provinces for deep engagement.
The Chairperson indicated the need to improve the Standing Committee’s interactions with intermediary government at the provincial level. He recalled a meeting that had taken place with the Northern Cape provincial government. His impression was that even within the government sphere, some people did not fully understand what this Committee did. He thus suggested that this Committee needed to include provincial governments and legislatures, as well as local governments, to make them understand its mandate and function. Ultimately, the objective of government was to improve the quality of life for everyone and to see all those strategic plans translating into visible outcomes.
Mr Mzamisa suggested that when Members went to a province, they should also be accompanied by delegates from the provincial government in order to improve interactions and make more people understand Parliament’s role and this Committee’s functions.
Ms Peters agreed with Mr Mzamisa.
The meeting was adjourned.
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