In a virtual meeting, the Committee was formally introduced to the new Speaker of the National Assembly (NA), Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. The Committee welcomed the new Speaker and wished her well in her role. It looked forward to working closely with her Office and holding the Executive to account. The Speaker assured the Committee that she would try her best to ensure accountability, proper oversight, fairness, and that she would be objective.
On the overall performance of Parliament, the Speaker commented that the Annual Report indicated a steady increase in Parliament’s performance over the last six years as it received an unqualified audit opinion with no material findings. This was a clean audit for the 2020/21 financial period and for the seventh consecutive year.
The Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) presented on Parliament’s 2020/21 audit outcomes and financial statements. It commended Parliament for achieving a clean audit outcome. Parliament had performed positively and it had a green rating in the financial health area for 2020/21, despite a prior concerning rating. Members questioned Parliament’s performance indicators as well as the status of its liabilities.
The Executive team of Parliament presented on its 2020/21 Annual Performance Report. Parliament had performed positively overall. Parmed as a liability and the funding of Political Parties were raised as concerns. Members sought clarity on Parmed and its future and it was indicated that Parliament was working with National Treasury to assess how it could exclude Parmed from its baseline.
Members requested that Parliament improve in the area of ensuring timeous responses to written and oral questions and the capacity of legal services. Requests were also made for Constituency Offices to be capacitated. Members questioned its reach to rural communities and if it would maintain its performance. Parliament assured Members that these concerns would be addressed and provided detailed responses on measures currently in place.
The Committee welcomed the good performance and remarkable achievement of Parliament. It was clear that Parliament’s performance improved and that it had taken the Committee’s concerns and the issues into account.
Welcome and apologies
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu welcomed Members, Parliament’s management team, the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA), and all officials to the virtual meeting.
Ms Cindy Balie, Secretary to the Committee, said there were apologies from Mr N Singh (IFP), Mr T Brauteseth (DA, KZN), Mr A Shaik Emam, and from the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Mr A Masondo (ANC, Gauteng).
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu noted the apologies.
She asked Members to turn on their cameras when they spoke as the meeting was being recorded.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu introduced the next item on the agenda, the introductory meeting with the new Speaker.
Co-Chairperson Mabe noted that it was agreed that Mr B Radebe (ANC), as the Committee Whip, would formally introduce the new Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) to the Committee.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu handed over to Mr Radebe.
Introductory meeting with the NA Speaker
Introduction of the NA Speaker
Mr Radebe said it was an honour and a privilege to provide the introduction. On 19 August 2021, the NA elected Member of Parliament (MP), Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, as the Speaker following Parliament’s tradition of electing a woman in this role. He welcomed the continuation of this tradition in 2021.
Ms Mapisa-Nqakula’s life was dedicated to the struggle of South Africans. She was exiled at an early stage and received military training from both Angola and the Soviet Union. During the unbanning, she undertook to reorganise the structures of the African National Congress (ANC), a role which she undertook with excellence.
Importantly, when Ms Mapisa-Nqakula was still in exile, she served in various committees within the ANC. She also represented the ANC Women’s caucus in various countries and within Parliament she had been a member of the Joint Standing Committees of Intelligence as well as Defence. He detailed the trajectory of her career. She had been the Chief Whip of the ANC and was then deployed as the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and thereafter had held various Ministerial positions.
Given the latency of issues in this country, it was important for all arms of State to cooperate to save the country and to ensure that it moved in a positive trajectory. This would only be possible when the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary worked closely together to ensure that each arm of State executed its role well.
Parliament has a huge responsibility to do oversight over the Executive. It recognises the challenges and issues of corruption, underdevelopment, poverty, inequality, and unemployment. It is therefore critical for this role to be occupied by someone who understands the history of South Africans and the country. Ms Mapisa-Nqakula’s programme would ensure that Parliament did the work it was required to do.
With the Chief Justice Zondo Commission Report due early 2022, Parliament would be accountable to South Africans to implement the necessary programmes and to ensure it holds the Executive accountable. The Executive had to be supported to undertake its role properly on issues of interest to South Africa.
Mr Radebe recalled the 2021 United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26) meeting that had taken place the previous week in Glasgow where various countries pledged approximately R131bn in support of South Africa’s transition from coal to renewable energy. This indicated the need for Parliament to be prepared and to ensure that every decision undertaken by the Executive positively impacted South Africa to address issues of unemployment, poverty, and inequality.
He reiterated the importance of Parliament being connected with the people on the ground. He detailed the example of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme of South Africa (NSFAS) which faced challenges and affected students. Parliament, therefore, had a challenging role to ensure even development within the country.
With the appointment of the new Speaker, who was familiar with the history of South Africa, there was assurance that she was best suited to assist Parliament to reach its targets.
The Committee must engage the Executive Authority (EA) thoroughly, however it should not be submissive to it, to ensure Parliament undertakes role.
It was maintained in the previous meeting that it was an anomaly that funds were appropriated in Parliament, but its budget was determined elsewhere by National Treasury. It was critical going forward that the Committee work closely with the Speaker to support her in ensuring that Parliament’s work was executed properly.
Parliament’s Strategic Plan foregrounded constituency offices as the face of its work. He questioned how constituency offices would be capacitated to ensure that MPs were able to execute their role properly as a lot of resources and support were needed to do this.
The Committee wished Ms Mapisa-Nqakula well in her new role. He hoped the Speaker would provide the Committee with a framework on the work that she would be undertaking until the end of 2024. The Committee was committed to engaging positively with the Speaker’s Office.
Speaker’s opening remarks
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula thanked Mr Radebe for the introduction and greeted all Members and Officials.
She noted the honour of presenting on Parliament’s 2020/21 Annual Report before the Committee and thanked it for the opportunity. This would hopefully be the first of many engagements between her Office and the Committee during the sixth Parliament.
The 2020/21 Annual Report was tabled in both Houses, in compliance with the law, on Friday 10 September 2021. The Report was now presented to the Committee as an account of Parliament's work and its activities over the annual reporting period. It was especially important for Parliament to set an example and standard for accountability.
She thanked Members and the entire staff of Parliament, who were confronted with working through a uniquely challenging period during the Covid-19 pandemic to keep the Institution of Parliament functioning. This challenging period required all to explore their human capabilities to ensure the accountability was not compromised. This came at a great risk to many people’s health and unfortunately, many were lost to the pandemic. She called on Members to observe a moment of silence in remembrance of staff and Members who had passed on during this period.
Overall progress and performance of Parliament
She confirmed the Annual Report presented before the Committee indicated a steady increase in performance over the last six years. Parliament received an unqualified audit opinion with no material findings. It was therefore a clean audit for the 2020/21 financial period. This was a clean audit for the seventh consecutive year – a remarkable achievement.
Some of the key actions that contributed to the seventh clean audit outcome included: the timeously signing off of monthly financial statements, quarterly performance reports, media reports, and annual reports for tabling; Financial and Performance Reports presented quarterly to Parliament’s Audit Committee; Internal Audit and Audit Task Team timeously auditing the evidence required in preparation for the AGSA audit; Verification of performance information by management and Year-on-year improvement achieved through scrutiny and implementation of Audit Action Plans to improve and maintain the status of internal controls.
The AGSA had indicated that Parliament should be commended for submitting financial statements that were free from material misstatements.
Mr J Julius (DA) raised a point of order.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu allowed Mr Julius to raise his point.
Mr Julius apologised and sought clarity on the order of the Agenda.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu said she had not heard Mr Julius’ question due to the network challenges and asked if Co-Chairperson Mabe had heard the question.
Co-Chairperson Mabe said she heard the question. She asked the Speaker to conclude as she had already started to introduce the first item on the Agenda. Members could then engage before inviting the Executive to present.
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula apologised as she had not understood the expectation.
Co-Chairperson Mabe allowed Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula to continue.
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula said that the financial statements that were free from material misstatements meant that Parliament complied with the laws and regulations for accounting which signified resilience of the processes of procurement and contract management, consequence management, Human Resource (HR) management, and Information Systems control.
The AGSA noted that Parliament had been able to adapt and remedy its business processes and practices, despite the disruption and restrictions caused by the global pandemic and the National State of Disaster.
She commended the tireless efforts of the lead divisions: the Financial Management Office, Strategic Management and Governance Office, and the independent assurance of the Internal Audit Unit in ensuring that Parliament maintained strong financial controls and compliance with accounting standards. The Auditors team played a key role in ensuring the timeous submission of information to auditors, including tracking audit queries to ensure it was fully addressed to enable a smooth audit process. She extended her gratitude to the acting Accounting Officer, Ms Baby Tyawa, for providing guidance.
Parliament recognised the daunting challenges it was confronted with, including in the Country, as it prepared for a changing world post-pandemic. The Country’s efforts for reconstruction and economic recovery would be the centre of government and Parliament’s work. It would be required to play a key role to ensure it succeeds in this. This meant that the requirement for accountability and oversight should no longer simply be a box-ticking exercise, but rather focused on impact and effectiveness. This was the only hope that South Africans have to rebuild their lives and to make the Country work again.
Parliament was encouraged by the many innovations it had already introduced to respond to the requirements of the “new normal”. This ensured that it adapted accordingly and that it maintained a functional presence throughout the pandemic. It was certain that many of these would form part of its operational mode beyond the pandemic and the State of Disaster.
Members should all be proud of Parliament’s outstanding achievements and commit themselves to continuously improving in the level of performance moving forward.
Co-Chairperson Mabe thanked Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula for introducing the first item on the Agenda and invited Members to welcome the Speaker.
Mr Julius welcomed the Speaker and recognised the critical importance of her role, given the current situation in the country. South Africans need Parliament to hold people accountable to ensure that services were delivered to ensure people had better lives.
The Committee hoped to have a good relationship with the Speaker going forward. The Committee intended to hold Executive to account, especially the Executive of Parliament.
In view of the previous Speaker who had set a high standard and implemented fairness in certain situations, Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula had a huge role to fulfil.
He hoped that she would similarly employ fairness as the Executive had to be impartial rather than biased towards Party affiliation. The Committee was looking forward to a fruitful deliberation and holding the EA to account.
Ms D Dlakude (ANC) welcomed the Speaker. With her rich history in the struggle, in government and Parliament, the Committee was certain that she was capable of executing her role with distinction. The Committee was certain that the Speaker was not biased as she was honest and always committed to doing her job. She was welcomed by the Committee and it wished her well in her role. It extended well wishes to the outgoing Speaker as well.
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula thanked Members for their well wishes.
She assured the Committee that she would try her best to ensure accountability, proper oversight, fairness, and that she would be objective as possible. She promised and committed herself to all MPs, parties, and Parliamentary staff that she would do her best to ensure that she became a Speaker who did not see Political Parties in her ruling on matters.
Co-Chairperson Mabe thanked Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula for her commitment to be the Speaker of the people and to be objective. The Committee was certain that she would deliver on her commitment and that it would not encounter any challenges in this.
She asked the Speaker to introduce her delegation to formally present to the Committee.
AGSA’s briefing on Parliament’s Financial Management
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula handed over to Ms Baby Tyawa, Acting Secretary to Parliament, who was joined by the Executive team of Parliament to introduce the delegation.
Ms Tyawa was joined by Senior Division Managers from the offices of Treasury, Research Committees, HR, Communications, International Relations, Risk, including the team from the AGSA.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu allowed the AGSA to present to the Committee.
Ms Tyawa said that the sequence of the agenda had changed as the team wanted the Speaker to address the matters separately, followed by the AGSA presentation and the Annual Report subsequently.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu asked the Speaker to confirm if she agreed with the new sequence of the agenda.
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula agreed.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu invited the AGSA to commence with the presentation.
AGSA Overview of 2020/21 audit outcomes of Parliament
Ms Sharonne Adams, AGSA Business Executive, lead the presentation. She would only focus on key slides.
On the audit outcomes of the legislatures on slide 5. Overall, five legislatures obtained unqualified audits with no findings, and five remaining with findings. Many of the findings included in the audit report were centred around the area of compliance laws and regulations on either the material errors in the financial statements or areas of procurement and contract management. Only one legislature had findings in the area of predetermined objectives. From year to year, there has not been a huge improvement in the overall outcomes for the legislature sector. Limpopo province regressed in the audit outcome.
Overview of Parliament
She focused on Slide 7 on the audit outcomes of Parliament. She noted it obtained another year of a clean audit outcome and directed Members to page 107, paragraph 2, of the Annual Report. This paragraph on the audit opinion was highlighted on Slide 7. In the AGSA’s opinion, it maintained that the financial statements presented fairly for 31 March 2021.
Paragraph 6 on page 107 of the Report addressed the emphasis of matter. She clarified that this has no bearing on the audit outcome or opinion. It was simply to highlight to users of the financial statement the area that management had highlighted in the financial statement. This was something that Parliament would also deal with on the underspending of the budget for the year under review.
On the area of predetermined objectives on page 109, Paragraph 16, the AGSA indicated for Programme 3: Core Business, that it identified no material findings on the usefulness and the reliability of the performance information. There were also no findings on compliance laws and regulations. Overall, this equated to a clean audit outcome for Parliament for the year under review.
The area of irregular expenditure on Slide 7 was commendable especially since many departments and State-Owned Entities (SOEs) experienced challenges in this area. Parliament showed zero irregular expenditure for a consecutive year which highlighted its discipline.
Assurance providers and status of record
The AGSA rated yellow on the assurance providers because of certain areas on asset management. Some findings were however not material in nature. This was attributed to staff working from home and the impact of this. The AGSA believed that going forward, this was something that Parliament could easily address. There has been improvement in the quality of performance outcomes.
Financial Health and Financial Management
Ms Adams highlighted Slide 12. In the previous year, Parliament had a concerning rating in the financial health area but now had a green rating for 2020/21. This was a good indication which was attributable to the underspending of the budget. The AGSA recognised the overall improvements in this area compared to the previous year.
Slide 13 highlighted the extended powers that were given to the AGSA on material irregularities. This was implemented at various departments and SOEs since 2018/19, except at Parliament. The AGSA was considering a phased-in approach in this instance. On these new powers given to the AGSA to identify material irregularities on non-compliance, to laws in regulation resulting in a financial loss identified during the audit, it was important to note this oversight process. This was a key matter that was being continuously discussed at the AGSA.
The AGSA commended Parliament for its achievement of another clean audit outcome. One of the key role players was the assurance providers as each provider played an important role in this process. This made a huge difference in the functioning of the financial management system as Parliament still managed to sustain its clean audit outcome despite the challenges of the pandemic.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu invited Members to engage with the presentation.
Mr Radebe appreciated the AGSA’s work to ensure that the State’s resources were utilised properly.
On the issue of Parliament’s balance sheet, what did the AGSA advise Parliament do to address the liabilities of its assets? If this was a going concern, he believed that it would have been depleted a long time ago.
Mr Julius asked the AGSA to clarify and elaborate further on the indicators for the quality of performance outcomes. What did it consider in this? Did it include the outcomes that the Committee had met or the actual quality of those outcomes? He noted that the performance indicators were skewed which had been discussed in the past. He believed that there were not enough performance indicators. In some instances one or two indicators were included which were very easy to achieve.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu extended her appreciation of Parliament’s work. The Committee acknowledged that its expectation would not be similar to the evaluation that would be given to the performance of a municipality or a department as those addressed direct service delivery.
In addition to Mr Julius’ comments about the outcome, on the impact of the indicators, did the AGSA consider this when it undertook its audit? The Committee had always emphasised that when the AGSA undertakes its audit work, the performance must relate to the impact.
Ms Adams thanked Members for their questions.
On the performance report outcomes and what the AGSA looked at, including the intended impact of this, she said that when the AGSA examined this information, it was a twofold process which considered the performance indicators and the targets that were set. Firstly, it was important for the AGSA to question if the targets are measurable, specific, attainable, real, and time-bound. Secondly, it examined the reliability of this information. For example, it would consider if Parliament delivered on what it indicated it would deliver on and if this could be verified with the necessary evidence. Because of the programme, the AGSA selected four audit purposes which were Programme 3: Core Business. Parliament indicated the cases when the target was met, including the cases where targets were not achieved and the reasons for this. Overall, from page 35 of the Annual Report, it specifically addresses this Programme that was audited by the AGSA. Some of those targets addressed the percentage of the population that had access to participate in Parliamentary processes.
In this instance, the AGSA took the core business of Parliament into account to question if the indicators related to Parliament’s core business. This was how the AGSA assessed the indicators, in addition to considering the reliability based on the numbers or percentages that Parliament achieved. In cases where Parliament indicated an under achievement of targets, Ms Adams said it was important for Members to question what the intended impact would have on service delivery. However, the AGSA does not specifically examine the intended impact as this the responsibility of the Accounting Officer. She clarified that in providing assurance on the targets, the AGSA only considered if it could be measured and confirmed based on the available evidence.
On Parliament’s balance sheet and the update on this information, she said that in previous years, this matter came up for discussion when Parliament’s financial viability was considered. For the current year, the AGSA questioned if Parliament could settle its current obligations in its liabilities or the money that it owed, with immediate effect. The AGSA confirmed that when it assessed Parliament’s current assets i.e., the cash available in the bank, compared to what it owed to other creditors, those did not exceed. This meant there was sufficient money for Parliament to make good on the creditors that it owed.
However, the challenge that Parliament faced was with its post-retirement benefits of MPs. Post-retirement benefits considered when MPs retire and there were certain obligations, specifically on medical benefits, that Parliament must pay. From a statutory appropriation perspective, when this happens, Parliament would get these funds from National Treasury. This is a case from an accounting perspective where a provision must be made. However, this provision might only arrive in 20 or 30 years, but the present value of that provision must be shown. While this provision does not have to be paid out immediately, its future obligations must be disclosed. For example, in the financial statements, this is indicated as a non-current liability which is a long-term liability that is not due within the next year.
From the AGSA's audit perspective, it was satisfied that where Parliament was required to pay the medical expenses when MPs retired, the funds were provided via the statutory appropriation received from National Treasury. Ms Adams confirmed that based on the financial statements, Parliament was able to meet its current obligations. For its long-term obligations, National Treasury, via the statutory appropriation, would make the funds available when the monies are were due to be paid out because of post-retirement benefits.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu asked Members if they were satisfied with the responses.
Mr Radebe said his questions were covered.
Mr Julius asked what the effect would be of a quick asset test for assets and liabilities.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu recalled the Committee committing to set an example and a high standard as Parliament. It must therefore follow this so that it could undertake its oversight work in other institutions and departments. For example, the Committee discovered that some institutions do not have internal audit committees and in cases where it has one, those committees are not functional and do not assist in the institution’s performance. She asked the AGSA to confirm if it has a good working relationship with Parliament’s internal audit committee.
Ms Adams in response to Mr Julius on Parliament’s assets compared to liabilities, said page 53 of the financial statements, clearly indicated the immediate debts or obligations that it must pay in order to settle. Parliament has a total of about R372bn in current assets and 258 in liabilities. The assets are greater than the liabilities however, for the non-current liability of the assets, the AGSA considered the property plant and equipment, as well as the heritage assets. In this instance, when it compared this with a non-current liability where a huge portion of this is the post-retirement benefit, this was a huge amount of R1.7bn in the financial statements.
Due to the nature of this post-retirement benefit as a long-term payment over a period of time, this obligation would be settled based on when retirement would be taken up by various MPs. From an accounting perspective, however, although this obligation would be settled in 10-20 years, this calculation should be made as if it was being paid out in the current context. National Treasury via the statutory appropriation would then take accountability to pay this part in addition to Parliament’s budget that is paid to MPs. Ms Adams confirmed that Parliament does not have any challenges about the going concern of its ability to operate.
On the AGSA’s working relationship with the internal audit committee, she confirmed it had a very good relationship with Parliament’s internal audit and the audit committee, and robust discussions on the role of the internal committee’s oversight. The AGSA regularly attended audit committee meetings to discuss matters that it intended to bring to its attention.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu congratulated the AGSA’s team and extended her appreciation for its work. The Committee was proud of Parliament and its leadership as it was making an impact. This assured the Committee that its concerns were heard and taken into account by Parliament.
She invited Ms Tyawa to lead the next presentation.
Briefing on Parliament’s 2020/21 Annual Performance Report
Ms Tyawa said much of what she intended to discuss was covered by the AGSA. She proposed to rather focus on certain slides.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu agreed and allowed Ms Tyawa to continue with the presentation.
Ms Tyawa discussed the smart indicators. She noted the Committee indicated in many meetings with Parliament that its indicators needed to be refined. To date, in Parliament’s First Quarter Report presented before the Committee, it revisited those indicators and it had moved away from the accounting turn-around time to introduce a Google-based Stakeholder Satisfaction Survey. It collated data quarterly where it requested MPs to indicate the usefulness, accessibility, timeliness, and quality of information received. The forthcoming data was good as it provided an overall picture that was presented in the first quarter report on 3 September 2021. She raised this point to indicate that Parliament used the inputs to improve on the indicators. It believed that better research documents and summaries of Annual Performance Plan (APP) reports from various departments would assist MPs to have an impact on oversight.
Parliament raised the issue on Parmed because it was a liability. The EA – the Speaker and the Chairperson, were currently awaiting the proposal on how this matter could be addressed. Parliament met with National Treasury however, the fundamental challenge was that it distorted Parliament’s baseline. It made proposals that would be presented to the EA on how this liability could be moved from the baseline budget of Parliament. She admitted that Parliament ran short at times because it is never fully aware of the number of Members that take on Parmed – an Act of Parliament introduced in 1996.
She said Members would note the change in Parliament’s indicators and targets, and its alignment to the strategy of the sixth Parliament in its presentation of next quarter’s report.
Ms Tyawa took the Committee through Slide 13 on the Non-financial Performance Indicator Snapshot. Parliament assessed this Service Charter against the programmes. This report was audited by the AGSA which indicated that the evidence provided supported the fact that Parliament met those targets. Members would recall that Parliament used to have annual surveys which would be outsourced and carried out by an independent entity. However, there was a challenge accessing face-to-face interviews during Covid. Parliament would be undertaking quarterly Stakeholder Satisfaction Surveys where it issued links to MPs to complete a questionnaire. Parliament relies on that feedback to ensure that it improves the work that it does in supporting MPs. On the population accessing information of Parliament, it retained this as an independent platform because this survey acts as a reflection to ensure Parliament improves its strategy.
Slide 27 Programme 4: Support Services indicates that this programme is the only one that has quantitative indicators because Parliament based its targets on percentages that are generated from data when it does the indicator descriptors. The red area was due to the challenges around getting an adequate sample because of Covid as the face-to-face method could not work.
Slide 35 highlights the Statement of Comparison of Budget and Actual Amounts. On compensation in the Annual Report, the variance of 8% was a result of the resignations and unfilled positions that Parliament continues to interview on. The -7% has been audited and indicated that when Members leave Parliament, there is no certainty on how much Parliament must pay out which the AGSA had addressed.
On the Statement of Financial Position, AGSA confirmed that Parliament was not a going concern. However, the audit committee continues to say that it is a going concern as it is faced with a liability of R1.4bn which comes from Parmed. Parliament is working with National Treasury to assess how it could exclude Parmed from its baseline. In addition to Parmed, there is Political Party funding and loss of office gratuity which are matters that must be discussed at an Executive level and through the correct forums of this institution.
In conclusion on Slide 46, Parliament reiterated that it tried its best during Covid to retain the high level of performance and that strategic prioritisation of scarce resources has been embedded in planning processes. It is concerned about the declining operational budget as it became an institutional risk as long as it must complement things such as Party-Political allowance. Going forward, Parliament wants to demonstrate that its budget is driven by law-making, public participation, and oversight. This had been indicated in the restructuring of Parliament’s programme submitted to National Treasury.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu thanked Ms Tyawa for the presentation and opened for discussion.
Mr M Moletsane (EFF, Free State) noted Ms Tyawa said Parliament was working with National Treasury to address the issue of Parmed. How far were these discussions to address this issue, or was this simply an agreement between Parliament and Treasury to work together to resolve this matter? He emphasised that this matter had been dragging for quite some time.
Mr Julius asked about the practical and forward-looking improvements and performance on oversight. He said the response to Members’ oral and written questions need some improvement as this was an important aspect of oversight in Parliament. He recalled the Committee had a dismal report as responses to Members’ written questions were sometimes responded to very late, or Ministers did not respond to it at all. There were rules on the timeframe to respond to Members’ questions. How could this matter be improved?
He believed the Committee was failing dismally in holding the Executive to account in areas of timeous response to questions and the provision of legal services. When Committees sought legal services, it was sometimes received very late despite the rules in place. Going forward, how could it improve its performance?
Ms R Lesoma (ANC) said based on the AGSA’s presentation, she was encouraged by the improvements and performance, and the good administrative ethics that are in place. For her, an individual in an Acting position should still be accountable and comply with the laws and regulations that govern the space that they operate within. She said that there was value in all the work it had been doing and for trying its best to practically respond to issues that the Committee had raised.
The Committee appreciated that there was a surplus/savings and noted there are no rollovers. How does Parliament intend to keep the standard where there is no under expenditure? She noted the surplus was caused by Covid-19 because Members are still working out of office. How would it ensure consistency in this without going outside the parameters of good financial management?
On HR related matters, she asked what the turnaround time for finalising disciplinary cases was and if cases were finalised within a reasonable timeframe.
On Constituency Offices’ usefulness to the communities and Political Party funding, the Committee should engage on this with the Provinces and the Legislators to ascertain the best option in this. She believed there was serious transformation that had to be discussed. This could assist in ensuring a balance in the usefulness of the constituent office to assist communities in Party Political funding.
What would be the best approach to amend the Parmed or the Medical Aid Act to ensure flexibility and freedom of choice which was enshrined in the Constitution for MPs? Currently, it did not have this flexibility but fortunately for the new Members in the sixth administration, not all of them joined Parmed. She noted a Task Team was established to address this matter and that Members would hopefully be able to engage on this and receive an update soon.
Mr X Qayiso (ANC) welcomed the Speaker and the Annual Report presented before the Committee which displayed the successful work which had been achieved. He noted all the areas of success highlighted in the Report, particularly those areas that were milestones such as Parliament determining its budget as opposed to Treasury determining it in the past. Since the fifth democratic administration, the Committee was finally beginning to see progress in the sixth administration.
The presentation indicated how Parliament was able to reach the entire population on its work by communicating through various ways. He emphasised that in the poorest population in outlying areas, a large percentage of people did not have access to the internet and websites as they are ordinary working-class people. There had to be a way to research this communication to have a clear understanding of whether and how Parliament is reaching these people on the ground. A report on the areas where people were able to access electronic material would indicate that it was mainly in the middle-class areas. Emphasis must therefore be put on the outlying areas where many people are not reached through electronic forms of communication.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu said that her question on Parmed had been raised by Members. She hoped Ms Tyawa understood Members’ frustrations on this issue as they were unsatisfied about the way the Parmed matter was being introduced to MPs, and that they do not have a choice. Members wanted clarity about this choice. If they choose another Medical Aid, would they lose the subsidy from Parliament?
She welcomed Dr Dumisani Jantjies, Director: Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), to the virtual meeting and apologised for this oversight.
She handed over to Ms Tyawa to respond to Members’ questions.
Ms Tyawa said she would speak on Parmed and invited her team to respond to some of the other questions.
Parmed had two components. One was that it was an Act of Parliament which was a matter that would be engaged by the Speaker and the Chairperson within the Board. On the administration thereof, Parliament raised this because, as administration, it was responsible. Parliament spent about R100m on an annual basis from its operational budge. This is the reason why Parliament indicated in its meeting with Treasury that it might take long to reverse or have Members making choices on the Medical Aid which meant that it would still have to carry it. Parliament was currently in the process of making proposals and it would be working with its legal teams should it not be treated as a direct charge. Ms Tyawa was satisfied that Parliament’s Treasury Officer was seized with the matter. At an official level, it was considering how it could address this so that it does not burden its operational expenditure. In 1999, Parliament approved a Medical Aid contribution for former MPs and Provincial Legislators so that it carries this up until this engagement happens at a political level with the Board. Officials argue that a different vehicle should be used because it distorts Parliament’s baseline. This had been discussed with Treasury the day prior, 9 November 2021.
In response to Mr Moletsane, Parliament and Treasury started discussing this matter in 2014 however, Treasury was very clear that it did not currently have a vehicle. Since Parliament was not part of the Public Sector Act, Treasury could not carry this in the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF). She noted there was a proposal to create a vehicle and a meeting took place with Alexander Forbes to try and assess this. Many things could be done but in the interim, Parliament was working with its Treasury officials to ensure that Members would be able to see its actual operational expenditure and its wage bill when it presents on its budget. This is often what leads Treasury to reduce Parliament’s wage bill although it is carrying Parmed. However, Parliament had won the battle of separating this amount. She reiterated that it had two levels: there was a political level in the Act itself which required engagement with the Board, and the administration level which Parliament would address with Treasury.
In response to Ms Lesoma’s question of the rollovers, Parliament agrees with this. The Financial Management of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act (FMPPLA) stipulates that for all retained funds in Section 22, virements between and across divisions, and any other unspent one, the one that would be returned to the National Revenue is the direct charge.
On budget that is appropriated, the EA of Parliament has a policy that it has signed to invest that money. The R372bn mentioned by the AGSA is an amount that had now been invested. Parliament intends to send the EA a proposal on how this money should be invested in the infrastructure, particularly Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure, considering Covid-19. This proposal would assist in spending the money appropriately in reinvesting on improving the systems in Parliament, especially the ICT systems and digitisation, as there are some programmes that were being considered.
Ms Tyawa asked Mr Masibulele Xaso, Secretary to the NA, to address Mr Julius’ questions.
On the issue of Parliament’s reach, she asked Mr Moloto Mothapo, Head of Media and Communications, to respond to this as Mr Mothapo and Ms Ressida Begg, Divisional Manager: Core Business Support, were driving public participation and access to information.
She handed over to Mr Xaso to address Mr Julius’ questions and the issue of legal services.
Mr Xaso said on 2 September 2021, the House adopted a mechanism meant to be used to monitor delayed replies to questions and to ensure compliance by the Executive. The mechanism would allow the Speaker to write to Ministers, who had delayed responses, quarterly and to ascertain the reasons for these delays. Where there was continuous non-compliance, the mechanism made provision for a reprimand in the House. While it is still early to assess the effectiveness of this mechanism, the Rules Committee recognised the need to manage this matter and the implementation of this mechanism was testament to this.
On the issue of legal services, he asked Ms Begg to respond to this. He said it would assist if there were specific instances where this matter had occurred so that it could be addressed however, Ms Begg would be able to respond on the general performance of legal services in the year under review.
Ms Begg agreed with Mr Xaso that it would have been useful to get the details about the specific requests for legal services. The target for legal services in the previous financial year were a seven-day average to provide legal support to committees.
She noted she was keen to know in which instances a committee required support and where the information was provided late as the performance of Legal Services was audited by the AGSA and it had achieved the targets. There was a small team of legal advisors supporting 50+ Parliamentary Committees and resources needed to be allocated to attended to urgent matters. She asked if she could get the specific details in this instance so that she could look into it. Going forward, it was considering resourcing Legal Services to ensure the provision of adequate support to all the committees.
Ms Tyawa called on Mr Mothapo to address the question of the reach and the segmentation.
Mr Mothapo said Parliament continued to endeavour to ensure that a large percentage of South Africans received its messages and had access to information on the business of Parliament. It had a package of strategic interventions in different platforms to reach and interact with the people, especially in the most remote rural villages, including collaboration with community radio stations. Parliament had entered into Memorandums of Understandings (MOUs) with Sentech and directly with the National Community Radio Forum for the direct broadcast of Parliamentary activities on these platforms. This eliminates the middleman which makes this exercise more affordable. Mr Mothapo extended his appreciation to Ms Tyawa for driving this process.
One of the surveys Parliament conducts on an annual basis indicated there was a huge penetration of access to television (TV) in rural villages and informal settlements compared to 10 years ago. This makes communication through TV easier. Parliament was therefore investing in its own TV station, including the production of documentaries with informative and educational content to assist the people of South Africa to understand the complexities of Parliament and how it operates and serves their interests. The state-of-the-art Parliamentary TV studio had been completed and Parliament was in the process of seeking licensing to ensure it extends its reach to as many South Africans as possible. This would require Parliament to create special legislation to ensure it is able to take advantage of the migration to digital broadcasting.
It also had discussions with MultiChoice on the high penetration of and access to TV by majority of South Africans, even in rural villages, as there is a significant subscription to MultiChoice platforms. Parliament was therefore partnering with MultiChoice in broadcasting to ensure that the Parliamentary channel was available even on the lowest bouquet – costing about over R100 - which the majority of South Africans in rural villages and informal settlements had access to.
Mr Mothapo said Parliament was in the process of conducting its own audience segmentation for the first time in many years. This would indicate if the strategies it employed were successful and to ensure that it is aware of the type of audiences it is serving, where they are located, and the type of platforms they are using. Parliament was hopeful that it would have an outcome of this project by the end of this financial year.
Ms Tyawa thanked Mr Mothapo for his response. She asked Mr Mpho Mokonyana, HR Management, to address the HR matters.
Mr Mokonyana, on disciplinary processes, said that Parliament approved disciplinary and grievance procedures and both of these had been agreed to in the collective agreement with its partners organised labour. He assured Members that when Parliament dealt with disciplinary or grievance issues, it was in line with these approved procedures. It had another assurance step where on a quarterly basis, Parliament reports to the Audit Committee on the status of its disciplinary and grievance cases in the institution.
The timeline for the finalisation of cases varied. For example, an internal case is normally dealt with within 28 working days according to Parliament’s timeframe. In other cases where external legal practitioners are involved for example, this is dealt with in various steps that are captured in Parliament’s procedures. In this instance for example, both parties would have an opportunity to receive legal support within particular timeframes and an independent chairperson would be involved. Those processes are clearly articulated in the procedures but the standard timeframe for internal processes is 28 working days, unless it goes outside of the Parliamentary space. For example, if a case goes to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), Parliament would still follow-up with those cases, but this timeframe would depend on the availability of the Commissioners. The CCMA operates according to certain standards and it would give Parliament a set number of days for its response time. He assured Members that all of these processes have been set out in Parliament’s procedures.
Ms Tyawa indicated that the team had covered all the responses. The next survey would be due on Tuesday, 16 November 2021. Parliament would be sending the Satisfaction Survey Questionnaire link to Members as well as the communication on this as it required the information.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu thanked Parliament for its responses
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu said that the Committee experienced many challenges when it joined the sixth Parliament as it was not performing well, and it was perceived as ineffective. She informed the Speaker that she was proud to be part of this team as Members in this Committee did not operate or work as Political Parties, but rather as team members. These presentations indicated the outcome the Committee had been trying to raise with the management of Parliament. It was clear that Parliament’s performance improved and that it had taken the Committee’s concerns and the issues into account. She emphasised her appreciation for Parliament’s work and hoped it could continue moving forward as there is always room for improvement. She also thanked Members for raising those issues and for their robust engagements, including the cooperation from Management and for not viewing the Committee as policing.
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula thanked the AGSA for its comments and the Committee for its engagement on addressing issues on the finances of Parliament. She extended her gratitude to the staff and Management of Parliament for the way she had been ushered into Office.
The issues discussed in the meeting were issues she was familiar with as she had been briefed prior including some of the issues she would be required to address with the Minister of Finance.
She noted the comments on Parmed. This was one of the most complex and challenging issues because this had been passed as legislation by Parliament. Its impact on Parliament’s baseline created a huge challenge which required Parliament’s and the Minister of Finance’s attention.
On the issue of allocation to Political Parties, the question that had been raised by Parliament’s team was why allocation to Political Parties came from Parliament’s budget. She said this matter would be attended to separately by National Treasury, and that she was quite sympathetic to it.
She noted the team’s commitment to hold Parliament accountable. In its last interaction, it proposed that a physical inspection and audit be done to verify the number of Constituency Offices due to a lack of awareness in communities. While this would be a tedious exercise it demonstrated a deep sense of commitment and efficiency from the team.
On the issue of the audit committee, campaigning and the Executive’s absence in Parliament impacted negatively on some of the decisions that required its immediate attention. She made an example of how Parliament’s audit committee recruitment process was delayed as the Executive had been unavailable to conduct the shortlisting. Since the Executive was back in Parliament and elections are over, she assured Members that one of its immediate tasks was to conduct this shortlisting so that it could interview and have a well constituted audit committee.
One of the biggest challenges reported to her was the payment of gratuity for Members exiting Parliament. She was informed that this issue tended to have a huge impact on Parliament because the number of Members who exit Parliament was much higher than what it experienced in the past. She assured Members and the AGSA that she was aware of this matter and that the team had seized it. It was in the process of considering a cut-off period to cap the number of years a person had served in Parliament for eligibility to receive the kind of gratuity that comes from the baseline of Parliament’s budget. She would engage with the Minister of Finance to address these issues.
She undertook to working closely with the Committee and to continue interacting with it. She thanked Ms Tyawa, her team and the AGSA for working together. She emphasised that the Office of the AGSA was not an enemy as it assisted in enhancing productivity for politicians.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu welcomed the Speaker’s closing remarks and her commitments to the Committee and the Country. She thanked the Parliamentary team and Members for their attendance. She asked the Secretariat to confirm the date of the Committee’s next meeting.
Ms Balie confirmed the next meeting had been postponed to Friday, 19 November 2021.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu noted this and wished everyone well.
The meeting was adjourned.
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