Parliament’s 2021/22 mid-year performance

Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament

26 November 2021
Chairperson: Ms B Mabe (ANC); Ms D Mahlangu (ANC; Mpumalanga)
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Meeting Summary


At a virtual meeting, the Committee was briefed on Parliament’s 2021/22 mid-year performance based on the tabled Annual Performance Plan aligned to the Sixth Term Strategic Plan.

The Committee was told that twelve indicators are measured of which nine of them are new. These performance measures focus on client satisfaction of Members of Parliament with services rendered by Parliament. Through a quarterly survey, Members are asked to rate the services on five dimensions which are statistically correlated to client satisfaction. According to the survey, the second quarter just like the first quarter has a 100% performance as rated by the MPs. All 12 performance indicators met their targets.

On financial performance per programme, there was underspending on Compensation of Employees (CoE) which was attributed to 0 percent increases and key unfilled vacancies. Goods and Services also had underspending which was attributed to prolonged travel restrictions due to lockdown. Travel is expected to resume if Lockdown Level 1 is maintained. The savings will be used on strategic projects and the budget will be adjusted.

The underspending did not sit well with the Members who felt that the savings could have been used to address wages or upgrades for MPs' electronic devices. They thanked the Administration management for their hard work. However, concerns were raised about the lack of staff presence in Parliament to assist MPs with their queries as well as progress on the independence of the parliamentary budget process.

Meeting report

The Committee considered and approved minutes and reports.

Matters Arising
The Chairperson questioned why the minutes indicate absenteeism with no reason or apology. Committee members are very responsible and dedicated to their work. She instructed that for every meeting that Members are absent there must be a reason for the absence.

Ms N Mahlo (ANC) agreed and said the Committee must not be seen to entertain absenteeism because some MPs are absent without apologies. She agreed that going forward reasons and apologies must be included.

The Chairperson made an example of Ms Mazzone from the Democratic Alliance who declined the invitation.

Mr B Radebe (ANC) suggested that the Committee gives a true reflection of what transpired. He gave an example of the apologies he gave for three ANC MPs, indicating that if he had not done so, then those MPs would have been considered absent. They should not sugar coat absenteeism, but call it what it is. The records must be a true reflection. He agreed that the majority of the Committee members are very responsible. Some just disappear in a virtual meeting although it is true it can be a technical glitch at times. He would not mention names.

Mr M Moletsane (EFF, Free State) agreed but indicated that if he experienced network problems, then he would not be able to access the meeting. He suggested that in the next meeting, MPs should be allowed to explain their absence. MPs are adults who are committed to the cause. They cannot just disappear without a good reason.

The Chairperson noted the concern and agreed MPs never disappear without giving a valid reason.

Mr Radebe commented on the resolution about the Parliament budget – that it does not depend on Treasury. What has been done so far to ensure that resolution is effected? He expressed concern that virtual meetings allow some parliamentary staff to get away with murder as they use the lack of network connectivity to dodge meetings. Therefore Members have requested that something is done about getting the full staff complement in Parliament since most sectors are fully operational under Lockdown Level 1. He struggled with registering his children as travel dependents and with his new phone contract because there is no one in Parliament as this had to be done by a parliamentary staff. Something must be done to resolve the challenge of service in Parliament.

The Chairperson said the recommendation to make this a priority is in order. She doubted if the 26 December meeting will take place since it is a holiday. She suggested that everything is deferred to the New Year.

Ms D Mahlangu (ANC; Mpumalanga), Co-Chairperson, agreed that outstanding matters arising be deferred to next year. She suggested there should be an improvement in communication between MPs, their secretaries and Parliament. She agreed that the renewal of phone contracts is delayed. MPs are expected to renew only the phone. Previously, the renewal was for all gadgets. She did not know when the decision was taken that MPs upgrade only their phone.

Mr X Qayiso (ANC) agreed with Mr Radebe about staff presence and the Parliament budget. February is around the corner resolving Parliament drawing its budget and not relying on Treasury should be a priority. It will be problematic to reach Quarter 1 and then start discussing the budget appropriation as if it is a new topic after the budget has been done in February. How will we deal with that before the Budget Speech? It is already almost December, so it is unlikely that it will be finalised before the Budget is presented.

Mr Qayiso said he did not understand why management is not taking measures about the return of staff. This inconveniences the MPs who are supposed to get direct assistance from the offices of Parliament staff. Virtual communication is not enough because at times one requires direct contact with staff. There should be a plan for staff to return office by office. A clear plan should have unfolded a long time ago. It does not make sense that all government institutions are operational, yet Parliament is behind in having the staff back in the office. This matter should be looked at.

Ms Mahlo said MPs are feeling frustrated because Parliament staff cannot be found in their offices. They do not respond to calls and some of the work is not properly done. She asked the authorities to address the matter and ensure that the staff adheres to the rules of Parliament that they should be at work. If they are not there, it must be indicated when they will be back in the office. MPs should not feel like they are on the streets. For instance, MPs were asked to submit their interests via a specific email address but now they receive emails stating they have not done so which is frustrating because there are only three days left. The matter must be resolved.

Parliament Administration response
Mr Masibulele Xaso, Secretary to the National Assembly, explained there is a rotational system in place for staff to ensure there are people in Parliament to serve Members. He expressed concern that Members are not getting the proper service they require. He took note of the specific areas pointed out by Members and committed to getting this resolved. Some of the staff are in Parliament daily, but the fact that service is not rendered in other areas means that the matter requires urgent attention.

On the budget, he said the sooner the reports are published so they get to this Committee, the better for all concerned. Once adopted, they can be implemented and the responses can be provided for some of concerns raised. The Presiding Officers and the Minister have been having some engagement on the budget of Parliament and how it is structured. He was uncertain if the actual meeting has taken place yet. The Presiding Officers are trying hard to engage the Ministry of Finance on the matter. It may be late for some things to happen by February because a lot that will be part of the National Budget as arranged by National Treasury.

Ms Fatima Boltman, Parliament Manager: Information Communication Technology, said the Division and Section Managers of Members Support Services presented the approach on cell phones over the next two years. They have consulted and presented it to the Chief Whip. On the approach used for upgrading phones, she suggested that feedback should be solicited from Members Support Services and they report back to the Committee.

The Chairperson said the next meeting will dig deeper on the concerns raised by MPs. She raised dissatisfaction with the travel agency who seemed not to be paying attention and this inconvenienced MPs at the airport. She had promised that she would bring it up with Administration. The claims department has not fared well either. Claims are submitted electronically and when one makes a follow-up after two weeks or so, one is told one did not comply and later one is called with an apology that it was not checked properly. People serving MPs must pay attention to their work. Generally, MPs are not happy with the service they are getting from staff.

She pointed out to Members that there is a satisfaction questionnaire that allows MPs to make recommendations about Support Staff Services. She insisted that MPs should fill in the questionnaire to enable the Administration to see that the service is not generally acceptable.

It should be noted that the Speaker has committed to meet with the Finance Ministry before the end of the year. The Chairperson also indicated that the reports must be tabled in the House and after thirty days of internal circulation and adoption, then responses can be expected.

Mr Radebe asked the Administration to provide the list of staff members available in the offices daily to enable MPs to have face-to-face meetings with them when the need arises.

Parliament 2021/22 mid-year performance report
Mr Ravi Moodley, Division Manager: Strategic Management and Governance, said the Strategic Plan of Parliament has two strategic priorities: oversight and accountability and public participation. The Annual Performance Plan (APP) is derived from these Priorities and the Accounting Officer is required to report on the performance of Parliament's administration as outlined in the Financial Management of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act (FMPPLA). It has presented Quarter 1 and 2 reports. The Mid-Year performance report is based on the tabled 2021/22 APP aligned to the 6th term Strategic Plan of Parliament.

Key Notable Issues
Of the twelve performance indicators, nine of them are new. It has a focus on client satisfaction of Members of Parliament with services rendered by Parliament administration. Through a quarterly survey, Members rate the services along five dimensions which are statistically correlated to client satisfaction. The more responses received, the better the Parliament administration would be in improving some of its services.

These indicators have moved from merely measuring quantity and has moved into the space of quality. For instance, instead of whether research paper was produced within the required time frame, MPs can now rate if the research paper was useful, reliable and helped them to do their work. Earlier in the month, this was presented to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Data and Governance Forum and as progressive methodology and was received by many Parliaments.

Social Media – public participation was ensured via digital platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Parliamentary Broadcast, Instagram, and Youtube.

Traditional Media – public participation is also ensured through traditional media as its reach is still very significant.

Mid-Year Overall Performance: According to the survey, Quarter 2 just like Quarter 2 had a 100% performance as rated by the MPs. All 12 performance indicators met their targets.

Financial Performance
Ms Ruby November, Acting Chief Financial Officer, presented:
- There was underspending on Compensation of Employees (CoE) which is attributed to provisions made for performance bonuses, 0 percent increases and key unfilled vacancies.
- Underspending was also indicated in Goods and Services, which was attributed to prolonged travel restrictions due to lockdown. Travel is expected to resume if Lockdown Level 1 is maintained. The savings will be used in other projects and the budget will be adjusted.
- Year to year spending on the direct charges which deal with MP remuneration is R242.417 million or 51% of the annual budget. Indications are that there will overspend at the end of the financial year (R14.103 million). The overspending will be a direct charge against the National Revenue Fund in terms of section 23(4) of the FMPPLA.

The Chairperson (ANC) asked for clarity on Programme 3 which had no indicators. How do you then measure the performance of the employees in the programme that MPs are paid timeously for their claims and travel and so forth. The performance contracts of the managers are derived from the indicators and outputs. Members had raised complaints about this that are relevant. The Members' complaints are not misdirected but justified.

Mr N Singh (IFP) said Members must appreciate the fact that they are working under unusual circumstances which caught everyone by surprise, and with the new Covid-19 variant, these working conditions may continue for the foreseeable period. He asked for the sample size for the survey as Members had not been using Parliament services much. The sample size will be important. It is not unusual that there is underspending on the budget as there is no travelling for MPs and the services provided under normal circumstances are not being provided. it is not a bad thing to be underspending because they can catch up on this notion of MPs saying they are underfunded every year. However, if there is underspending at the end of the year, will the amount that is left over accrue to Parliament or it will go back to the Treasury? he is just making a general statement that underspending is not a bad thing because it is allowing them to catch up. He heard about MPs not taking the Parliament medical aid (Parmed) and asked for clarity on that. The underspending on compensation of employees is concerning. Are there positions not filled? Are we going to maintain those positions or free some of those available positions as it indicates 44% there? We are not spending much on capital expenditure (CapEx) and he asked if the kitchen and dining room project had been completed and if within the budget.

Mr Radebe said while he appreciates the presentation, there are concerns. The budget is supposed to be in line with the Strategic Plan and APP. There are three programmes in the Strategic Plan but the financial report speaks about five programmes. Can you clarify that? On performance management, the survey is not inclusive of the entire performance management. The Chairperson raised a good point about travel and expense claims. What if that job is not done properly? He gave a personal example of problems with a claim for a flight ticket. Someone should have been held accountable for that. The satisfaction survey is only one dimension. Performance management of the person heading the unit must be done and the performance management assessment must be more comprehensive than it is now. He suggested that Parliament amends the Financial Management of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures (FMPPLA) to deal with the lacuna where MPs are wanting [1:57:27-1:57:28] the budget allocation to be independently done by Parliament but we do not have the tools to exercise that. When is this amendment going to be effected so we do this job in a timely manner?

Mr X Qayiso (ANC) said some government entities are using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse for incompetence. Wherever there is underspending, it must be considered that underspending has a consequence. As such, the reasons for underspending must be clearly stated. For example, he would like a breakdown of transfers to political parties where there was an underspending of 57%. There are no clear reasons given for this underspending during that quarter. Underspending on employees' salaries when there have been disputes and protests over salaries may give the impression that it is the MPs who have allowed this. That may pose major challenges as there may be many reasons for underspending, but underspending on employees' salaries could cause serious problems so underspending is unacceptable. There is no clear sense of the reasons – even when looking at goods and services there is huge underspending at 32%. Perhaps a clear breakdown on goods and services may be able to clarify it for him by indicating the impact of the pandemic on spending. His understanding may be that of a layman, but now that he is in Parliament, he would like to understand the underspending on goods and services. This should have been foreseen so as to allocate the budget elsewhere. The underspending leaves much to be desired. There need to be drastic measures going forward to avoid this being an entity that is unable to spend its allocated funds, yet it is faced with service delivery challenges in some areas. Parliament needs to be exemplary and there must be a very clear adherence to the rules.

The Chairperson agreed that underspending will make the entity look weak and unable to win its fight with the Treasury. Parliament needs to put its ducks in a row and spend its budget effectively.

Ms R Lesoma (ANC) raised concern about the impression given that tools of the trade for MPs are unimportant. How do one expect MPs to work properly with outdated computer devices? These gadgets are upgraded for a reason. This week MPs came to Parliament merely to have an appointment with the IT section, but no one is there. This is a setback because the new gadgets MPs received need Parliament's IT personnel to program them.

Ms Lesoma said that it would have been understood if there was underspending on the public participation programme due to Covid but with mooted strategy to amend that because Covid will stay with us for a while. It must strike a balance in justifying the underspending by indicating what it plans to do moving forward. As the Parliament of the people, MPs must indicate a way forward to ensure public participation in Parliament. She asked for clarity on Parmed which is supposed to be compulsory.

Mr M Moletsane (EFF) raised concern about the vacant posts in Programme 2 where there is underspending. What is the progress in filling in the vacant posts?

Ms Mahlo asked about the strategies in place to utilise the leftover money due to underspending. The Committee must also be provided with a guaranteed progress report on the intervention in the Parliamentary communication services and provided with details on the broadcast studio, how it was financed, its expected impact, and its operation costs for the next three years. What is the rationale for including MP facilities under Programme 3 which has no targets?

The Chairperson said she was dissatisfied with the information on programme financial performance. In response to the MPs' questions, it must address those discrepancies and the reasons they were not identified and included in the report. Failure to do that means the Committee will conclude that the report is wrong as it does not tally with what was presented in Quarter 1. The programmes are not tallying with the information in Quarter 1. It will also not be in line with the APP. She asked the staff to convince the Committee that the report is correct.

Parliament Administration response
Ms November, Acting CFO: Parliament, asked what was meant by discrepancies in the report.

In response to the Chairperson noting that Ms November and Mr Moodley presentations did not tally, Ms November explained they have presented the financial overview of all five programmes which include Strategic Leadership, Administration, Core Business, Support Services, and Associate Services. She picked up the question on the absence of set targets in Programme 3, which may be causing confusion.

The Chairperson interjected saying that statement is already wrong. She asked her to clarify if there are five or three programmes before causing more confusion.

Ms November apologised as she now understands where the Chairperson is coming from. Parliament reports to National Treasury under the five programmes. She thinks Mr Moodley reported under three programmes, but they are reporting under five programmes.

The Chairperson interjected again asking about the number of programmes it presented on in Quarter 1. The MPs do not want misleading information.

Ms November said the information is very correct. They have a challenge with the systems and because the entity has to report to Treasury on five programmes that is why the presentation was made on the five programmes. The Committee does not have to worry about being given incorrect information.

The Chairperson said that she has every reason to worry because the APP according to the Committee's information have three programmes. Any presentation that differs from that is very concerning. She worries because her job is to conduct oversight based on information it provides so if it is contradicting information it is her business to worry. Do not sugar coat things to make her feel at ease but provide consistent information. Otherwise, it will be for the first time the Committee rejects a report. She advised her to find words that show professionalism and give correct information not what she deems fit. That will not work since the Committee is alert and aware of what is happening.

Mr Masibulele Xaso, Secretary to the National Assembly, fully agreed with the Chairperson pointing out that he had also raised the issue that the Strategic Plan has three programmes. However, when you have a Strategic Plan with three programmes, the money must follow the Strategic Plan. As soon as the Strategic Plan was approved, Treasury should have been informed. What could have happened is that the previous programmes are still there. They must indicate these as sub-programmes of a particular programme. It will definitely confuse one if you have a Strategic Plan with three programmes, but the financial performance is on five programmes. How do we cross-reference this to ensure that things are in order?

The Chairperson said that is the point she is trying to put across. She asked for clarity.

Mr Xaso requested Parliament's Treasury Advisory Office to clarify the matter. He noted the Chairperson's point and indicated that the entity may commit to resubmit the report so that it speaks to the concerns she raised on presenting the correct structure. There may be a system issue in reporting on the Strategic Plan and reporting according to the expectations of Treasury. He noted the Chairperson's point and reiterated the importance of not confusing the Committee.

Mr Henry McGregor, Head: Treasury Advisory Office, Parliament, said there is a misalignment in the programme structure because of the way funds are allocated from Treasury. It was allocated according to five programmes and the financial system is set up for five programmes, and the monthly reports are on five programmes. What Parliament needs to do for the Committee is to be consistent. However, all the numbers are there and the divisions are still the same. It is only the way they organised the programmes. The presentation needs to be changed. It can be rearranged into three programmes; it is just that it is easier to report straight from the financial system. He suggested that the Financial Management Office report according to three programmes. There has been engagement with National Treasury, and from 1 April 2022 it will be able to report on three programmes. It will be updated on the National Treasury system to align with the system in Parliament. It is just a reporting issue but it can be rearranged for the Committee according to the three programmes.

Mr Radebe stepped in as the Chairperson was disconnected by network problems. He appreciated the explanation that the National Treasury system is not yet aligned to that of Parliament and the commitment that in the 2020/23 financial year everything will be in order.

Mr Xaso said he understands what the MPs are saying about indicators for Programme 3. The administration needs to identify what MPs would like to be measured and measure that. He would not want to dismiss the concern raised that the work of people performing that service is not being measured. The administration will see what type of indicators could be measured there.

Mr Xaso explained that the amendment of the Financial Management of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act (FMPPLA) is underway in the Finance Standing Committee. It seeks to effect amendments, especially to the reporting obligation. There is also another process to implement Section 18 of the Financial Management of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act which deals with Parliament's annual appropriations and approval [2:30:15- 2:30:20]. Parliament will give a proper presentation on Section 18. He requested that the broadcast studio not be discussed because the spokesperson in charge of Parliamentary Communication Services was absent. This is to avoid giving incomplete and incorrect information.

Mr Moodley, Manager: Strategic Management and Governance, replied that the survey was sent to all Members of Parliament which could be 400 members. In Quarter 1, there were 65 responses after three weeks. In Quarter 2, it was slightly less. The greater the number of responses, the more valid the survey becomes. A minimum of over 40 responses is required for the results to have statistical validity.

Ms November took note of MPs' concerns on underspending saying that is why they refer to the Covid-19 pandemic. Travel has the biggest budget as a lot is spent on travel expenses and there has been underspending in that area. Strategic priorities and projects have always been identified, specifically in ICT for the hybrid Committee system that is required. That underspending will be utilised for these strategic projects. Parliament does not give back the money which is called returned earnings. When there are returned earnings, they are invested. Thus, there are specific reasons for not spending this money.

Ms November explained that the political party underspending would be due to some queries about the financial statements submitted by the parties that are not aligned to policy. If you look at the end of the year, it is projected that there might be full spending by political parties if all the outstanding queries are submitted duly by the parties.

Ms Mabatho Zungu, Parliament Manager: Institutional Support Services, explained that the old kitchen is the only one that is closed. However, the refurbishment has not been completed. The kitchen will be opened only in February 2022. CapEx for the refurbishment of the kitchen sits with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, and that project has not yet started.

Mr Xaso told Mr Qayiso that consequent management for underspending has been noted because there is a link between spending and planning. The concern must be taken into account.

Ms Fiona Southwood, HR Manager, Parliament, replied that the Chief Audit Executive appointment is imminent with the new person expected to start at the beginning of the new year. For the CFO appointment, there have been three rounds of interviews which have not been very successful. They have sought an executive search partner who has been appointed and will be working with Parliament to appoint a CFO. Some of the delays in filling vacancies is the organisational realignment project. Parliament is busy with the design of functions that may include new roles with different requirements and outputs. It must take care and not become a reckless employer and bring new people into an organisation that is being changed.

Ms November replied that it is compulsory for MPs to take up Parmed. The main reason it was stated that Parmed 'is not taken up' is that there is an over-provision on the Parmed side. As indicated, Parmed will still be discussed. There are engagements with National Treasury on how this will be attended to in due course, if not this year, it will be next year. It is also known through the Deputy Speaker who is the Chairperson that there is a meeting set in December. The MPs will be kept abreast with what is happening with the Treasury engagements on budget matters.

Mr Xaso said the Financial Management Office will provide the breakdown of goods and services as requested by Mr Qayiso to give a comprehensive picture of what was obtained there.

Follow up questions
The Chairperson was able to re-join the meeting and noted that she missed out on the responses.

Ms Mahlo asked about the tools of the trade as this was not addressed in the responses. Who decided to upgrade certain tools of trade for MPs? When is it going to be addressed? MPs need new laptops because their laptops are too old and do not have enough memory to capture all the work of Parliament. She suggested that at the next meeting, the Committee is told about the return earnings investment. This would be important since it is something new to Parliament. Why do we have return earnings in Parliament when it did not even buy laptops for MPs saying there is no money? This is not right. Who took that decision as the Committee has to take that decision?

Ms M Siwisa (EFF) referred to slide nine of the presentation on the indicators for MP satisfaction. It looks like job descriptions for support staff tasks not performance indicators. They do not appear to be drafted according to the SMART principle where indicators are measurable and time bound, showing achievements in the process.

Ms Linda Harper, Parliament Manager: Members’ Support Services, replied that the decision to upgrade mobile phones only was taken in a consultative forum, so she will refer the matter back to that forum for consideration.

Mr Moodley said the parliamentary client satisfaction survey has been used for over 30 years all over the world. The presentation explains the client satisfaction scores which is the indicator method used. The indicators follow the SMART principle and there are over 30 years of global history on that. For example, they have been used in the Parliaments of New Zealand and Zimbabwe. It is consistent with the DPME framework for performance measurement. The services of parliamentary administration are not in the manufacturing business or counting the number of houses built. It only measures services rendered to the Members of Parliament. In the past when turnaround times were measured, that only measured one aspect. Now by breaking it up and including usability of service, there are five dimensions correlated to the satisfaction of the client. So the SMART principle is there and is measurable. When surveys are done, using the statistical average or statistical mean together with variances, an effort is made to make it measurable in every way. Looking from quarter to quarter over a period of time, you look for an increase or decrease in satisfaction levels to tell you the direction it is going. That was the fundamental shift in the survey from the Fifth Parliament to the Sixth Parliament

Mr Xaso said that he has taken note of Ms Mahlo's concern on returned earnings and committed to conferring with the Finance Office to check what is possible on investment and interest of the returned earnings.

The Chairperson said the Committee's concerns have not changed. Going forward, it would want the Administration to continue being committed to its work. She commended it for being a great team for its excellence in executing its duties and asked for consistency, especially with the new Speaker. The stakes are too high to drop the ball now. The concerns remain the same – Parmed is not resolved, the independent budget from Treasury has not been resolved and will always come up. Now there is the concern about services to MPs which should be improved. The Quarter 1 report not tallying with the current report was noted and the Committee needs transparency on that. These are small issues that can lead to a non-clean audit. Any information recorded has implications on the audit and they cannot get a negative audit for the first time. That is why she insisted on not dropping the ball now. She demanded professionalism and the change in political leadership should not affect them at all because they are not politicians but administrators whose job is to implement the policies of the ruling party and comply with the legislation.

The Committee decided that the Committee Strategic Plan Workshop should be held in January 2022 just after the recess.

Meeting adjourned.

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