Parliament Quarter 3 2021/22 Performance
Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament
25 February 2022
Chairperson: Ms B Mabe (ANC)
The Committee convened on a virtual platform to be briefed by the Acting Secretary to Parliament on the institution’s performance for the third quarter of the 2021/22 financial year, and to consider and adopt its report on Parliament’s 2021/22 mid-year performance.
The Acting Secretary reported that for the third quarter of the 2021/22 financial year, Parliament had achieved all of its quarterly targets. A budget of R66.52 million had been allocated to Parliament for the third quarter, and 90% (R600.27 million) had been spent. Regarding the business of Parliament, the National Assembly had held two debates and received 601 written questions and 226 oral questions during the quarter. The National Council of Provinces had held three debates and received 153 written questions and 76 oral questions during the quarter. Committees had conducted three oversight visits, held one intervention and 29 public hearings, processed 22 Bills, and held 273 virtual meetings. It was reported that all parliamentary services continued to have a satisfaction rating higher than 75%.
Members were concerned that Parliament had not spent R232 million of its budget for the third quarter, and asked what the contributing factors were. There were views that the recent fire at Parliament was the result of budget cuts that had meant the Parliamentary Protection Services and its staff could not be deployed over the holiday and leave periods. How did the under-spending reconcile with these views? Members were also concerned about the vacancies at Parliament and asked for a timeframe by when the Committee could be assured that the institution would have its full staff complement at all levels.
There was a need for Parliament to use more innovative ways to encourage Members to respond to the satisfaction surveys, as getting a higher response rate would ensure that it could adequately address the issues raised by Members regarding the provision of parliamentary services. A Member expressed concern about the low uptake of ParMed by the Members of Parliament, despite it being a compulsory medical aid fund for them.
The Committee was of the view that Parliament’s performance gave it a sense of comfort that the institution would receive a clean audit outcome, with minimal areas of emphasis from the Auditor-General, and welcomed the fact that all of Parliament’s quarterly targets had been met.
Chairperson Mabe convened the virtual meeting and welcomed Members and the delegations in attendance. She noted the apology from Co-Chairperson D Mahlangu (ANC, Mpumalanga) who had another parliamentary meeting to attend. The meeting was in quorum to continue, but it was noted that there were not enough Members in attendance from the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for the Committee to adopt its Committee Report or its outstanding minutes.
The purpose of the meeting was for the Committee to be briefed by the Acting Secretary to Parliament on the institution’s performance for the third quarter of the 2021/22 financial year.
The delegation in attendance consisted of:
Ms Penelope Twaya, Acting Secretary to Parliament
Mr Ravi Moodley, Executive Head: Strategic Management and Governance,
Ms Zuraya Adhikarie, Chief Parliamentary Legal Advisor,
Ms Fatima Boltman, MSP Programme Manager,
Ms Mabatho Zungu, Division Manager: Institutional Support Services,
Ms Linda Harper, Manager: Members Facilities
Ms Ressida Begg, Division Manager: Core Business Support.
Mr N Singh (IFP) proposed that the Committee continue with the meeting and hear the briefing from the Acting Secretary, but that the agenda items needing adoption be postponed to the next meeting.
Mr B Radebe (ANC) agreed with Mr Singh's proposal.
Opening remarks by Speaker of the National Assembly
Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Speaker of the National Assembly (NA), said she was familiar with the contents of the report on Parliament’s performance for the third quarter of the 2021/22 financial year. Parliament had made good progress in the achievement of the institution’s targets, but there were challenges related to under-expenditure which spoke to the difficulties faced in fulfilling Parliament’s responsibilities using the hybrid system of working from home. This was because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was beyond the control of the institution.
Briefing by Acting Secretary on Parliament’s third quarter performance
Ms Penelope Twaya, Acting Secretary to Parliament, reported that for the third quarter of the 2021/22 financial year, Parliament had achieved all of its quarterly targets. A budget of R66.52 million was allocated to Parliament for the third quarter, and 90% of the budget (R 600.27 million) had been spent. The budget would be fully spent at end of the financial year as all the savings from the programmes would be used to fund the refurbishments needed as a result of the fire that occurred on 2 January. It was projected that there would be a 3% overspending on direct charges of R13.14 million. The projected overspending would be refunded from the National Revenue Fund.
Regarding the business of Parliament, the NA held two debates and received 601 written questions and 226 oral questions. The NCOP held three debates and received 153 written questions and 76 oral questions. The Committees conducted three oversight visits, held one intervention and 29 public hearings, processed 22 Bills, and held 273 virtual meetings. All Parliamentary services continued to have a satisfaction rating higher than 75%. There was a need for more Members of Parliament (MPs) to respond to the Satisfaction Survey, and the goal was to have a 70% response rate in this regard.
See presentation attached for further details
Chairperson Mabe expressed concern that Parliament had not spent R232 million of its budget for the third quarter of the 2021/22 financial year, as a result of various factors. She asked what had contributed to the under-spending of the budget when it came to the compensation of employees (CoE). What measures had been put into place to ensure that such an under-expenditure did not recur in the current quarter?
Ms O Maotwe (EFF) asked how many MPs had responded to the satisfaction survey, especially since the target of a 75% response rate had been set. Regarding Parliament’s financial performance, she noted that the briefing did not define what was meant by ‘associated services,’ and asked for the Committee to be provided with clarity in that regard. What were the reasons for the levels of under-spending that had been reported in the various programmes? Had National Treasury been informed that there was projected under-spending?
Mr Singh referred to the under-spending on the CoE and asked by when the Committee could be assured that the institution would have its full staff complement at all levels. What mechanisms were in place to ensure that the vacant posts got filled as soon as possible?
There were views that the recent fire incident at Parliament was caused by budget cuts, which meant that the Parliamentary Protection Services and its staff could not be deployed over the holiday and leave periods. How did the under-spending reconcile with these views?
It had been said that 10% to 18% of MPs had responded to the satisfaction survey and commented that while it was a notable response rate, it was not good enough. There was a need for Parliament to use more innovative ways to encourage Members to respond to the surveys, as getting a higher response rate would ensure that Parliament could adequately address the issues raised by MPs regarding the provision of parliamentary services. Regarding the satisfaction survey’s items, he asked what ‘capacity-building services’ entailed, and for feedback from the delegation on why that was the item that MPs were the most dissatisfied with.
Members’ training had been postponed since the beginning of the 2021/22 financial year because of circumstances beyond Parliament’s control, and he asked whether this was still going to happen in the future.
Regarding Parliament’s financial performance, he noted that there had been under-spending, and it had been indicated that some of these funds would be used to refurbish Parliament after the recent fire. He said that these funds would not be enough to refurbish the damaged areas of Parliament, and a larger amount would be necessary to repair all of the infrastructure that had suffered damage.
He referred to the low uptake of ParMed, Parliament’s medical aid fund, and asked why there was a low uptake when ParMed had been made compulsory for MPs. The Committee had engaged with the issues regarding the fact that Parliament had to pay for the ParMed of previous MPs and Members from other provinces, which came out of the budget of Parliament. He had been informed during another engagement with a senior official from National Treasury that proposals had been put on the table in this regard, but that there had been no response from the Acting Secretary to Parliament. He asked whether these proposals had been received, and what the way forward was on this issue. He asked the Speaker of the NA for input on how Parliament should deal with regulating the issues of flights and ParMed for previous Members of Parliament.
Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape) also raised the issue of the low uptake of ParMed by MPs. It had previously been reported to the Committee that one of the reasons for the low uptake was because the spouses of Members usually had their own medical aids, and they were therefore also a part of their spouses’ medical aid funds. He asked whether Members had a choice in such a situation -- between ParMed and their spouses’ medical aid funds. Were there any verification processes in place for Members who claimed to be part of their spouses’ medical aid funds?
Regarding the satisfaction survey, he said it was previously agreed that after every Committee meeting, there should be a short survey regarding the services provided for that meeting. This kind of survey and its results could then form part of Parliament’s quarterly performance reports. He asked for a timeframe by when this would be implemented. The Committee had previously had a discussion with National Treasury because of Members’ concerns that Parliament was treated like an ordinary government department when it came to the allocation of its budget. He asked for an update on these discussions between the Minister of Finance and Parliament’s office bearers.
He noted that it was reported that the NA held two debates and received 601 written questions and 226 oral questions, while the NCOP had held three debates and received 153 written questions and 76 oral questions. He asked whether these statistics were referring to questions and responses received, or just the questions that had been written to the Executive by MPs. If they did not include the number of responses, he asked that a metric be included to show Parliament’s performance in receiving the responses from the Executive and government departments.
The Committee had previously raised the issue of the tools of trade with regard to Parliament’s contracts and agreements with various service providers to give Members the required tools of trade. Would this be extended going forward?
He agreed with Mr Singh that there was a need to ensure that vacant posts were filled as soon as possible.
Ms R Lesoma (ANC) said that Parliament’s performance gave the Committee a sense of comfort that the institution would receive a clean audit outcome, with minimal areas of emphasis from the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA). Regarding the issue of vacant posts, she agreed with Mr Singh and Mr Rayi, and said that the Committee must be informed of the status of progress on filling the vacant positions to ensure that Parliament was operating at its optimal capacity.
She said there was not a lot of oversight over the performance of Parliament because of the COVID-19 regulations that South Africa had to obey. However, there was a need for the Committee to have mechanisms available to assess whether its recommendations, as put in its oversight reports, were implemented by the Executive or the relevant government departments. There was a serious need for a tracking mechanism in this regard. This would ensure that the Committee’s oversight role was not a mere checkbox-ticking exercise, but that the recommendations added value and solved the problems faced.
In terms of the projected under-spending, she asked for feedback on how Parliament would ensure that situations like this did not occur again in the future. There was a sense of comfort in Parliament’s performance that the institution would not receive any adverse comments or findings from the AGSA. How had it managed to finance the capabilities of Parliament and the Cape Town City Hall after the recent fire at the Parliament building, to enable the Committees to retain their capabilities? She commended the Speaker of the NA for the good work that she had done to ensure that Parliament functioned properly throughout the fire incident, and the use of virtual meetings.
She said that the Committee had an oversight role over all of Parliament’s budgetary considerations, and must find a way to harness its power to ensure that good work was done by the institution.
Ms S Gwarube (DA) said it concerned her that there was a lot of temporary filling of positions, such as the Acting Secretary to Parliament or Parliament’s Chief Financial Officers, which had extended for many years. Why was there such an administrative backlog in appointing permanent staff in these key posts? With the recent fire incident at Parliament, a backlash had been received because Parliament did not have a Head of Security Services appointed for a few years, which was devastating to the credibility of the institution. This showed how serious the filling of vacant posts was, and that it required more urgent attention.
Regarding the cost-cutting measures referred to by the parliamentary staff after the fire incident, she said that the damage to the institution was significant to the Committee and that the Committee had to concern itself with the allegations that there were a number of cost-cutting measures that were implemented before the fire started, such as the lack of a full complement of staff at Parliament. She also asked how the Committee, in its oversight role, was expected to reconcile the cost-cutting measures which were seemingly needed with the fact that Parliament had under-expenditure for the third quarter of the 2021/22 financial year. How did this fall into the reprioritised funds because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant that some ordinary expenses were no longer needed? She noted the savings on expenditure because of the COVID-19 pandemic had been about R241 million, and asked whether this money would be used towards other priorities, or if it had been earmarked only for the refurbishment of Parliament after the recent fire incident. She noted that the Committee was still yet to be briefed on the relocation of Parliament, and asked whether there was a projection for the sourcing of the funding for the refurbishment of Parliament or finding alternative venues.
She asked if it was possible for the Committee to get a breakdown of the costs for the 2022 State of the Nation Address (SONA) since the Committee had been made aware that the costs had doubled from the initial R1.9 million mostly because of the recent fire on the premises of Parliament. It would be useful for the Committee to see the additional costs that were incurred and the details of the appointed service providers.
Mr Radebe appreciated that the briefing had given an objective reflection of what was happening in Parliament. The Committee had previously raised the need to fill the vacant posts in Parliament with urgency. It was worrying that there was a degree of under-spending at Parliament, especially relating to vacant posts, as it could have helped reduce the unemployment rate in the country to fill these posts, and costs were now being incurred for procuring those services elsewhere. The issue of vacant positions had a long-term impact on the performance of Parliament, and that was why the issue must now be treated with the urgency it deserved.
He had noted a downward trend in Members’ satisfaction, especially in the capacity-building processes. What were the causal factors contributing to this decline in satisfaction? There had also been complaints from Members attending university that Parliament had not paid the fees on time, and he asked for clarity in this regard.
He pointed out that there were a lot of political parties which had been affected by the fire at Parliament. The issue was that their staff did not have offices, and there needed to be a temporary provision of space so that the political parties could continue doing their work.
Parliamentary delegation's responses
Ms Twaya responded that there was never a point where Parliament had made savings and adjusted its activities in respect of work being attended to. There were never savings because of compulsory leave at Parliament, as compulsory leave was a policy of the institution.
Regarding the capacity-building questions, she said it was a joint venture involving service agreements with some universities to allow Members to study further. During the COVID-19 pandemic there had been a delay, and the service provider had moved the tranche of the money into Parliament’s budget, and there had been a R30 million under-spending as a result. The substance and value of the courses to Members had not been tested, but a review of the modules had been done. In addition to that, short courses were added for Members as had been indicated by them as being necessary. Parliament was seeking to integrate the graduate and short-term programmes to improve the consistency in the capacity-building services that Parliament offers.
Regarding the slow uptake by Members on ParMed, she said that Parliament wrote a letter in that regard to National Treasury on 1 June 2021, and the response had been that ParMed was self-managed and complex. The rules of ParMed were different from the ordinary rules of other medical aids, and it was compulsory for Members.
The projected overspending would be refunded by National Treasury. The delegation would be meeting with the AGSA, and the engagements would focus on the impact of the fire and its impact on Parliament’s asset management and asset audits.
Responding on the costs of the SONA, she said that over the last few years it had been held at an average cost of R4 million, and the Committee would be briefed on how the costs for the SONA had been reduced over time, such as cutting out a lot of the catering and advertising posters. This had allowed Parliament to put aside R141 000 for the 2022 SONA. The budget for this year’s SONA came from Parliament’s budget, and a hybrid model was also followed for the SONA. In terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), Parliament submits a memorandum when requesting funds to determine how costs should be shifted from one cost centre to the other.
Ms Linda Harper, Manager: Members Facilities, Parliament, responded to the questions related to the ParMed. She said that ParMed was a separate item in Parliament’s budget relating to the costs for continuation Members, meaning for those Members who had left the sector and for which Parliament was then responsible for the state contribution to their medical aid funds. The slow uptake that was reported had referred to Members who had exited the sector and chosen not to continue on the ParMed, and had chosen their own medical schemes, meaning that they had not taken up the continuation membership. ParMed was compulsory for MPs, and the contribution was deducted from all Members’ salaries when they were taken on to Parliament’s payroll. It was only by exception, and with the approval of the ParMed’s Board of Trustees, that Members may be exempted from membership. However, this did not apply to a Member who was on their spouse’s medical aid.
As far tracking the outcomes of the Committees’ oversight functions was concerned, this would be the reports that emanated from the various Committees. The two Houses of Parliament, the NA and the NCOP, did have tracking resolutions that ensure that the undertakings made by Members and the Executive were followed up on and implemented.
Mr Ravi Moodley, Divisional Manager: Strategic Management and Governance, said there were up to 65 Members who had taken the satisfaction survey. The reason why the percentage of response rate was important was that it was an international standard to have a 5-10% response rate to consider the results of a survey as reliable. However, the more Members taking the satisfaction survey, the better and more reliable the results would become. The goal was to have at least a 70-75% response rate. Currently, four reminders had been sent to Members by email to remind them to take the survey, and they were also reminded by SMS. Members could do the survey on their phone or computers. However, more ways to make the survey more accessible and easier to complete would be considered in the future to improve the response rate.
Ms Twaya added that in September 2021, the expenditure was presented to Members relating to the cost-cutting measures implemented for the COVID-19 pandemic. Line items were broken down to indicate to the Committee which areas Parliament was under-spending in, including international travel and travel for the purpose of oversight visits. The funds that were retained were then invested in the refurbishment of Parliament’s information communication technology (ICT) infrastructure, and in no way would these funds that were retained be used for the entire refurbishment of Parliament after the recent fire incident.
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula said that a meeting was planned between herself as NA Speaker, the Chairperson of the NCOP, and the Minister of Finance. As far back as 2021, when she joined Parliament, there had been efforts by the Executive Authority through the Acting Secretary of Parliament to interact with the Minister of Finance to discuss the issues raised by the Committee, including the issue of the budget allocation of Parliament. This meeting would be held within the next two weeks, now that the Budget Speech had been dealt with. There was a possible need to pass a Special Appropriation Bill for Parliament to rectify the damage caused by the recent fire.
The flight allocations for Members had been drastically reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and three proposals were presented in this regard by the relevant officials. Parliament needed to ensure that there was equilibrium in the benefits of all MPs, including the Executive. A full report in this regard would be presented by the Acting Secretary to Parliament during the next meeting with the Committee.
On the issue of vacancies, she said that interviews had been held for the positions of the Secretary of Parliament, the Head of Security, and for a Chief Financial Officer. These interviews were conducted some time ago by a panel established by Parliament, which had worked together with a recruitment service provider. There was still a need to clarify issues of remuneration and other matters, but she assured the Committee that everything was being done to have the appointment of the Secretary to Parliament finalised by 1 April, to give the incumbent a chance to be part of the processes of appointing the Head of Security and the Chief Financial Officer. Adverts in this regard had been done, as well as the short-listing of candidates. Other vacancies would be filled by working together with the management team of Parliament. She was aware of the urgent need to fill these vacancies. The problem or root cause of the fire could be because of the lack of having someone appointed as the Head of Security.
On Parliament’s expenses and the current arrangements for sittings at the Good Hope Chamber, the options put forward would be dealt with on Tuesday by the Chief Whips’ Forum, which would then discuss the report presented. By the end of next week, political parties, Members and other representatives would know exactly what the proposals on the table were.
Regarding the recent fire on the premises of Parliament, she said that assessments of the damage were underway, which would then determine whether the walls would be rebuilt, or whether a complete relocation should be considered. These issues were under consideration by the management of Parliament to ensure the best possible way was chosen to ensure that Parliament could continue with its business. Regarding Members and staff affected by the fire, she said that everything was being done to ensure that a short-term solution was presented so that Committees could continue to function and do their work.
Chairperson Mabe allowed Members to raise any clarity-seeking questions based on the responses received from the delegation from Parliament on their questions.
Ms Lesoma said that the response to the oversight and value-added questions had been insufficient. Parliamentary Committees had a well-known, generic tracking system across the committees which was populated by the administrative and support staff. There was a need for the Committee to have a sense of comfort that there was this tracking system in place. There were budgets to be spent in various of Parliament’s offices, and reports in this regard would emanate. Those reports must be processed by the Committee to be noted or approved. She asked for an update on the technical process in this regard so that no rules were bent.
Mr Rayi referred to the ParMed issues and asked the delegation to respond to the question on how long it took to renew or upgrade Parliament’s contracts with various service providers to give Members the required tools of trade. Regarding the satisfaction survey, he repeated his earlier questions and said it had been previously agreed that after every Committee meeting there should be a short survey regarding the services provided for that meeting. This kind of survey and its results could then form part of Parliament’s quarterly performance reports. He asked for a timeframe by when this would be implemented.
It had been reported that the NA held two debates and received 601 written questions and 226 oral questions, while the NCOP had held three debates and received 153 written questions and 76 oral questions. He asked whether these statistics were referring to questions and responses received, or just the questions that had been written to the Executive by Members of Parliament. If it did not include the number of responses, he asked that a metric be included to show Parliament’s performance in receiving the responses from the Executive and government departments. He noted that these questions had not been answered by the delegation.
Mr Singh said that the Committee was aware of the fiscal constraints that the country was facing, but there was a need for finality on the question of remuneration and benefits to Members of Parliament. In 2019, there had been some efforts by the North West province to look at the remuneration and benefits of all municipal councillors during that period, as well as for Members of Parliament and the legislature. However, nothing seemed to have been put on the table for further discussion. The increases that MPs were receiving were negative when one took into account the inflation rate. There was the loss of a high percentage of money over the period of time. He appealed to the Speaker of the NA to engage with the various entities to arrange a briefing to the Committee as a way of giving an update on these issues. This matter should be dealt with publicly.
Ms Gwarube acknowledged the responses from the Speaker of the NA regarding the appointment of the Secretary of Parliament and for the need to have the Secretary of Parliament involved in the processes for the appointment of the Head of Security and the Chief Financial Officer of Parliament. She said that any leader of an institution would want to be a part of the recruitment of their own team, and asked for clarity on the timeframe planned for the finalisation of these appointments.
Parliamentary delegation's responses
Ms Twaya responded that Members would recall that last year the Remuneration Commission had postponed a meeting that it had agreed to, relating to Members’ remuneration and benefits. Subsequently, the Speaker of the NA and Chairperson Mabe had written to the Commission and expressed the importance of finalising the matter, as it had been outstanding for a long period of time. The Commission had then argued that they had to revisit some of the comments that had been made, and another letter was sent to remind the Commission of the issues at play. The Commission had responded on 7 February and indicated that they noted that their interaction with Members of Parliament had been delayed, and notified the Speaker and Chairperson Mabe that the Commission would first have a consultation with the Minister of Finance before coming to engage with Members. These processes of arranging engagements would be finalised to ensure that finality was brought to the matter involving the remuneration and benefits of Members of Parliament.
She was aware that there was a manual system of tracking the resolutions of Members and the Executive. There were projects underway to consider the feasibility of automating these tracking resolutions. She appreciated and noted the suggestions by Mr Rayi regarding the proposal made that after every Committee meeting there should be a short survey regarding the services provided for that meeting and that the information yielded could then form part of Parliament’s quarterly performance reports. This would give real-time responses on the levels of satisfaction regarding the support services.
Ms Harper said that for the Sixth Parliament, it had been agreed that Parliament would enter into agreements with service providers directly to reduce the administrative burden on Members, as well as the financial burden of having to pay service providers for laptops and other tools of the trade on their own accounts and then claim back the expenditure from Parliament. In June 2021, a communication was sent out to all Members advising them that laptops and tablets would be upgraded in the 2022/23 financial years and that mobile phones and devices would start in June 2021. The main reason for aligning the timing of the upgrades to the 2022/23 financial year was to align Parliament’s term with the contract term so that the contractual agreement would terminate at the end of Parliament’s term. At the same time, certain amendments to the Tools of Trade and Communication Services Policy had been made to allow Members to access additional services required for the hybrid, off-site remote working model that had been put in place.
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula said that everyone was working hard to ensure that the appointments were made by 1 April, and she would be deeply disappointed if this timeframe was not met. Regarding the remuneration and benefits of Members of Parliament, there had been a lot of back and forth on this matter. The meeting mentioned had been requested by the Remuneration Commission itself to give a report on the work done by the Commission, and the meeting had then been postponed by the Commission itself. It was still finalising some aspects of its report.
Chairperson Mabe thanked the delegation for the briefing made to the Committee, and for the responses given to Members’ questions and inputs. She said that if Members had any further questions, they could be submitted in writing to the delegation from Parliament for responses.
The meeting was not quorate, so the last two agenda items were postponed until the next meeting of the Committee for Members to consider and adopt its report on Parliament’s 2021/22 mid-year performance, as well as the outstanding minutes for its meetings held.
The meeting was adjourned.
Mabe, Ms BP
Gwarube, Ms S
Lesoma, Ms RMM
Maotwe, Ms OMC
Mapisa-Nqakula, Ms NN
Qayiso, Mr XS
Radebe, Mr BA
Rayi, Mr M
Singh, Mr N
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