The Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament convened on a virtual platform to receive a briefing on Parliament's performance in the first quarter of the 2022/23 financial year.
During Members' interaction with Parliament's executive, they wanted to know which political parties still had not submitted their financial statements, the excess expenditure that Parliament had spent on information technology and logistical equipment, the savings accrued from Members' reduced amount of travelling, Parliament's engagement with major airlines to improve the service offerings of major airlines to Members, and whether it was legal for parliamentary protection officers to carry firearms when accompanying Members on oversight visits. They asked about the adoption of Parliament's annual programme framework, the procurement of fleet, an update on the progress report on filling the positions of Chief Financial Officer and Head of Security, and Parliament's internship programme.
Members expressed concern over the poor quality of uniforms for Parliament's Protection Service and security team, the lack of change room facilities in the parliamentary precinct, and the barbed wire on the premises, which was seen as a means of barricading the public from accessing Parliament.
National Assembly Speaker's opening remarks
Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Speaker of the National Assembly, said the Secretariat would be briefing Members on the pillars of Parliament's budget account. The performance of Parliament was a key component of success and its ability to discharge its functions, as outlined in the annual business plan and strategies of the Sixth Parliament. For this reason, the executive authority of Parliament took a keen interest and initiative in the appointment of the new Secretary and his eloquent application for performance and strategy outline which would ensure that Parliament functioned optimally. The presentation would touch upon imperatives such as:
- Budgetary consideration for the re-building of Parliament post-fire disaster;
- Performance measures in ensuring security within the Parliamentary precinct;
- Parliament's performance in international relations in pursuit of global peace and economic development, which could greatly benefit the livelihoods of South African people;
- The need to strengthen the legislative sector and the law-making process.
The Speaker highlighted the need to put in place sound performance indicators for the visions she had just outlined.
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula submitted an apology on behalf of Mr A Masondo, Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), as he was at the African Parliament.
Parliament's first quarter performance
Mr Xolile George, Secretary to Parliament, briefed Committee Members on the first quarter performance report of Parliament in the 2022/23 financial year.
In the term under review, business activities of parliamentary committees included 375 virtual meetings and 21 oversight visits, and one statutory appointment was made. Mr George also highlighted the public's interaction and Parliament's involvement on social media platforms.
Members' satisfaction towards the services rendered by Parliament in the quarter, such as information communication technology (ICT) services, capacity building services, content service, procedural advice service and legal services, were provided in percentages. The overall performance showed a 90.91% satisfaction level.
Parliament's budget allocation per programme included direct charges of R121 million, administration R178 million, associated services R182 million, and legislation and oversight R182 million.
(Further financial information could be referred to in the presentation slides).
Mr N Singh (IFP) wanted to know which political parties had not submitted their financial statements.
He sought more details on the savings Parliament had accrued on Members' travel ,since now many committee meetings were taking place on the virtual platform. He also asked for more information on Parliament's excess expenditure which had been spent on IT and logistical equipment.
He asked the Secretary if the framework which had not been adopted was an administrative item or a committee matter which needed Members' attention and action.
Mr T Brauteseth (DA, KZN) noted that Parliament had established long-standing business relationships with some airlines. However, he felt that being a major client of those airlines did not translate into better preferential flight rates and other benefits, such as reserving seats or booking accommodation for Members. Therefore, he wanted to know what interaction Parliament had with those airlines to improve the situation. His view was that since Parliament was a huge major client that brought in so much traffic and volume to those airlines, Members should not be treated like those who fly only once or twice a year.
He had personally had some communications with the Parliamentary security staff. He had gathered that many security staff members had complained about the fabric of their uniform, which gets shredded and wears off easily, and no change room facilities on the precinct. He pointed out that given the nature of the work for security staff, they should be provided with uniforms of a stronger fabric to avoid Parliament purchasing uniforms for them more regularly than necessary. Parliament should also provide more changing rooms for its staff members. Employees at Parliament often had to travel to communities to get changed and their visible uniforms made them targets for attack. One or two employees had received verbal threats, or even altercations on occasions.
He asked whether the parliamentary protection team should carry firearms while accompanying Members on their oversight visits.
Ms S Gwarube (DA) highlighted the importance of ensuring Parliament was accessible to the public. She drew Members' attention to the barbed wire around Parliament, which was seen as a deterrent to public access. Since COVID regulations had all been lifted, she found it unacceptable that there were still restrictions on entrances for members of the public to enter. She wanted Parliament to give a plan going forward on what it would do to increase Parliament's access to the public.
There was a news report of Parliament expanding its fleet of vehicles, so she needed an indication from the Secretary to confirm this, and why it had come to that decision to procure more vehicles.
Ms Gwarube requested a progress update on the recruitment of Parliament's senior staff members, such as the Chief Financial Officer and the Head of Security.
Mr X Qayiso (ANC) urged Parliament to think of means to bring Parliament closer to the people. He urged the Secretary to explore practical options for those poor people who did not have access to social media and WhatsApp to access Parliament.
Ms N Mahlo (ANC) enquired about the progress and the cost implications of enhancing public involvement.
She asked the Secretariat what he had noted of Parliament's positive progress in its efforts to enhance oversight. What other new platforms, such as innovative technology, could Parliament use to enhance its oversight of the executives?
She noted that the level of satisfaction with legal services had declined, and wondered if this was due to bills that were passed and then referred back to Parliament by the President. Was this a reflection on the work of legal services?
Lastly, Ms Mahlo asked the Secretary how many graduates had benefited from Parliament's internship programme, and in which areas those graduates were being placed in Parliament.
Mr George began his response by acknowledging the limitation of the presentation and the room for Parliament to improve its performance. He referred to the five pillars he had highlighted in the presentation as the key instruments of guidance till 2024. Those five pillars were:
- Strengthening oversight and accountability;
- Enhancing public involvement;
- Deepening engagement in international fora;
- Strengthening co-operative government; and
- Strengthening legislative capacity.
He said the Members' satisfaction report was one of the many dimensions of measuring Parliament's performance. At the macro-level, Parliament had to assess its work by aligning with government's objective of reducing poverty, unemployment and inequality. He emphasised the legacy issue and the importance of ensuring consistency in measuring progress in transitioning administrations. It was important to evaluate Parliament's work on a progressive basis and the impact of its work quantitatively, such as the evaluations done by StatsSA, to monitor how far there still was to go to achieve a particular target, and to establish what had already been achieved.
For instance, 375 committee meetings and 21 oversight visits were indicators of how Parliament performed. Engagement with the public through public hearings could help Members to know the public's views and opinions on certain issues, and synthesising those views would be a key imperative for Parliament's policy analysis unit.
Mr George said the evaluation of Parliament's work would shift from activity-focused to outcome-oriented and from quantitative to qualitative. Instead of indicating how many visits had been done, Mr George believed that what issues had been successfully addressed as a result of a complaint in a public hearing, for instance, would be a more important and effective way of measuring Parliament's performance.
He acknowledged the importance of measuring the participation of citizens. He guaranteed that Parliament would look at surveys to assess citizens' participation and their satisfaction with Members' work. Members would also be receiving feedback from members of the public.
Mr George confirmed that filling the positions of the CFO and the Head of Security were in process. After reviewing Parliament's organisational structure, he intended to prioritise filling those two positions, as both were instrumentally linked to the organisational structure.
Mr Masibulele Xaso, Secretary to the National Assembly, clarified to Mr Singh that Parliament's annual programme framework was being adopted in November every year for the following year. The adoption of the framework for 2023 was still yet to happen.
Ms Mabatho Zungu, Division Manager: Institutional Support Services Division, acknowledged the challenge of space in Parliament which had resulted in the lack of locker rooms for Parliament's employees, its security and catering staff.
She said that Parliament was beginning to order uniforms that were made of stronger fabric for security staff. She added that uniforms were being issued to Parliament's security staff every second year, and Parliament also ensured that the security employees had sufficient uniforms to change daily.
Ms Linda Harper, Manager: Members Facilities, responded to Mr Singh that Parliament did not budget on 100% utilisation, but rather on projected spend. She could guarantee that the budget had been in line with the projected reduced travel expenditure. The same applied to communications on IT and logistical equipment. To better illustrate the point, she would compare the budget expenditure before COVID and now to show Members how the travel spending had decreased whereas the communication services' expenditure had increased.
She said Parliament had been in continuous engagement with airlines to get better deals, but admitted that Parliament did not have many options, because the service offered by airlines was limited. Also, airlines would not enter into corporate agreements. She would send a summary of the services which each airline had extended to Parliament.
Mr Vuyisile Mathiti, Manager: Talent Manager, Parliament, said there were 40 graduates in Parliament's internship programme. Sixteen of them (40%) came from Gauteng, 14 (35%) from the Western Cape, six (15%) came from KZN, three (7.5%) from Limpopo, and one from the Free State.
Of those 40 graduates, three of them were placed in the National Assembly, three in the NCOP, two in the committee section, two in legal services, one in public education, three in Parliament's internal audit, two in financial management, three in supply chain, two in Parliament's budget office, three in ICT, eleven in catering services, two in the Treasury advice office and one in parliamentary communication services.
Mr George responded to Ms Gwarube's concern about the barbed wire, and asked Members to understand Parliament's dilemma. On the one side were its security concerns, and on the other was the need to ensure public access. Given the deepening vulnerability of the institution and the recent security breach that resulted in the fire on 2 January, Parliament's executive had to strike the right balance tactically. He recalled his conversation with the National Commissioner of Police in July. Based on the security assessment, he said it was the view of the Commissioner that barbed wire should be put up at the back of Parliament. This view was also endorsed by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI). Nevertheless, he acknowledged his duty to ensure Parliament was accessible to the public.
Ms Zungu referred to the procurement of vehicles for Parliament, and said Parliament's institutional support services centrally managed the fleet. She said Parliament definitely looked at cost-effective measures for running the fleet. Vehicles became expensive to maintain once they reached 150000 km, so Parliament disposed of those vehicles that had exceeded that mileage. In 2022, Parliament disposed of six vehicles, including four Quantums. It had procured six ten-seaters and two sedans this year. The sedans would be used for the protection fleet, and the ten-seaters would be used for the business of Parliament. Parliament currently had a high dependency on external service providers to provide transport services, so the augmentation of the fleet was done in the interests of Parliament and Members so that Parliament could transport its members and dignitaries itself in future.
Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula clarified that the question about the fleet had emanated from a media report that she had procured two vehicles to add to the fleet for herself. She had denied it and clarified that Parliament had been in the process of procuring fleet vehicles since 2020. None of the vehicles procured was for her personal use, or had been done at her request.
Mr George was unsure of the exact policy on Parliamentary Protection Officers carrying firearms when accompanying Members on their oversight visits. He asked for the Chairperson's indulgence to report back to the Committee after reviewing the relevant security policy and the movement of security.
He said that three political parties had initially failed to submit, and Parliament had later written to them in July requesting the submissions. Two political parties had since responded and paid what was due from them. Currently, the payment of one political party remained outstanding, but he was unsure if he could explicitly state the political party's name to Committee Members.
Adoption of minutes
Committee minutes for 3 June and 25 August were duly adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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