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STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS (SCOPA)
4 August 2004
COMMITTEE BUSINESS AND PLANNING
Agenda of the meeting
Programme of the Committee
Budget of the Committee
The cluster convenors reported back on the categorisations to be tabled at the 10 August meeting. Various procedures of the Committee were discussed, and the importance of thorough preparation ahead of the public hearing with the Auditor General was stressed.
The Chair welcomed the Committee back after the recess. Apologies were noted and new members welcomed. The agenda, including report-backs by the cluster sub-committees, the budget and the new business plan, and the latest minutes were adopted.
Ms L Mabe (ANC) and Mr P Gerber (ANC), convenors of the Social and Economic Clusters respectively, reported back on the categorisations decided upon by the clusters in previous meetings. Draft-resolutions were available for all the categorisations made and would be tabled at the following meeting. The tabling of executive replies from SARS and the National Treasury would also take place then.
Ms Mabe especially highlighted the following departments:
· Health had been deemed Category B, although there were still questions outstanding to be responded to and based on these the Cluster still had to decide whether to up- or downgrade the department. She mentioned that the South African National AIDS Trust was suffering from poor internal planning, and no report-backs had been received from the Trust. The Council of Medical Schemes and the Registrar of Medical Schemes had both been judged Category C.
· A hearing was required for Correctional Services, but based on the 2002-2003 report it had been categorised as "A". The payouts for leave seemed uncertain, and the Cluster awaited the new report to be released on 1 September.
· The Municipal Demarcation Board was very busy leading up to the local elections, but a hearing regarding its internal audit was imminent, and a more comprehensive report-back would be available at the Committee's next meeting. Ms Mabe said she thought it likely the Board would be in Category A.
· The audit for Sport and Recreation was still outstanding, and explanations were required. They had not been categorized yet. The CEO for Drug Free Sport still had to sign his/her contract, and so their classification was also wanting.
· The Department of Public Works' reply is also to be discussed further.
Ms Mabe stressed that following the "Travel-gate Scandal" receiving much attention at the moment, unauthorised expenditure was high on the Committee's priorities. Correctional Services, the President's Office, Justice and SAMDI departments were still to be looked at in detail.
Ms Mabe suggested that the Committee get input from Treasury in order to thoroughly discuss the matter of unauthorised expenditure at plenary level.
Mr Gerber proposed 25 August should be set aside for this in-depth discussion.
The Chair explained the Committee's oral report system, and urged the other members to contribute before the formal adoption of the clusters' reports.
Mr E Trent (DA) raised concerns that waiting for (delayed) responses from the Departments would delay the Committee's pressured workload. The Chair replied that the replies were tabled at plenary level and then handed out to clusters to deal with more thoroughly.
Mr V Smith (ANC) raised concerns regarding the SETAs, and the general criticism of them at the moment. He queried whether adequate measures were being taken by the Committee towards dealing with them, and warned that the Committee should consult with the Department of Labour to make sure that the "right signals were sent".
Mr Gerber replied that a transversal resolution was being worked out with regard to the SETAs. Their non-uniform functioning needed to be addressed.
The Chair outlined the programme for the next three weeks, reminding members that reports were due only on 1 September. Tuesdays were still set aside for cluster meetings, with Wednesday mornings given over to the same, followed by the plenary meeting by the Committee. The House Chairperson Mr Deutsch had suggested that SCOPA also meet on Friday, but it was discussed and decided by the Committee that the programme would remain as was, with Fridays used for "overflow" and other meetings.
It was decided that a public hearing with the Auditor General (AG) would be held on 25 August, on the Activity Report of the AG and the Outcomes Report from 2003. The meeting on 18 August would be used to prepare for the public hearing. The second part of the public hearing would deal with unauthorised expenditure, and the Director General of Treasury's officials would also be made available for the hearing.
The Chair urged the members to compare the budget submitted and the one that had been approved, and to familiarize themselves with the business-plan included as part of the budget. R60 000 was available for research, and he invited feedback from the clusters as to how this should be allocated. The Chair stressed the extreme unlikelihood of receiving further funding, and hence urged the members to work within the limits of the budget.
Mr Gerber asked whether the possibility of visiting other African countries was being looked at, and the Chair responded that this would only be included in the next budget roll.
Dr G Woods (IFP) mentioned that the lack of technical/research support for the Committee was not reflected in the budget. The Chair agreed, but reiterated that the R60 000 set aside was a start. He said that the problem had been raised in the Committee's Annual Report of 2003.
The Chair said that the first three of the five reports concerned with transversal issues would be dealt with in detail with the AG and reported back to the house in a Resolution. He said that the last two had been impeded by the run-up to the elections, but asked for firm suggestions from the members.
Mr Trent proposed two governing bodies and two statutory bodies be picked and suggested the Departments of Correctional Services and Defence. He said that these required much attention from the Committee, as well as a briefing by the AG.
Dr Woods enquired as to why Performance Audits were treated as plenary items, rather than handed to the Clusters. The Chair responded that the use of transversal issues is to bring attention to important matters that affect both Work Group 1 and 2 as they cut across all departments.
Mr V Smith (ANC) agreed with Dr Woods that Performance Audits be sent to the Clusters. He stated emphatically the need for the AG and the Treasury to be briefed on what questions would be asked in the Public Hearing, so they would come prepared and not brush off questions with a future promise to "research" them. He asked that on 18 August the Committee brainstorm the issues to be addressed at the meeting of 25 August.
The Chair agreed and summarised that in future, Performance Audits and local government matters would go to Clusters first, whereas transversal issues would be dealt with on the plenary level.
- A discussion regarding the workshop on 5 August arose, and it was eventually decided to change the starting time to 14h00.
- The Chair asked the Cluster convenors to ensure that the relevant Department officials see the documents to be tabled at the following week's meetings timeously, so they could reply if necessary.
- He also invited the members to apply to the various seminars on offer - despite the tight budget, funding could be obtained if interest was shown.
- Mr Gerber queried what percentage of Departments had in fact replied in time to the Resolutions passed in 2003 by the Committee. The Chair agreed that such a report-back would be beneficial.
- In regard to the Progress Report, the Chair said that the confidential reply from the Department of Justice would be forwarded to the Cluster concerned. A letter from a member of the public would also be forwarded to the Economic Cluster, as was usually the procedure.
- Dr Woods questioned the carry-over of procedures from the previous committee. He said that new members were left rather in the dark, and this should be officially addressed.
- The Chair said that such issues would be dealt with as they arose, but that for the time being the Committee needed to press on with work. Dr Woods was unhappy with this response - he said it was necessary for all the documents detailing Committee procedures to be clearly specified for the new members. After further discussion between the Chair, Dr Woods, Mr Trent, Mr Smith and Mr Gumede it was decided that the first Wednesday meeting in September would be used to deal with such issues. This would also give the new members enough time to see what was truly problematic and what was simply a matter of habit. The Chair stressed that the matter should be properly put on the agenda, so the discussions did not simply descend into a "talkshop".
The meeting was adjourned.
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