Committee Programme, Business Plan, Budget Report and Legacy Report: consideration

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

09 August 2004
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Meeting report

PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
10 August 2004
COMMITTEE PROGRAMME, BUSINESS PLAN, BUDGET REPORT AND LEGACY REPORT: CONSIDERATION

Chairperson:
Ms P Bhengu(ANC)

Documents handed out:
Committee Programme 2004
Committee Report on Department Budget
Committee Business Plan
Committee Legacy Report

SUMMARY
The Committee met to discuss its work programme and whether an appropriate Budget could be compiled. Reference was made to the Legacy Report that served as a guideline in the identification of priority areas. A representative of the Parliamentary Finance Section conducted a briefing on correct budgetary processes. The Committee identified the lack of a dedicated researcher as one problem area, as well as its uncertainty about its oversight functions and responsibilities as stumbling blocks to drawing up a realistic multi-year budget.

MINUTES
The Committee agreed to discuss its Budget Report at a later stage. It was agreed to focus on the Committee Programme as it remained a draft and needed to be finalised. The Chairperson invited comments from the Members.

Mr S Mshudulu (ANC) suggested that the Committee focus its attention on the Legacy Report as it provided a valuable exercise in highlighting key issues that the Committee needed to address in the medium-term. It was agreed that Mr Mshudulu would guide the Committee through the relevant points appearing in the report.

Reference was made to important links with the Business Plan and the value of the Committee appointing a researcher on a permanent basis to assist with the identification of crucial issues. It was recommended that Members undergo a one-day workshop on the Property Rates Bill to improve understanding of the legislation involved. The Committee noted inconsistencies in the application of the Bill within municipalities. It was recommended that the Department of Provincial and Local Government play a leading role in the implementation of the Bill and the Committee needed to monitor municipalities on an on-going basis in this regard. The report acknowledged the implementation of a major review of Local Government financial systems and requested feedback from the Department on progress achieved.

The report identified the lack of an integrated approach in capacity-building within municipalities and requested that training be conducted on a demand-led basis in order to ensure relevant instruction. It was recommended that training be conducted within a partnership framework involving SALGA, the Department and service providers. The report emphasised the need for the Committee to concentrate on Provincial Governments while acknowledging the presence of a Select Committee within Parliament. However, clarity was sought on the Committee's current standing with regard to Provincial Governments in order to determine Provincial Governments' intervention in terms of capacity-building, i.e. the monitoring role of the Committee.
The report noted the establishment of a "trouble-shooting" team by the Department designed to assess capacity within certain municipalities and welcomed the decision to do away with cross-boundary municipalities.

The report highlighted the need for Committee Members to undergo a workshop on pertinent constitutional issues. The Committee should prioritise monitoring of the Provincial Growth and Development Strategy and the expanded Public Works Programme. Major challenges for the Committee revolved around the monitoring of capacity-building and financial systems which needed to be incorporated into the Business Plan. Reference was made to the constituency offices in assisting the Committee in reaching a wider cross-section of the electorate. The report noted that less than half the Department's posts had been filled which impacted negatively on the efficiency of the Department. The report recommended that the Committee undertake an capacity audit of municipalities in order to assist with the monitoring requirement.

The Committee stated that the envisaged researcher could assist in this regard by conducting a situational analysis and to determine whether the Committee had the capacity to monitor finance mechanisms. The report suggested the compiling of a standard format questionnaire in order to assist with oversight responsibilities and recommended co-operation across the spectrum in determining progress. It was recommended that the Department improve communication with the Committee on the progress at a national level.

Attention needed to be focused on the standard of training programmes utilised and the process incorporated in determining training requirements. Guidelines were requested on the current status of privatisation programmes relating to municipalities and national policy regarding indigent levels. The Committee needed to obtain a better understanding of the current debt situation facing municipalities and the level of remuneration enjoyed by certain councillors. The Property Rates Bill urgently required an extensive education campaign at a public level. In terms of free basic services, some municipalities were not complying with legislation, for instance, the provision of free water.

The report raised the issue of the Committee's oversight role with regard to SALGA and clarity on this was suggested. The Committee needed to engage with the relevant Seta as soon as possible regarding training.
The establishment of the Human Rights Commission was noted and it was suggested that the Commission make a presentation to the Committee in the near future. Attention was also placed on ways to make the Committee more effective by, for example, improving Members' understanding of local governance and what standards needed to be applied in managing the performance of municipalities and assessing progress.

Discussion
Mr P Smith (IFP) acknowledged the usefulness of the report and emphasised two important areas for the Committee to consider: namely, establishing the scope of its oversight role and drawing up a relevant programme of action. Reference was made to the large number of meetings already contemplated by the Committee in order to avoid over-commitment. It was imperative that a worthwhile process of prioritising be undertaken. What was the current status of the programme, he asked.

Mr Mshudulu suggested that the appointed researcher ascertain priority through the points listed in the report. In terms of possible overloading of meetings, it was suggested that more than one stakeholder could be involved in one meeting.

Mr L Green (ACDP) praised the report and requested it in electronic form. A concern was raised as to the response of municipalities in terms of disaster management with particular reference to the recent poor response by the Cape Town municipality to the floods of the previous week. The suggestion was that the Committee play a more prominent role during such events by visiting the location as a collective rather than individual Members involving themselves through their party affiliations.

Mr Mshudulu responded that the Committee does react as a unit but agreed that a revisiting of the Disaster Management Act by Members would be a worthwhile exercise. The Committee should also maintain strict monitoring of the implementation of this legislation and proposed obtaining clarity from the Department on this matter as some inconsistencies existed. In terms of budgetary requirements expected of municipalities for disaster relief, some concern prevailed on the practice of roll-overs which the Committee needed to clarify. As regards a collective response by the Committee, problems could arise in the making of promises to people which the municipality then failed to honour or was unable to meet.

The Chairperson then reminded Members of the purpose of the meeting, namely, to consider the programme that had to be finalised urgently. The future appointment of a researcher was supported in order to assist in the prioritising of issues but it was necessary that Members consider priorities over the short term. Therefore, it was suggested that Members remain focused on the task at hand. The Chair then welcomed Ms N Keswa, a representative of Parliament Finance, to provide an overview of correct procedure in drawing up a Committee budget.

Parliament Finance briefing
Ms Keswa raised the difficulties encountered by Parliamentary Committees in compiling acceptable budgets for the requirements of the Joint Budget Committee. Budgets tend to be cut if improper planning is carried out. It was the intention of the presentation to assist the Committee in developing a structured programme that correlated with a realistic budget.

The starting point was for the Committee to develop a programme based on source documents such as national policy guidelines and departmental priorities. The Committee had to then plan its activities around meeting the requirements of this foundation. It was important that the Committee fit in with the overall objectives of the government of the day. The Committee should consider how to meet its legislative and oversight responsibilities in a practical and effective manner. The Committee must decide what critical legislation it wants to monitor and how it can best meet this obligation. It was important that Members had a sound grasp of the relevant legislation beforehand. How could this be ensured? For example, should the Committee make use of subject specialists and if so, where could such knowledge be acquired? The issue of acquiring a researcher should also be considered. All these requirements should then be translated into monetary value. Legislation from the relevant department would also need to be considered, for instance would public hearings be necessary? The chances of the budget being rejected would be minimised through the application of this approach and whether it was realistic to carry out the programme in one year. The existence of overloading would result in certain cuts. It was important that the Committee consider a more long-term approach to the programme, for instance, a three-year approach.

Discussion
Mr Smith requested clarity on the present approach to the budget as determined by Parliament as the present approach, as he understood it, was an annual model( a once-off). Should the Committee abandon this model and focus on a more long-term approach? Parliament's current position on study tours was also requested.

The Chairperson accepted the premise that the Committee's activities should be governed by legislation and promises made by government, for instance, the President's State of the Nation address. However, a more long-term approach became problematic in that guidelines had yet to revealed and, therefore, the Committee had to make certain assumptions which could prove problematic.

Mr Mshudulu recommended that Parliament prioritise the activities that Committees were expected to undertake as more consistency could be achieved. The role of Departments in determining legislation was also referred to in dictating Committees' response. Parliament should decide how much oversight Committees were expected to undertake and then Committees could plan accordingly.

The Chairperson highlighted the problem of a budget already presented to the Committee but no clarity yet reached on the programme of action. How could one achieve an acceptable budget in this situation?

Ms Keswa agreed that such problems needed to be avoided by producing a budget in accordance with a realistic programme. The programme should be determined by work priorities and the particular focus of the Committee. It was requested that the Committee consider a long-term approach. As regards study tours, the Forum of Committee Chairpersons was considering appropriate policy. Areas of competencies between Portfolio Committees and Select Committees were still to be ironed out.

The Chairperson referred to the contentious issue of the Property Rates Bill and the actions of municipalities in this regard. She asked which Committee was responsible for intervention

Ms Keswa indicated that the prerogative lay with the Select Committee but the Portfolio Committee had a duty to interact with the Select Committee.

Mr Smith asked about the status of the present budgetary format used by Parliament, as it appeared incomprehensible.

Ms Keswa replied that the present format would remain and the deadline for submissions had been extended to the end of August. It was recommended that all Committees have researchers assigned to them on a permanent basis.

The Chairperson indicated that some questions would be answered at the upcoming Chairpersons' Forum but it was not the intention of the Committee to cause friction with other Committees.

Mr Smith referred to the previous existence of a Management Committee to oversee finalisation of programmes. It was recommended that such a Committee be reconstituted.

Mr Mshudulu concurred and suggested that the Chairperson, Whip and Mr Smith comprise the Management Committee. Time still remained to revisit the Business Plan.

The Chairperson agreed to the establishment of a Management Committee and moved to item 3 on the agenda, namely, problems experienced by municipalities. Do inconsistencies in delivery occur on a national basis? Could the Committee strive to ensure compliance? In terms of a national policy on poverty, did such guidelines exist? How could the Committee intervene in the Property Rates Act controversy?

Mr M Likotsi (PAC) emphasised the distinction between politicians and technocrats in terms of functions, in other words, creating public policy and implementing legislation. It was important that the Committee concentrate on its monitoring role by focusing on "hotspots" and creating a deterrent for other municipalities.

The Chairperson reiterated that the objective of the Portfolio Committee was to improve the lives of the electorate. Often, the Committee would deal with sensitive issues such as the provision of free water and property rates. The task of the Committee was to avoid the politicisation of such issues by approaching them in a non-partisan manner.

Mr Smith reminded the Committee of the presence of a representative of SALGA who could participate in deliberations. Should a representative of the Department not be present at Committee meetings to assist in meaningful discussion?

The Chairperson stated that the purpose of the discussion was to establish what response the Committee could make in the face of crisis situations on the ground.

Mr Mshudulu recommended that the researcher together with the Committee secretary establish the current status of issues on the ground by means of a situational analysis. Members were reminded that reports on the Property Rates Bill and Disaster Management were expected by Friday to assist Members in their deliberations.

The Chairperson stated that she was a member of the Umgeni Water Board and could therefore provide valuable information on the current situation.

Mr Smith interjected that SALGA needs to provide feedback on the property rates issue and inquired whether property rates were dealt with by Provincial Ordinances.

The Chairperson responded that the Committee needed to consider the impact of municipalities selling the property of defaulters with resisters having to pay lawyers' fees that appeared unjust.

Mr M Lekgoro(ANC) wanted the Committee to develop its own perspective on crucial issues while being informed by the Department on specific details when necessary. It was important to establish the extent of free service delivery in different regions as anomalies occurred.

Mr Mshudulu highlighted the problems around the billing of residents and recognised the relevance of the Municipal Systems Act in setting standards for municipalities to adhere to. The municipal manager is faced with community dissatisfaction when having to impose controversial legislation while politicians tend to distance themselves.

Mr Smith stated that, in terms of the Local Government Financial Management Act, municipalities had to budget in a realistic manner and write off unrealistic debt that was not going to be realised. However, municipalities were also under pressure to collect debt and remain financially viable. A difficult balancing act was required.

The Chairperson pointed out that a lack of sufficient information existed on the ground to assist people in accessing indigent policy mechanisms. What role could the Committee play in addressing this weakness?

Mr M Swart (DA) posited further evidence of irregularities in municipal services with people being charged for no water supply due to breakdowns in delivery. What could the Department do in this regard?

Mr Lekgoro recommended that constraints be placed on the total claim allowed by a municipality but agreed that experts would need to consider the matter.

The Chairperson agreed that often municipal actions could appear contrary to the aims of the government of the day and consideration would be needed as to the level of transformation within municipalities.

Mr Smith raised a concern as to the legality of not enforcing rates payments.

Mr Mshudulu stated that the Municipal Systems Act should guide the Committee in their deliberations on this issue and the Committee should monitor compliance of this legislation.

Mr Smith asserted that the Department could also monitor compliance that is sometimes lacking. The idea that the Committee interact directly with municipalities through a questionnaire was welcomed. Attention was drawn to the shifting of blame that occurred as some councillors did not want to appear unpopular with the constituency and shift attention to the managers.

The Chairperson concurred that this was a real problem and demanded intervention from the Committee. It was intended to obtain a researcher for the Committee and produce a questionnaire to be viewed by the Committee. It was important to establish how municipalities viewed national policy.

Mr Mshudulu agreed that the rates issue was of major concern and required extensive discussion by the Committee.

Mr Smith referred to the callous nature of the Department in ignoring indigent issues within municipalities.

Mr Mshudulu stated that a credible organisation was needed to establish levels of indigency in an objective manner.

The Chairperson asked whether the minutes of the previous meeting could be accepted. This was agreed and the meeting was adjourned.

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