Committee Business, Planning and Subgroup Reports

Public Accounts (SCOPA)

24 August 2004
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

Select Committee on Public Accounts

24 August 2004

Chairperson: Mr F Beukman (NNP)

Documents handed out:

The Committee received a report from one of its working groups dealing with the accountability of the Office of the Auditor-General. Concerns were raised that the AGO appeared not to be accountable to any higher authority. However, it was pointed out that this matter was dealt with in the Public Audit Bill that was currently before the National Council of Provinces. The Committee also discussed its 2005-06 Budget and agreed that it needed to be aligned to a business plan. Some Members felt foreign study tours were an unnecessary waste of money while local site visits were seen as more fruitful. Other Members viewed foreign study tours as a capacity building exercise. The Committee agreed on a compromise that Members could utilise training provided by South African institutions provided that the necessary funding came from outside Parliament. Foreign study tours would be accommodated in the 2006/07 financial year.


Working Group 1 report
Ms L Mabe (ANC) reported that Working Group 1 (WG1) had felt strongly that the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) should be accountable as it was evident that it was operating in a vacuum. WG1 suggested that the AGO should be accountable to the Portfolio Committee on Finance or SCOPA. The AGO was annually allocated a budget, but there was nobody from Parliament that evaluated how the allocation was spent. The working group proposed that Committee Members inform the Speaker of Parliament of the issue as all Chapter Nine institutions had to account somewhere.

The Chairperson suggested that issue should be addressed the following day. The report had the potential to raise many questions. Committee Members agreed that both working groups had to report the following day and Members would be thoroughly prepared for the session.

Mr V Smith (ANC) noted that the Public Audit Bill dealt with the accountability of the AGO. He felt SCOPA had to fast-track the Bill and the first step was to sensitise Parliament about the importance of the Bill.

Dr G Woods (IFP) suggested the Committee write a letter to the Speaker to push the issue. The Chairperson concurred.

Mr B Kannemeyer (ANC) also suggested that a letter should be sent to the presiding officers to highlight why the Bill had to be passed immediately.

The Chairperson asked the Committee researcher to gather information on the accountability of the AGO to empower the Committee.

Mr E Trent (DA) was concerned about the vague language used in the working group reports.

Mr Smith replied by suggesting that Mr Trent could forward his concerns directly to the relevant group.

Mr P Gerber (ANC) cautioned Members that they should forward their questions as early as possible.

M Trent said the National Treasury was supposed to interact and report on the AGO finances.

Mr D Gumede (ANC) explained to other Members that the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) was a tool that Treasury was supposed to use in monitoring the AGO. The PFMA was continually improved for monitoring and evaluation purposes. SCOPA had to regard Treasury as a partner that was committed to ensuring the accountability of all departments

The Chairperson requested Members to study the report on unauthorised expenditure in preparation for the next day's meeting.

Mr Smith urged Members to forward their priorities for the Committee's 2005-06 Budget. He added that a business plan as a five-year projection of the Committee's intentions needed to be clearly aligned to the proposed Budget.

Mr Kannemeyer reminded Members that the deadline for submission of the Committee's 2005-06 Budget was 31 August 2004. The fundamental purpose of the business plan was to ensure corrective measures were taken to improve the budget. He therefore saw no need to discuss the long-term business plan.

The Chairperson suggested Members should also consider their training needs to address the dire need for capacity building. The training needs of Members would form part of the Budget. He also indicated that huge amounts were being spent on foreign study tours.

Mr Kannemeyer expressed a view that Members did not benefit enough from foreign study tours. He highlighted the emerging trend in Parliament to drastically cut foreign study tours. He therefore suggested site visits to get first hand experience of problems on the ground.

Mr M van Dyk (DA) felt very strongly about the effectiveness of foreign visits. He said Members benefited from other countries' experiences. He even suggested that wording could be changed on the Budget Document using concepts that would enhance the need for foreign tours.

Mr Smith objected to the proposal stating that Parliament's presiding officers would not look favourably on overseas travel as it was widely seen as wasteful.

Mr van Dyk reiterated his position, suggesting the alteration of wording to ensure that the presiding officers would not view foreign visits as wasteful expenditure.

Mr Kannemeyer urged Members to be serious about the budget. He warned against the use of bogus language just to "trick" Parliament. Members of SCOPA were supposed to be watchdogs of public accounts and not use lies in their budget proposal. That would not be a good reflection on SCOPA. The Committee could submit a preliminary budget and if there were changes after the deadline could submit an altered budget

Mr Kannemeyer said the Committee had to cost site visits and then multiply them by nine to equal one site visit per month.

Mr Gumede stated that reports and presentations could never take the place of site visits because one never gets the full grasp of problems experienced by the electorate on the ground. Members can never fully rely on audited reports.

Mr van Dyk agreed that both site visits and training were necessary for Members to increase their capacity.

Mr Trent suggested that Members schedule foreign study tours for the following financial year's budget because he still regarded them beneficial to Members.

The Chairperson concluded the discussion by stating that all Members should submit their proposals before the 31 August 2004 deadline. Foreign study tours were already in the following year's agenda, he added.

The Chairperson also suggested that Members should come up with specifics and submit the proposed sites that had to be visited before the deadline.

Dr Woods felt site visits were expensive and time consuming; just like overseas travel and he enquired if site visits were really justified.

The Chairperson reminded Dr Woods that the previous plenary session had dealt extensively with the pros and cons of site visits. Their criteria and objectives were already on the budget document.

Ms Mabe stated that if Members were not clear on the objectives the issue could be reopened for the benefit of everyone.

Mr Smith argued in favour of site visits because as an MP he viewed site visits as part of his duties as a MP.

The Chairperson ruled in favour of site visits and announced that all Members were required to attend training that would be held during the 1st week of September. He felt that training would be beneficial for Members.

The meeting was adjourned.


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