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JOINT RULES COMMITTEE
15 June 2000
Parliamentary Budget Report
Issuing of new laptops to members: All members will be issued with new computers but will have to return the old laptops. It was agreed that if laptops were not returned each party's support fund would be debited with the value of the old laptops as set by the Secretary to Parliament. In the case of stolen computers the issue would have to be dealt with by the Secretary. A timeframe of one week after the recess was set for the return of the laptops.
Benefits for previous Members of Parliament: The Presiding Officers, the Chief Whips of the ruling party and the opposition party in the National Assembly and the National Council Of Provinces would meet with the previous members.
The symbols campaign: a strategy has been set.
Parliamentary budget: the budget proposal that will be presented to the Department of State Expenditure exceeds allocation guidelines by 25%. The subcommittee nevertheless feels the budget should be supported because all divisions motivated their budget convincingly. The report was not discussed as parties had not received their mandates on the parliamentary budget due to the document only being made available very late.
Issuing of new laptops
Parties were asked for a progress report on new computer equipment. All parties have been issued with new laptops but members still need to return the old laptops.
Mr Chauke said his party is busy with the report although progress is slow. He said the party has started with a collection of old laptops and 15 or 16 have been collected already.
Mr Gibson asked for clarity on what is to happen to the old laptops. He made two proposals; either they were to be sold off or some other use should be found for them.
Mr Moosa (Gauteng ANC) asked if members would accept either of the two proposals. Ms Ginwala said that such proposals would only be discussed once the old laptops are returned or parties have given a commitment to return them by a certain date.
Ms Seaton (IFP) said a decision must first be made as to what will happen to them because members may have personalised their computers or put in additional software.
Mr Mulder (FF) commented that he had already returned the equipment and it is not reflected. He added that some laptops belong to people who have not returned to Parliament. Who would buy five-year old laptops?
Ms De Lille (PAC) proposed that parties take responsibility for the computers. Members must either return them or the party will be billed. Mr Aucamp (AEB) agreed, saying that if the parties could not return the laptops, a value should be put on them and the party billed.
Ms Pandor said that the party support fund would be debited with the amount set by the secretary to Parliament. There was general agreement by members. In the case of stolen computers the issue would have to be dealt with by the secretary. A timeframe of one week after the recess was set for the return of the laptops.
Ms Ginwala suggested that the money received from the payment be used to refurbish the computers and the returned computers be given to schools. Ms Seaton (IFP) thought the money should rather be used to buy new desktops for schools.
Benefits for previous Members of Parliament
The NNP had sent in a written proposal that previous members be given benefits for a maximum period.
Adv De Lange (ANC) said his party had difficulties in finalising a position because they were waiting for the consultation process and to see what the legal implications were and if there was any opposition.
Ms Ginwala said that there have been preferences expressed, they have had a legal opinion and there is no opposition and on balance they can proceed.
Adv De Lange (ANC) said that their view had always been to go along with the proposals in principle.
Mr Mulder (FF) said that his perception of the situation was that previous members argued that benefits were part of their final package and they disputed the principle that they could be taken away summarily or they would consider taking legal action. They had asked for a meeting at which one representative could speak. Why could the Committee not go that route?
Ms Pandor said it had been agreed that Presiding Officers, the Chief Whips of the ruling party and the opposition party in the National Assembly and the National Council Of Provinces would meet with the previous members .
Mr Mulder (FF) asked why there was no delegate from the New National Party since most of the old members were from the National Party.
Ms Ginwala said this would cause problems because why include the NNP and not the Inkatha Freedom Party? Mr Mulder accepted this.
Ms Naledi Pandor read a report on the progress of the symbols campaign. She made it clear that there should be no further delay with the process. The Report suggests the procedure to follow in this campaign. In short, Parliament should call for submissions in the media with August 25 as the deadline. All submissions should be sent for review to a subcommittee which will shortlist a selection. The Presiding Officers and an all party committee will make a final selection and the agreed symbols will be published before adoption by both Houses.
Dr Pallo Jordan, Chair of the Budget Subcommittee, reported on the budgetary process. There were two sets of hearings in March and the end of May by various divisions of Parliament. The budget proposal which emerged and which will now be presented to the Department of State Expenditure exceeded their allocation guidelines by 25%. The subcommittee nevertheless feels the budget should be supported because all divisions motivated their budget convincingly. Every division felt the guidelines issued from the Department were not realistic and there was some opposition to these guidelines from all divisions. They were proposing that a process should run in tandem with the process of the Department so that in future the Department will anticipate growth or increasing needs. This was necessary in order to facilitate Members carrying out their duties to constituencies and as public representatives.
The work of the subcommittee was hampered by the fact that it was difficult to get people to attend their meetings. However, Dr Jordan said that in general he was satisfied with the work done by the subcommittee.
Ms Seaton (IFP) supported Dr Jordan's comments and agreed that it is essential that the budget be put forward as it is.
Mr Moosa (ANC Gauteng) noted that the figure of R1000 0000 (one thousand million) for performance bonuses in the last paragraph of the report should be corrected to R1000 000 (one million).
Ms Ginwala asked members whether parties had done any prioritisation.
Mr Mushwana (ANC Northern Province) commented that the figures are informed by a budget report they only received very late. Could the presiding officers go through the budget for members?
Ms Seaton (IFP) responded that she was under the impression that all parties had agreed on the proposals. The report incorporates documents circulated since March and discussed in both the Budget Subcommittee and in the Members Subcommittee.
Adv De Lange (ANC) said that Members do not come to the subcommittee with mandated positions and that in meetings no party ties itself down to a particular position, they merely try to open up options. Because the report had come through at such short notice the ANC have had a problem in getting mandates.
Ms Ginwala thought it unacceptable that the Presiding Officers were given the document two days ago to get a mandate on state expenditure.
Ms Seaton (IFP) proposed that party representatives play a part of any decisions to change or reduce the budget.
Mr Surty (ANC) asked whether they could not ask for an extension of time from the Department to allow the Rules Committee to meet again and adopt the report.
Mr Abrahams (UDM) asked for clarity on the relationship between the Budget Subcommittee and other subcommittees of the Joint Rules Committee.
Adv De Lange responded that in the rules it says that the Members Support Subcommittee must consult with the Budget Subcommittee. It is only in respect of the Members Subcommittee where there is this prerequisite to consult because there is an overlap between the two.
Ms Pandor said they needed a clearer sense of what the priorities are, for instance certain Departments make proposals that mirror Members Support proposals, especially with respect to research. She proposed that they re-look at the amounts. Could they submit a budget proposal 25% over the guidelines?
Mr Surty (ANC) said that an entire consultative process has been completed. Presiding Officers should consult with the Chief Whips of the Ruling and the Opposition Party and prioritise certain areas and then make a decision through the Presiding Officers.
Ms Seaton (IFP) asked that Chief Whips from other opposition parties be involved. They have their ears on the ground.
Ms De Lille (PAC) commented that there is a tremendous increase in personnel expenditure but still services are not being run well. An audit needs to be done to determine the number of staff needed. Support for Members is not increasing as the staff increases.
Ms Pandor allowed an extension of time until Wednesday. A Department representative nodded his agreement to this suggestion. Ms Ginwala said that they need to set their own framework so that they are not necessarily bound by the 25% increase.
Ms Pandor had three questions on the report:
A change had been proposed in respect of travel warrants on journey's by air but no basis was given for the change. What is the rationale for the change?
Is the figure for parking at the airport related to actual cost borne, hence the increase? Thirdly, the report refers to inequitable support staff, is the inequity at the instance of parties or MPs?
Ms Seaton (IFP) responded that the number of travel warrants is based on the previous proposals of 1998. The original proposal was an average of 68 sittings per year for Members and their spouses. Regarding airport parking, it is based on the actual cost for one month, even though the Member would not be parked for the duration of one month.
In respect of staff support she said that additional benefits, which accrue to a secretary working for Parliament, were not considered when making Parliamentary appointments. The situation now is that Parliamentary staff earn more than support staff. Researchers working for Parliament, for instance, earn far more than a researcher working for a political party. Their packages need to be made more competitive to attract good party staff.
Mr Marais (ANC Free State) urged the Presiding Officers to adjourn the meeting and not to consider the report until parties had decided on mandates.
The meeting was adjourned after members expressed discontent with the consideration of the report.
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