Committee Budget consideration; Lesotho Parliamentarians Visit

NCOP Finance

04 April 2005
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Meeting report

SOCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE

FINANCE SELECT COMMITTEE
5 April 2005
COMMITTEE BUDGET CONSIDERATION; LESOTHO PARLIAMENTARIANS VISIT


Chairperson: Mr T Ralane (ANC, Free State)

Documents handed out:
Draft Committee Report on Conditional Grants Hearings
Committee Minutes for February and March 2005
Proposed Committee budget for 2005/2006
Report of Portfolio Committee on Finance
Detailed account of Committee budget 2005/2006
Committee Business Plan 2005/2006

Summary
Reports of the Portfolio Committee and Select Committees were referred for later consideration. It was agreed that the recommendations of the Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC) would be dealt with in a workshop.

A delegation from the Parliament of the Kingdom of Lesotho was welcomed, and they explained that they were investigating the mechanics of the Committee system in the South African Parliament, particularly in view of the similarities in their structures of government.

The Committee considered their draft budget for 2005/2006. It was noted that expenditure would have to be increased on public hearings, as these would receive priority. There was also a call for workshop venues to ‘empower’ emerging businesses. The Committee budget had been cut in line with parliamentary policy, but the Chairperson was engaging the parliamentary leadership to retain the higher budget in view of the importance of the work of the Committee, and its need to uplift and educate the poor through public hearings in particular. Members were also asked to identify problem areas in their own provinces to be addressed at the Intergovernmental Fiscal Review (IGFR) meeting in May.

The Committee also adopted a series of the Committee clerk’s minutes for February and March 2005.

MINUTES

Minutes and planned meetings
The Committee adopted the Committee minutes, with minor typographical amendments. The Chairperson requested Members to read the Reports of the Portfolio Committee and the Select Committee on the Conditional Grants Hearings, and suggested that these be considered at the next meeting of the Committee.

The Chairperson pointed out that the Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC) would present its recommendations to the Committee and that the Committee wanted to create a flow between the recommendations of the FFC. The first day of the hearings would be the FFC presentation of its recommendations, and the following day would be a workshop on these recommendations.

Mr D Botha (ANC, Limpopo) suggested that the Committee should hear feedback from Departments on the FFC recommendations, and that this should then be dealt with in the workshop. The Chairperson replied that the workshop was intended as a broader interaction with the FFC outside the Departments, but that the suggestion would be acted on at a later stage.

Lesotho delegation address
Each party represented on the Committee joined the Chairperson in welcoming a delegation from the Kingdom of Lesotho, led by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms N Motsamai. Ms Motsamai explained that the delegates had a special interest in committee systems. Since the 2002 Lesotho elections, there had been relative calm in the country, and Parliament was now looking to strengthen its oversight function. Like South Africa, Lesotho had a bicameral Parliament, and there was further interest in the way in which the members of the two Houses were involved in committee work.

Committee budget 2005/2006
The Committee Clerk presented the revised proposed budget to cover Committee activities for the following year. Overseas trips had not been catered for, despite the fact that the Committee had never travelled abroad. The Chairperson was in the process of seeing what countries could be visited for Members to sharpen their skills. The amount allocated for public hearings was high, as these were increasingly important, as could be seen in the conditional grants. An amount had been budgeted for international member visits, and he expressed regret that the Committee had not known in advance of the visit by the representatives of the Parliament of Lesotho.

An amount of R10 000 had been budgeted for research and documentation, as reports were sometimes lengthy, and concise recommendations were required.

Discussion
Mr Botha queried why six provincial visits were budgeted for, and why only six delegates had been allowed per visit. The Clerk replied that this was only an estimate and that it was envisaged to split the delegation for some visits. These were line items and still fell within one budget. The visits did not include NCOP oversight visits, but referred only to the budget for the Committee.

Mr Z Kolweni (ANC, North West) asked whether the budget had been tailored for a number of visits or on a general basis. The Clerk replied that when Parliament had requested Committees to cut their budgets, the Committee had factored in the visits usually undertaken, such as oversight visits with the Development Bank. The item for conferences covered instances where Members were assigned to attend.

Mr Kolweni asked whether this took into account the question of briefings to provinces. The Clerk replied in the negative, as that was part of the Members’ functions in their NCOP work.

The Chairperson noted the need to find a way of linking with the FFC briefings to the provinces, and that this needed to be covered in the Committee budget. The Clerk replied that this was also covered in the section on conferences and special invitations.

Mr E Sogoni (ANC, Gauteng) asked whether the Committee knew how many conferences were coming up, and what the Committee programme was so that there could be accurate budgeting. The issue of visits to other countries also went back to the question of a programme and he proposed the Chairperson sought clarity on this and that the budget be adopted at the next meeting.

The Chairperson replied that there would be no international visits this financial year. A meeting of Chairpersons had been held, and an amount of R24 million had been allocated at the time for Committees. The proposed budgets had exceeded this allocation, and the Committees had been told to cut the budgets. The Committee had taken a decision in principle that, since this was an election year in the country, there would be no international visits this financial year. It was not possible to know the number of conferences, as invitations were received from time to time. The budget was based on experience.

Mr Sogoni said that there were times when the Committee might enhance a visit by going as a full Committee, although he understood the sentiment that at times it was necessary to visit all the provinces at the same time.

The Chairperson agreed that different perspectives could assist during visits. He agreed in principle and said that the issue would be re-visited.

Ms D Robinson (DA, Western Cape) suggested that communication be improved in respect of potential visits. The Chairperson concurred.

Ms Robinson said that the Deputy Speaker had said at the beginning of the year that there had been under spending on research. There was also a need for more research assistance for Members. The costs for catering per day also seemed excessive.

Mr Sogoni said that it was important to have comprehensive reports so that people were able to fully understand complex matters, but that these should perhaps be accompanied by executive summaries.

The Chairperson said that the number of public hearings also needed to be re-visited, as they appeared insufficient. This budget had been cut to approximately R1 million, and the original budget had been over R2 million. The Committee was still trying to engage on this, and there was a need to re-prioritise. Public hearings were a critical issue, and a way needed to be found to transport the poor, and the issue of catering was then also important. It was also a critical matter that workshops were held in established hotels in Cape Town, and these should be taken to emerging businesses. He queried the extent to which the Committee was leading by example.

Mr Botha suggested that a more detailed programme be obtained, as this was a big cut in the budget.

Mr Kolweni endorsed the suggestion and asked what the situation was if the Committee undertook a provincial oversight visit on a joint basis, for example with the Select Committee on Local Government. The Chairperson replied that the Committees would share the costs equally.

Mr B Mkhaliphi (ANC, Mpumalanga) suggested a policy decision should be taken when the Committee was called upon to cut the budget. In order to maintain a cutting edge, the Committee required above average resources and its budget should reflect this. He agreed with the need to revisit the budget for public hearings.

Ms A Mchunu (IFP, KwaZulu-Natal) suggested that, when the Committee was considering overseas visits, it should be looking at issues such as an upcoming conference on the impact of HIV/AIDS. Departments should also give ideas of forthcoming conferences on the issue. The Committee should also visit areas with displays of appropriate technology, and shows displaying traditional food.

The Chairperson said that, as soon as the first quarter reports on conditional grants had been released, the Committee would have to go back to the provinces. There were two particularly important issues, nutrition and HIV/AIDS. When the Committee had visited Mpumalanga, he had raised a question about this at a secondary school, and the MEC had not responded. A teacher at the school had been trained on life skills for HIV/AIDS but the school had never received funding for this. The Committee would have to engage on this. It was possible that there might be under spending across seven provinces. Members should identify problem areas in their own provinces. The Committee programme would be full, as there was an Intergovernmental Fiscal Review (IGFR) meeting on 26 May, to be done firstly on a provincial level, and later on local government. Budget votes would be coming as well, and this would be more or less at the same time as the FFC recommendations. It was important to ensure maximum interaction. The Committee still needed to go to municipalities, and various Departments would have to be engaged on their conditional grants.

Ms Robinson suggested that South Africa’s size rendered it expensive and time-consuming to travel and suggested the use of video conferencing for participation in public hearings.

The Chairperson suggested that video conferencing might be too impersonal. He would check how far it had gone, and pointed out that this could be the first Committee to use it.

Ms Robinson expressed her concern that provinces further away from Parliament received better information and briefings than those closer to it, such as the Western Cape itself. The Committee had not visited the City of Cape Town, for example. The Chairperson reiterated his suggestion that Members identify problem areas in their provinces.

The Clerk introduced the budget as drafted on Parliament’s budget system, and pointed out that it allocated R2, 1 million. The Chairperson said that the Committee would engage to ensure that this remained as the Committee’s budget.

Mr Sogoni pointed out that it could be problematic to have a big budget for which the Committee had not planned.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would look at the business plan for the next five years at its next meeting. The plan had been informed by Vision 2009.

Mr Botha asked for a timeframe for adopting the budget.

The Chairperson suggested that the budget be adopted as soon as possible. The Committee needed to be able to justify its spending and should build a programme on the basis of the business plan, and this should be properly costed. Tenders needed to empower, and he had instructed the Clerk to source venues in informal areas, such as Khayelitsha.

Mr Kolweni remarked that this sounded ideal, but said that the IGFR would need to be embraced by all Committees.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would lead in this issue, and that interactions were critical. He suggested that, in the Western Cape, the relevant MECs would be present and could share their own experiences. In terms of the IGFR report for Cape Town, it might be possible to have some of the other smaller municipalities in the area present as well.

The meeting was adjourned.

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