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CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
2 March 1999
DEPARTMENT OF CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS BUDGET REVIEW
Annual Report of the Department of Constitutional Affairs (available shortly)
List of 1999 Bills
List of 1999 Policy Instruments
The Chair of the Committee, Mr Carrim (IFP), opened the meeting. He noted that there were no representatives of the Democratic Party present. He welcomed the Minister for Constitutional Affairs and invited him to address the Committee.
The Minister for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Moosa, said that some people have told him that at this late stage in a term of office, a Minister should not be too forceful in pursuing his objectives. Mr Moosa said that while his term of office may be coming to an end, the Department’s is not, and he has instructed the Department to pursue their policies aggressively. There are a number of fundamental projects going on right now. The Department has been gaining momentum, and the legislative work for the year will be quite interesting. The Local Government white paper, published last year, is still in the process of being implemented, both from an organisational and a legislative perspective. And local government initiatives have made significant progress with the passage of the Demarcations Act and Structures Act last year.
The Minister said that on RDP related programmes, the Department will begin to look quite earnestly at recommendations that emerged from a review of the Municipal Structures Act. On the issue of Municipal Public-Private Partnerships, the Department has made solid progress. They have been able to reach agreement with COSATU on the criteria for assessing any public-private partnerships that may be developed.
The Minister said that the Y2K campaign is an important matter, and they are very concerned about Y2K compliance. There exists particular concern about local government, because local governments are the major distributor of electricity in South Africa. There is little concern in terms of disruption to economic activity, because the major metropolitan areas where economic activity is concentrated are almost totally Y2K-compliant. The rest of the country, however, could face disruption of electricity if compliance is not achieved quickly.
The Chair thanked the Minister for his comments. On the issue of Y2K problems, without wanting to sound alarmist, the Chair said that nobody really knows what the consequences will be at the end of the year. He asked the members of the Committee to do some informal networking in their home areas, and come back to the Committee with their perceptions of Y2K readiness in different regions. The Chair then introduced the Director-General of the Department.
The Director-General, Mr Titus, thanked the Committee for their support to the Department over the past several years. He distributed a list of 1999 Bills and Policy Instruments for the members to reference, and said that the presentations today would focus on the Annual Report distributed to members. He asked Committee members to note the first annexure to the Annual Report, which sets out comments the Committee made to the Department at last year’s budget hearing. He asked the Committee to note that their comments were heard and taken into consideration.
On the issue of financial management, the Director-General said that the Auditor General has come out with a report on the Department. While the Auditor General’s report does touch on a number of weaknesses, by and large the Department came out with flying colours.
The Director-General said that members of the Department would present the sections of the annual report under their responsibility.
An MP (ANC) raised a concern that last year the Committee was given the annual report with very little time in which to consider it. Concern over this issue led to an agreement that reports must be tabled at least ten days before the relevant review meeting, in order to give members time to prepare responses. The annual report being discussed was distributed to members only the previous afternoon – how are they to be expected to have a meaningful discussion on it? And what came of their agreement from last year?
Ms Verwoerd (ANC) added that it is very difficult to judge a budget without an understanding of the outcomes of last year’s budget. She currently has last year’s plan and this year’s plan, but no sense of the results from last year. This gap means it is very hard for her to evaluate whether this year’s budget plan makes sense, because she is unable to judge the results of last year’s budget.
The Chair said that the Committee did ask for ten days in which to review relevant documents. While the Department has presented a comprehensive and impressive business plan, the Committee has had almost no time to review it. Additionally, the plan is written from the perspective of someone who deals with these issues all the time; it is not written in a way that is easy to understand for someone who does not deal with the issues on a day-to-day basis. The Chair said that the timing of the report is the biggest concern, and it is actually an insult to be given the report a day before the meeting. The Department received several reminders of the timing that was expected – a schedule was sent in May, and reminder letters were sent in December and early January. In spite of these reminders, the Committee received the report on 1 March, for a review on 2 March. Having said that, and without wanting to detract from the weight of the criticism, it is actually an excellent report – far better and more comprehensive than any Departmental report he has seen in the past five years.
Ms Seaton (IFP) said she is glad to hear that this is a good annual report, because she has not even looked at it. She asked the Department to be more considerate in the future of the workload most parliamentarians must handle.
The Director-General said he will not be defensive on this issue. The Department takes very seriously their obligation to submit the report timeously. He wrote a letter to the Chair last week on this issue, and would like the Chair to read it to the Committee.
The Chair said he has not received that letter yet, but will distribute it when he receives it. In the future, if an annual report arrives with less than ten days in which to consider it, this Committee will give serious consideration to the idea of not endorsing the budget.
The Chief Director for Co-operative Governance presented to the Committee a section from the annual report on Co-operative Governance. He mentioned that an Intergovernmental Forum was held yesterday, at which several decisions were taken to try to sequence the process of intergovernmental relations. Several programmes are laid out in the annual report to implement the policy process of intergovernmental relations. In tandem with this theoretical development, the Department has assembled a team of people to look at particular issues around the practical level of intergovernmental relations. They are also looking at issues raised recently of intervention of the national government into provincial affairs, and of provincial intervention into local affairs. They are developing a position paper to look into these issues.
The final point of discussion under Co-operative Governance is the area of intergovernmental disputes. This is a tricky area, because the Department needs to decide whether the point of dispute resolution is to facilitate intergovernmental relations, or to deal with disputes in their own right. This is an important distinction and one that needs to be decided.
Professor Du Toit (ANC) said that there exists a fundamental problem regarding the Department’s situation in terms of intergovernmental relations. The Department must be careful not to end up acting like an NGO, spending all of its time mediating between different governmental structures and dealing with issues of intergovernmental relations.
The Chief Director answered that this is a point of concern because of the way the Constitution is constructed. The Department is trying to play a role in shaping the structures that will guide intergovernmental relations without getting too involved in dealing with them on a case-by-case basis.
A member of the Department presented material from the annual report on Provincial Affairs. Six programmes are mentioned in the annual report, beginning on page 110. Two of these programmes to note are one that involves an audit of capacity-building within the provincial sphere of government, and a second that involves the issue of cross-border co-operation, and the development of an infrastructure to address that.
A member of the Department presented the sections in the annual report dealing with Constitutional Affairs. (See page 117 and also page 190 of the annual report).
A member of the Department discussed the section of the annual report dealing with Traditional Affairs. A status quo report on traditional leaders was recently published, which looks at the whole institution of traditional leadership. The issue needs to be considered closely because a number of questions have been raised, including why traditional leaders continue to exist. The Department is instituting a process to look into it. Among the activities in this area is to identify how many traditional leaders there are, how they are appointed, what their relationship is with community groups in their area, and so on. Task teams have been set up to identify these issues with respect to traditional leaders in each province. The Department must also address the issue of the legitimacy of traditional leaders, given the context of the new political situation in South Africa. Traditional leaders are typically chosen based on birth, and some communities are beginning to question why they are having leaders imposed on them when they live in a country with a democratically elected government.
Mr Smith (IFP) said that this is a helpful overview of the Department’s activities regarding traditional leaders, but he would like much more information. The process needs to be very open, and he would like to know who is on the task teams assigned to each province, how they conduct their research, what the schedule is for producing interim reports, how those reports will be distributed, and so on.
An MP (ANC) said that the Department and the Committee need to address the issue of promulgating traditional leadership within the democratic context. Parliament was told that a white paper on this issue would be finalised by April 1999, but the Department’s annual report now says a white paper will be developed by mid-2000. Why has this process been delayed?
The Director-General said that the Committee has raised several good questions, but it would be more useful to address them tomorrow when the Chair of the National House of Traditional Leaders will be present.
A member of the Department presented the section of the annual report dealing with Corporate Services, see page 151 of the annual report.
Ms Verwoerd (ANC) said the annual report describes quite a number of training programmes, and asked how much the Department spends on training.
The Director-General answered that R279 000 is allocated for training.
Professor Du Toit (ANC) said that to a limited extent, the involvement of the academic community can be seen in certain parts of the annual report. Does the Department think that a broader role can be played by the constitutional scholars and local government scholars in South Africa?
The Director-General answered that they did feel it was valuable to receive input from members of the academic community, and the Department would continue to do so where appropriate.
The Chair thanked the Department members for their presentations. He said it was outrageous that no opposition parties were present for the latter part of the meeting, especially given that this is a budget review. He will write a formal letter of complaint to the heads of the opposition parties. Another point of concern is that the meeting started almost 45 minutes late. At 9:10am, only three people were present for a 9:00am meeting. This is an unacceptable situation and he urged all committee members to be on time for the next meeting. The meeting was then adjourned.
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