The Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament convened virtually for a briefing by the Office of the Secretary to Parliament on Parliament’s revised 2023/24 budget and the 2024/25 draft annual performance plan (APP).
The processing of Bills towards the end of the term came under scrutiny. Bills that are not timely dealt with, lapse and need to be revived in the following administration which result in a waste of resources in the previous administration. The Committee was informed about the proposal to set timelines, similar to the process followed in the NCOP. It is envisaged that the Speaker, the NCOP Chairperson, and Chairpersons of the various committees would meet to ensure that the NCOP is not flooded with Bills towards the end of the term. Conversations in this regard were ongoing.
The remuneration of the Secretary to Parliament was again raised in the meeting. Members held the view that the mandate of the Committee would be undermined if the matter was not dealt with. The Executive Authority is expected to present a comprehensive report on the matter before December 2023. The Committee resolved to allow the Speaker time until 30 November 2023 to report back on the matter.
Members noted that the budget was being presented in a tough economic climate and that the budget cut of more than R240 million would affect the core business of Parliament. They asked how the core business of Parliament was going to be reimagined, and which functions would be prioritised and mandated to do despite the budget cut.
The Chairperson appreciated the Members’ commitment to their duties considering that their work had started early in the morning. She noted the apology of some Members including the Co-Chairperson, Ms Mabe.
The introductory remarks by the Executive Authority was removed from the agenda due to the absence of the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). The Committee adopted the amended agenda.
Draft 2024/25 APP Presentation
Mr Xolile George, Secretary to Parliament (STP), presented Parliament’s revised 2023/24 budget and the 2024/25 draft APP. The draft annual plan was framing the deliveries of Parliament on the first leg of its strategic plan, and the macro strategic framework of the seventh Parliament. During the submission of the annual report, an outline of future processes was presented. At an appropriate time in April 2024, the outline which required significant adjustments to facilitate the transition from the sixth to the seventh administration of Parliament, would be shared with the Committee. These contextual matters would inform how the reports would be presented in the future. He advised that formatting changes were made subsequent to the presentation being distributed to the Committee.
Mr George remarked that his office had been wrestling with the implications of the R240 million budget cut and was asked to dip into its dwindling reserves. The impact of the budget cut on the implementation of the state capture report will be outlined. The office would be engaging National Treasury on the budget funding model to ensure that the work of Parliament is not undermined. The proposed medium-term expenditure estimates for the 2024/25 to the 2026/27 reporting periods are as follows:
Period 2024/25 2025/26 2026/27
Programme 1: Administration R1 527 177 R1 581 515 R1 132 940
Programme 2: Legislation and Oversight 893 501 979 926 1 049 518
Programme 3: Associated Services 878 666 914 035 981 162
Direct Charge against the National Fund 492 893 514 975 553 598
Total R3 792 237 R3 990 451 R3 717 218
The intended step-change trajectory seeks to ensure:
A re-invigorated implementation strategy;
A focused and committed leadership across Parliament;
Improvement in the quality and efficiency of planning and reporting;
Restored governance and service delivery;
A professionalised Parliamentary Service and organisational re-alignment; and
Alignment of Parliament’s execution of its mandate to influence and monitor the pursuit of the National Development Outcomes by the Executive Authority.
Ms N Mahlo (ANC) welcomed the leadership of the STP in Parliament and his efforts to deliver a well-balanced presentation. She was satisfied that the presentation reflected openness, accountability, teamwork, and integrity. She was pleased about the mandate and that structural systems would be put in place. Parliament was moving in the right direction. She valued the collaboration and inter-governmental arrangements with legislators and proposed that Parliament invite legislators for briefings in the future. The monitoring and evaluation tools, if implemented, could help to address the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality. She appreciated the hard work of the STP with the planning of the intended step-changes and ensuring that timelines were in place.
Ms S Gwarube (DA) said the APP was being presented in a tough economic climate. The budget cut of more than R240 million would affect the core business of Parliament. She wanted to know how the core business of Parliament was going to be reimagined, and which functions would be prioritised and mandated to do despite the budget cut. The remuneration of the STP was discussed in the last meeting. She asked when the Committee could expect a report on the matter and said it was important for the Executive Authority to take Members into their confidence. She was aware of the work being done to fill critical vacancies. However, it would be useful for the STP to indicate which vacancies were still outstanding. To gain an understanding of the issue since the last fire report, the STP should update the Committee on the internal process being followed in terms of the investigation.
The Chairperson said the STP should not be commenting on his own remuneration. The Committee had taken a resolution that the Executive Authority should brief Members at the next meeting.
Mr M Rayi (ANC) welcomed the change in the presentation of the 2024/25 APP. He asked that Members evaluate the oversight activities of Parliament in light of the quicker results by ad hoc committees on floods and disaster recovery projects. He noted that ad hoc committees had been more effective than the normal statutory committees. These committees are able to get faster responses from the Executive Authority, municipalities, and the Auditor-General’s (AGs) office. The Committee should identify similar oversight projects that are led at the highest levels. For example, when a bridge is built, oversight should be at the same level as an ad hoc committee under the leadership of the various spheres of government. He raised a complaint from provinces about the submission of pieces of legislation towards the end of the term. He asked about the possibility of dealing with legislation in a manner that would allow for extension applications to prevent a waste of resources due to Bills that lapsed in the last term. A cut-off date should be enforced to avoid wastage as a result of not having a timeframe. The matter should be followed up by the seventh Parliament. He lamented the lack of support to the request for Parliament to not be regarded as another department in relation to the budget appropriation process. Parliament should have its own budget, separate from the budget appropriation process, and should consider other means of funding. However, the Committee allowed the situation to continue due to the lack of progress on the matter. The public participation and communication matters should be pursued by the seventh Parliament.
The Chairperson said there was light at the end of the tunnel concerning the public participation matter, but she would leave it to the STP to respond.
Mr B Radebe (ANC) said the presentation was a serious departure from the past and was aligned with the National Development Plan (NDP) to ensure socioeconomic transformation. The aspirations of the people must be embodied in Parliament’s APP. The seventh Parliament would be required to do a lot of work but some commitments are constitutional imperatives. Despite the headwinds that Parliament was facing, oversight of the Executive Authority must be implemented or else it would be a violation of Parliament’s mandate. He noted that certain Bills have been returned due to insufficient public participation. It was important that key issues of lawmaking were enforced. He agreed with the Chairperson that the Executive Authority must account to the Committee on the STP’s remuneration. He was expecting a full report on the matter before December 2023. It would be undermining the mandate of the Committee if the matter is not dealt with. The rules of engagement are clear that any member could participate in any committee except in the Intelligence and Ethics Committees. It would have been better if processes were followed. The Committee did not thoroughly engage on the budget. He agreed that it would be wise to meet with various legislators before Parliament closes and before the 2024 elections. All stakeholders should put their shoulders to the wheel to ensure that future generations inherit a better country.
Ms O Maotwe (EFF) said the Committee was being abused by the STP. The report was not new and was the same report which was presented a month ago. The only new information was the expenditure estimates in Programme 1, as set out in section 5.1. She questioned how the figures were determined. She was unsure how the STP was planning to achieve the targets. Her party was not going to adopt the report because not knowing what the money would be spent on, would be an injustice.
The Chairperson replied to Ms Gwarube that the Committee had resolved that the Executive Authority should present a report on the STP’s remuneration at the next formal meeting on 30 November 2023.
Mr George replied to Ms Maotwe that the financial management guidelines of Parliament require the office of the STP to present the current year APP along with an outline of projections for subsequent years. The office had indeed reflected on the step-change and future projections. The presentation contained the framework for the outlook and restated the aspects in the previous report because it was not going to be changed in the seventh Parliament. He suggested that Ms Maotwe was questioning the operational plans that were underpinning the APP. The office was outlining the budget that would be allocated for oversight, and each of the other areas, as well as the capacity to execute these functions. Each allocation had been outlined when the APP was presented based on the adopted budget by the Committee. The appropriation would be done after the medium-term budget in 2024. He disagreed that any steps had been missed. The intention was to outline exactly how Parliament was planning to execute its mandate. The picture would become clearer in subsequent meetings. Future measurements have been outlined in the context of the shift to the seventh Parliament. The new Members would be taken through the same framework to set priorities for the work to be done. The game plan for next year and how it would be resourced had been outlined. He assured Members that it was not about hoodwinking the Committee to endorse a plan that was not strategically oriented. He replied to Ms Mahlo that the macro framework was presented to the Speaker’s Forum, chaired by the Chairperson where the outlined focus areas were overwhelmingly endorsed by all nine provinces. Each legislature is required to socialise in the context of executing its individual mandates as per the Constitution. The pillar of collaborative parliament was beginning to take shape where the inter-dependence of Parliament would be given practical meaning. The framework was presented to officials of the legislatures who have to work out the details of the shared common understanding of what needs to be done. A strong grounded strategic office would marshal provinces to present a coherent plan to Speakers across the nine provinces.
On reimaging the work of Parliament in the context of budget cuts, the STP replied that the CFO was working with the Strategic Office on this matter, bearing in mind the dwindling resources. The funding model of Parliament was in question. The office of the STP was presenting a revamped structure of the budget to the Committee in order to have a compelling argument for National Treasury, the Executive Authority, the President, and the Leader of Government Business. The aim is to present the substance of the budget and the knock-on effect of continuous budget cuts. Some major strides have been made with the filling of critical positions but constraints have been outlined in terms of high-level positions including the Sargeant in Arms post. Positions have been advertised and are in the process of gaining momentum. The Registrar of Member’s Interest would be prioritised as well as dealing with the public participation process where Committees have been experiencing the most uneven support. These functions would be given priority while the remaining functions would form part of the operational review. He replied to the matter of investigations that subsequent steps had been taken to revamp and improve the systems of Parliament and to strengthen security and areas of glaring weaknesses. The outcomes would be shared with the Committee at an appropriate time. He agreed with Mr Rayi that an innovative model of oversight was needed such as the response to the Covid pandemic where the multi-sphere government was put into action. The President had convened a high-level Committee every month that involved Ministers, Premiers, and Mayors. When decisions were taken, actions were executed across the board. The interface at a joint committee level of Parliament could be mobilised to use the combined strength of collaborative government to assist local, provincial, and national governments. The office would be seeking guidance from Committees on framing the specific areas of oversight to interface with the responsive capacity of government without waiting for it to be done once a year. This would require a rethinking of programming at a committee level, and the rules of Parliament. The office would be reflecting on the approach to execute oversight. He agreed that the budget would require some thought about using the combined strength of the Joint Standing Committee as a forum. The aim is to ensure that the existing mechanisms of approving the budget are triggered to prevent Parliament’s capability and its ability to discharge its constitutional duty from being systematically eroded. Parliament should not be treated as a department when it is an overarching oversight mandate. Innovative measures are being considered relating to public participation, the broadcasting strategy, and the covering of Parliamentary events. Once the broadcasting and communication strategies have been developed, further input and guidance would be sought from the Committee on how the seventh Parliament must execute the revised approach to publicise and communicate the gains of Parliament.
Mr Masibulelo Xaso, Secretary to the NA, said the Executive Authority had been asked to indicate priority Bills that must be passed before the end of this term. The complete list had not been received. But there is a commitment from Parliament to deal with specific Bills that must be passed before the elections. Bills with consequential amendments, flowing from the Electoral Amendment Bill, are expected to be submitted by January 2024. The Speaker, Chairperson, and the Leader of Government Business had been requested to indicate the specific Bills that must be passed before the end of this term. Conversations in this regard were ongoing. If the Bills are not passed by the time Parliament adjourns, the next Parliament would be able to revive the Bills which it would deem appropriate.
Adv Modibedi Phindela, Secretary to the NCOP. said the NA had been requested to review the rule similar to the NCOP for setting timelines that would allow provinces the opportunity for sufficient public involvement in the lawmaking process. The matter was also discussed in the NCOP where it was proposed that a discussion should be held between the Speaker, the Chairperson, and Chairpersons of the Committees in order to allow provincial legislatures to facilitate public involvement. The rule to set timelines would assist in not flooding the NCOP with Bills towards the end of the year, especially when the country is approaching elections.
The Chairperson said the leadership of Parliament will have to make sure that the administration of Parliament is improved and that the concerns of Members are being attended to. The Committee appreciated the contribution of the STP and his team.
Consideration of reports and minutes
The Committee Secretary advised that the meeting no longer had a quorum as some of the Members left early due to connectivity challenges.
The Committee resolved to defer the adoption of the report and minutes to Friday, 10 November 2023. The Chairperson herself and Mr Moletsane would be meeting with National Treasury on Friday to get responses on public hearings. She would be doing further consultations with the Secretariat about the clash in meetings and deal with the outstanding minutes and reports. She thanked Members for availing themselves under the strenuous circumstances and valued the engagement with them.
The meeting was adjourned.
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