Speech delivered by the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, the Honourable Max Vuyisile Sisulu, on the occasion of the debate on vote 2 (Parliament) of the estimates of national expenditure, National Assembly
11 May 2010
Honourable Deputy Speaker
Honourable Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe
Honourable Members of Parliament (MPs)
We are exactly one year into the fourth Parliament of our young democracy. This year has been characterised by robust, wide ranging, informative and at times, entertaining debates. The atmosphere is, I would argue, one of heightened engagement and commitment to making a difference. This is a healthy development which, I hope we can harness, direct and benefit from.
Deputy Speaker, the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act which we are implementing provides Parliament with a window of opportunity in respect of our oversight work. Our focus has sharpened and this budget will show how we intend to direct our energies and resources and build on the legacy of the previous Parliaments. We must be responsive and proactive as we seek to play an increasingly meaningful role in addressing the hopes and aspirations of our people.
Deputy Speaker, it will be recalled that when I addressed this house during the debate on Parliament’s budget vote for the 2009/10 financial year, the global financial crisis was at its peak. During this period, our own economy shrank by about 1.8 percent, with mining and manufacturing output decreasing by 17 percent and critically, almost 900 000 jobs were lost.
However, this year we have seen better than expected recovery from the economic crisis, with a projected economic growth of 2.3 percent for 2010 and rising to 3.6 percent by 2012. This morning, in his budget vote Minister Gordhan said: “revenue was about R8 billion more than we expected and expenditure a bit less. The budget deficit was 6.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), rather better than 7.3 percent that was anticipated, though considerably wider than 1 percent of GDP recorded in 2008/09”.
Minister Gordhan also mentioned that, “nationally and internationally, economic and financial developments continue to present formidable challenges both to our understanding of the growth and development process and to the practical implementation of policy and government programmes”.
As the government and our country grapples with these challenges, our work in Parliament continues to be, to hold the executive to its promises and to work with them in lessening the hardships faced by the most vulnerable amongst us.
Deputy Speaker, accountability and representation lie at the heart of democracy. Parliament is the central institution of any democracy through which the will of the people is expressed, laws are passed and government is held to account. Addressing the needs and concerns of our people must become our primary objective.
Deputy Speaker, we have started this fourth Parliament by setting the strategic direction as expressed in our “policy imperatives 2009 to 2014” that was tabled in November 2009 and approved by the Parliamentary oversight authority this year.
This Parliament will focus on the following five policy priorities:
Firstly, strengthening the oversight function; secondly, increasing public participation; thirdly, strengthening cooperative government; fourthly, widening the role of Parliament in international relations and lastly, continuing to build an efficient, effective and powerful institution of democracy.
In this regard we seek to ensure that Parliament develops into a strong institution that plays a significant role in democratic governance.
Deputy Speaker, the first strategic policy priority is to establish mechanisms and processes for more effective oversight over the executive, creating dedicated capacity for enhanced content support to committees, as well as a skills development programme for Members of Parliament. The implementation task team responsible for implementing the oversight model is expected to report on its progress to the Joint Rules Committee by the end of August 2010.
The Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act, a key new oversight tool, enables Parliament to hold government accountable. For the first time, the South African Parliament has the power to amend the budget, giving us the teeth to do effective oversight. The challenge now is for committees and individual Members of Parliament to put their shoulders to the wheel and turn theory into practice and potential into concrete results.
The act is also not just about the budget and Parliament’s power to amend the budget. In fact, I would argue that this act prescribes a whole new approach to the budgetary process, as it enables Parliament to interrogate the strategic deployment of resources by the government. As such, knowledge and familiarity with this legislation and with budgetary processes is a key requirement for every member of this house.
While the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act does not confer on Parliament carte blanche to amend the fiscal framework, strategic focus or even actual budget allocations, the hand of Parliament to influence these is considerably strengthened and enhanced.
Deputy Speaker, as already mentioned, a key challenge in the implementation of the Money Bills Amendment Act is to ensure that every member and every committee of this house has a detailed and thorough understanding of the workings and expectations of this legislation. This is indeed one of the focus areas in the capacity building programme for Members of Parliament. I understand that a two day orientation workshop for members on the Money Bill will take place on the 19 and 20 May and I urge all members to make the time to attend.
The act, Deputy Speaker, also makes provision for the establishment of a Parliamentary budget office. This office will provide independent, objective and professional research, advice and analysis to Parliament on matters related to the budget and other money bills. We need to ensure that in setting up this office, we take the opportunity to learn and benefit from other parliaments around the world that have established similar budget offices.
Deputy Speaker, another key instrument for oversight, is questions posed by Members of Parliament to the president and the executive. The leader of government business is responsible for the coordination of the executive’s interactions with Parliament, and together, we have addressed the backlog of unanswered questions which has led to significant improvements. This of course, is an ongoing process.
Secondly, the quality of questions and replies, as well as the time frames within which questions are replied to, is also under discussion, and we are expecting substantive improvements in this regard too.
The second strategic policy priority focuses on increasing public participation in the work of Parliament, especially in the committees. We have realised the critical need to broaden public involvement in Parliament beyond our engagement with organised civil society organisations. Parliament must find ways through which ordinary citizens, even in the remote parts of our country, have access to Parliament and its processes.
Strengthening cooperative government is the third strategic policy priority for Parliament. The Speakers’ Forum, comprised of the presiding officers of the national Parliament and all Speakers from the provincial legislatures, strives to promote coherence, cooperation and interdependence between national and provincial legislative levels.
In addition, Parliament aims to embark on an ambitious project to increase its contribution to nation building through enhancing unity and democracy in South Africa.
The fourth strategic priority for our parliament seeks to improve and strengthen Parliament’s role in international relations. It also envisages a greater role for Parliament in the formative stages of international agreements and treaties.
There has been a growing recognition that Parliaments’ role in international policy development must extend to more than mere ratification. Consultation between parliament and government prior to, and during, negotiations of international agreements should take place as a matter of course.
The need for Parliament’s active participation in this process is also recognised by the executive. This was further affirmed in the budget vote for the Department of Trade and Industry. Minister Davies has recommended that Parliament review its rules to assert its constitutional power in ensuring greater participation during the negotiation phase of international trade agreements entered into by the executive.
The oversight model currently being implemented also recommends that an oversight and accountability mechanism be established to give effect to this role of Parliament in international affairs.
In addition to ensuring Parliament’s participation in international affairs, we also believe that strengthening regional and international institutions will assist in advancing regional cooperation and help to consolidate Africa’s position on international issues. We recognise the need to strengthen our regional and continental Parliamentary bodies, such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum and the Pan African Parliament, which we host in South Africa and we need to endow these institutions with the political, material, financial and human resources they require to carry out their mission.
Deputy Speaker, the fifth strategic priority is to build an effective and efficient parliament which subscribes to good governance, a high standard of professional ethics, and efficient use of scarce resources.
The Financial Management of Parliament Act which came into effect on 21 April 2009 requires of us, as public representatives, to uphold the highest standards of professional ethics in the management of public finances.
The primary message that I believe management and Members of Parliament must take from this act is to ensure that Parliament is an example of best practice in the management of public funds.
Parliament’s accounting officer, in the person of the secretary to Parliament, must ensure that unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure is prevented and that appropriate steps are taken where such has occurred.
Financial misconduct by any official of Parliament will be dealt with seriously and to the full extent of the provisions of the act.
Deputy Speaker, I now wish to turn to the actual allocations in the 2010/11 financial year. This year Parliament received a total allocation of R1.572 billion, an increase of just over six percent relative to last year’s budget allocation. This represents 1.92 percent of the total national budget.
Deputy Speaker, this figure of R1.572 billion is divided into five programme areas. The allocation for the administration of Parliament is R317 million. The allocation for legislation and oversight is R282 million, of this R45 million goes to committees which represents a R10 million increase for this financial year.
The allocation for public participation and international participation is R87 million. The allocation for members’ facilities is R211 million. The allocation for financial support to political parties totals R282 million. Members remuneration is a direct charge against the National Revenue Fund and amounts to R393 million.
Deputy Speaker, Parliament spent 94 percent of its total budget allocation during the 2009/10 financial year. This is a marked improvement when compared to previous financial years. Parliament’s retained revenue has decreased significantly from 322.3 million rand in the 2006/07 financial year to 142.7 million rand in the 2009/10 financial year.
There are certain areas of our budget in the last financial year where under spending was particularly problematic. In reviewing the previous budget performance, the total allocation to committees of the National Assembly in the 2009/10 financial year, excluding internal management committees and joint committees, was R12.4 million. Preliminary indications are that Committees spent only sixty nine percent of this allocation.
This budget performance is attributed largely to the fact that this was a transitional year. Much of the year was spent on establishing new committees and in planning activities of the committees.
Deputy Speaker, if we agree and I believe we do, that committees are the “engine rooms” of Parliament, where the actual work of Parliament is carried out, and then any under expenditure in any functional area is unacceptable.
The fourth parliament only began to fully function in June 2009 after the induction of MPs and the establishment of committees. Also the “one size fits all” approach to the allocation of funds to committees, about which committees have rightly complained, is under review. It is recognised that these are some of the reasons for this under spending.
Deputy Speaker, it is also important to emphasise that under spending could also be viewed as the result of bad planning and budgeting or the lack of capacity to spend effectively. In fact, under expenditure of public funds is viewed with the same seriousness as over expenditure, since unspent allocations could have been utilised for other purposes.
Where there are management problems or bottle necks in the allocation and release of funds for committee work, these must be rectified as a matter of urgency.
I am encouraged that most, if not all Committees of the National Assembly, have embarked on strategic planning processes and crafted strategic plans. We need to see the planned programmes of committees to know what additional resources, if any, are required and how these will be spent.
Honourable members, we have recognised the demands for better tools of trade and have attempted to address your requirements. We hope that this increased support, and the more to come, will enhance your productivity! The wellbeing of members and of the staff is of concern to the management of Parliament.
Before concluding it would be remiss of me not to mention the 2010 FIFA World Cup kicking off in a month’s time. The National Assembly has on three occasions shown our commitment to the event by passing two motions and hosting a joint debate, with the National Council of Provinces, on preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. In June, before kick-off, the National Assembly will again have a debate on the world cup and it is hoped that the FIFA leadership and Bafana-Bafana squad will attend.
In fact, honourable members, to prepare members for their oversight work during the tournament, the Portfolio Committee for Sport and Recreation has organised a one day workshop at the Cape Town stadium. Training will focus on the optimal use of the vuvuzela and techniques of the diski dance. Please, don’t hold me to that!
Deputy Speaker, in a month’s time, we will host the first 2010 FIFA World Cup on the African continent. As the world converges on our shores we will be transformed from a rainbow nation to a rainbow of nations in arguably the world’s biggest and most significant sporting festival.
South Africa and indeed the rest of Africa is all geared to welcome the world to a rich experience of culture, vibrancy and traditional African hospitality that will live on in the minds and memories of our visitors for many years to come.
Our thoughts, and yes, even prayers are with Bafana Bafana. You will join me in hoping that Bafana Bafana will lift the trophy and make us proud! However, it doesn’t matter which team wins, in the end, the beautiful game of soccer will be the winner.
I thank you.
Issued by: Parliament of South Africa
11 May 2010
Source: Parliament of South Africa (http://www.parliament.gov.za/)