Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on International Relations made full use of technology to conduct a three continent wide virtual oversight programme of South African foreign missions.
Committee chair Tandi Mahambehlala said in a statement: “We chose to do our work virtually. We see it as a nascent oversight model, something Parliament can embrace” pointing out the COVID-19 pandemic “taught us to adapt and be innovative, hence this Portfolio Committee resolved its oversight work beyond the borders of South Africa will not be hampered by the situation created by the pandemic”.
The virtual oversight programme was driven by three distinct objectives. Firstly, Cash. Missions abroad contributed to negative audit outcomes in the 2019/20 financial year.
The committee identified challenges in handling cash accounts and petty cash, unexplained differences under cash and cash equivalents and petty cash were then moved to a suspense account under “receivables”. Unexplained differences amounted to R188 million. These challenges necessitated the committee to visit missions virtually to ensure proper reconciliations are done and proper records of cash transactions kept.
Highlighting the second objective Mahambehlala said: “We had to assess the state of state-owned properties abroad, establish their level of dilapidation to determine the state of readiness by the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) to assume custodianship of state-owned properties abroad when the Foreign Service Act comes into force.”
The committee’s third objective was to assess completeness of the movable assets register. “We wanted to ensure it is up to date with codes and movable assets verified in a Nettrace asset management system,” she said in a Parliamentary Communication Services statement.
The committee was dismayed by the number of vacant and abandoned state-owned properties and land parcels in missions abroad. Some have been vacant for 20 years while missions are in rented accommodation at exorbitant rates. The asset register is not fully completed.