We need to become a more responsive Parliament

Issued by Mike Waters MP – Deputy Chief Whip of the Democratic Alliance
22 May 2018 in News

The following speech was delivered in Parliament today by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Democratic Alliance, Mike Waters MP, during the Budget Vote on Parliament.

At our recent Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament, several concerns were raised, in connection to the budget.

Of the 19 performance indicators, only 14 or 73% were achieved while 95% of the previous budget was spent.

Of the 23 divisions within programmes 1 – 4, 14 have no performance indicators, seven have one performance indicator and two divisions have three performance indicators.

This makes it impossible for the committee to ensure effective oversight over the budget and whether taxpayers are receiving value for money. It is unclear to the committee how Parliament is actually measuring and assessing outputs when there are no performance indicators.

In addition, we still do not have a Treasury Advice Office which has resulted in a potential conflict of interest where the Accounting Officer and Chief Financial Officer are giving the Executive advice on financial matters when it is themselves who should be held accountable.

Another concern is that when one compares quarterly reports, it highlights inconsistencies by Parliament when reporting on its performance as the annual budgeted figures keep changing from quarter to quarter, despite Parliament’s budget not having been adjusted during the appropriation period.

This, Madam Speaker, is of great concern on two fronts, firstly, it reflects questionable practices with regards to the movement of money from one line item to another and secondly, it prevents the committee from performing effective oversight over Parliament’s finances. We need answers Madam Speaker.

Another anomaly is that of the Women’s Conference expenditure, keeps increasing despite the 4tt quarterly report showing no actual expenditure at all.  If one looks at the third quarter report it shows an overspend on the conference of 102%, however, this jumps to 118% in the fourth quarter without a single cent being spent and with no explanation. Once again, the officials could not explain this Madam Speaker.

In programme 5, R199 million has been withheld for political party funding due to non-compliance by four parties of public funds. The four parties guilty of non-compliance, are the ANC, ACDP, AIC and UDM. The taxpayers should be informed as to the reasons for non-compliance as it is they who are contributing to the funding of political parties. If we expect taxpayers to fund such extravagance the least we can do is to ensure there is a transparent process of accountability.

Madam Speaker the process of awarding the Parliamentary budget needs serious consideration as it cannot be that the Treasury, who is one of the Departments that we are supposed to hold to account and exercise oversight is the department that determines what budget we are given to hold them to account. There is a clear conflict of interest.

There are many examples from across the world where the awarding of the Parliamentary budget is independent from the Executive and Treasury. One such example if Ghana, where on a recent whips trip, we learnt that their Parliamentary budget is determined by a Parliamentary board, independent from the executive, their budget goes to the President not for changing but simply for approval. Treasury has no say at all in the awarding of the budget. This ensures that Parliament is financially resourced to allow it to fulfil its Constitutional obligations.

Madam Speaker, our current budget has a shortfall of R476 million, resulting in most divisions, having to cut their budgets.

If one looks at programme 1 the difference between requested and the actual allocation is R4.3 million, programme 2 shortfall, is R16.7million, programme 3 is R37.3 million, while programme 4 is R331 million – which includes human resources.

It is little wonder that many committees find themselves under-capacitated with content adviser and researchers, negatively affecting our ability as Parliament to hold the executive to account. In fact, the sluggish manner in which some portfolio committees have dealt with the State Capture issue has been blamed on the lack of resources of committees.

Only programme 5 received its full allocation of R692 million and not only did it receive its full allocation it had an increase of R20.8 million.

Why is this? Well, programme 5 consists of two divisions, one being Members facilities, which includes our salaries and entitlements which sees a decrease of just over one million, the second division is transfers to political parties which sees an increase of R22 million.

How is this justified when core services in Parliament are having their budgets slashed?

A total of R455 860 million has been budgeted for political party funding this year.

This when Departments across the board having their budgets cut resulting in frontline services being affected.

How can we, in all honesty, sit here and approve this budget, when, for example, the Basic Education budget is being slashed by a staggering R7 billion this when basic education is already failing our children in preparing them for life after school. Many cannot read, comprehend nor do basic arithmetic.

In fact the, Trend in International Maths and Science Study found that out of 38 countries, South Africa ranks second last in Maths and last in Science.

And with regards to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study found that out of 50 countries, 78% of Grade 4 learners are illiterate, they cannot read for meaning in any language.

How can we in all honestly approve this budget when the Police service, is to be cut by 2000 police officers due to budget constraints? This, despite the wave of crime, engulfing our country.

Yet we increase the funding to political parties. This honourable members is unethical and cannot be justified no matter how much spin one puts on it.

If there is a legacy this 5th Parliament should be leaving for the 6th Parliament is that we need to become a more responsive Parliament, a more caring Parliament that reacts to the issues affecting the voters. Instead, we bog ourselves down in debates that may make us feel important but have very little or no impact on the day-to-day lives of voters.

For example last week the latest unemployment figures were released, which showed that unemployment has increased by 264 000 people, in a three month period to a gobsmacking 9.5 million. Where was the outrage from this Parliament?

If you divide the 264 000 by 90 days you can actually work out what the daily unemployment rate is. So in the last quarter 2 933 people joined the unemployment ranks every day, but where was the outrage from this Parliament?

And if that does not make you sit up and take note then maybe this will – 65.7% of young South Africans between 15-24 years are now unemployed while 42.8% of 25-34 year-olds are unemployed. This is a ticking time bomb that can explode at any minute. But where was the outrage from this Parliament?

Another issue highlighted last week by the Hon Mbhele, was that of child murders and rapes, in a reply to a Parliamentary question, it was revealed that last year 39 828 rapes were reported to the police of that 19 017 were children. So child rapes account for nearly 48% of all rapes in this country – but where was the outrage from this Parliament?

This translates into at least 46 children being raped every day in our country, but where was the outrage from this Parliament?

In the same reply, it was revealed that over the past three years 2 600 children were murdered. But where was the outrage from this Parliament?

It means that at least two children are murdered every single day in our country, but where was the outrage from this Parliament?

And you know what, we also win the dubious prize for the country with the highest child murders in the world, but where was the outrage from this Parliament?

To make matters worse, another Parliamentary reply shows that the very police units established then scrapped and nor re-established to help combat these heinous crimes – the FCS units – these units are too facing chronic shortages of basic equipment such as over 18 000 rape kits and 43 000 DNA kits, but where is the outrage from this Parliament.

Madam Speaker, we cannot continue having flowery debates in this chamber while people are being murdered, raped or feel total despair due to a belief there is no future for them.

We need to turn this narrative around and show through our actions that we as Parliamentarians do care about those that are currently left behind. Instead of having an eco chamber let us make this chamber into what it was initially intended – the exchange of ideas no matter how robust the debate may be.

We have to ensure that we give meaning to the Constitution by reflecting people’s anger, misery and hopelessness and turn it into optimism, confidence and hope.

I thank you.