Legislature budget all about salaries rather than service delivery

By Mark Steele, MPL, Chief Whip to the DA in the KZN Legislature:

THE problem with the Legislature budget lies with the Speaker’s Office.  It is noteworthy that all the other sections of the administration have been expected to make cuts including oversight and public participation – but not the Speaker’s Office. There are in fact 18 contract employees at a cost of R13.144 million included in this Office – that’s an average of R722 000 per employee.

As members of STACOV asked when told these numbers – what do they all do?

A very good question indeed when one notes that the Western Cape Parliament Speaker’s Office employs only 5 staff members at less than half the cost.

From the DA’s perspective, the Speaker’s Office does not deliver value for money and the institution as a whole could improve dramatically when it comes to efficiency and productivity.

This week’s debacle, when we started a debate on a Bill while the House was still in committee, without the right MEC present to lead the debate, no Leader of Government business present and with a stand-in MEC who didn’t even have a copy of the Bill sums up the woeful level of performance we have reached as a Legislature.

Budget

So, what is good and bad about the budget for Vote 2?

Well it’s good that the whole extravagant folly of a new Legislature building has had to be put on hold.

It does seem strange though that KZN now desperately needs a Central Archive Repository at a cost of approximately R460 million – something which Arts and Culture has been pleading for, for years – and yet a year ago the priority was a new legislature.

This is a classic example of getting your priorities all wrong.

Gravy train

There is a principle of policy analysis that says very small increments in a financial allocation can over a surprisingly short space of time have a significant and lasting effect.

So let’s compare the relative spends on compensation of employees and goods and services in Vote 2;

  • In 2011/12 employees received R95.7 million, while goods and services got R131.7 million.
  • Over time the amount allocated to goods and services has remained relatively static, in 15/16 it is set to be R133 million and in the 17/18 outer year R138 million
  • Inflation has therefore reduced this spend in real terms and the R6 million increase over this 6 year period is effectively a reduction of over R20 million
  • The employees’ spend however has multiplied year by year and is set for R153 million in 15/16 and R171 million in 17/18 – an increase of R75 million over the same 6 year period which is about R 5million over the inflation rate for the period.

Put simply – the legislature has been paying more and more in salaries and less and less on goods on services.

It is a story repeated in nearly every provincial department and it means the same thing everywhere, whether in Health, Education, Transport or Agriculture. Service delivery is being sacrificed to keep employees happy.

In the longer term this means the interests of the ordinary people of KZN in their millions are being sacrificed for the interests of the few lucky enough to be employed by the state.

It’s a gravy train which the DA would immediately start reversing should we come to power and start putting the peoples’ needs above the privileged few.

 Real oversight

Programme 2 allocates money for oversight and public participation.  A consequence of budget austerity is that there will fewer chances of taking the ANC to the people.  But the possibilities of real oversight have not been realised.

As it states in the Vote 2 narrative – ‘the adoption of the sector oversight model means that the Legislature must, among others, conduct independent focussed intervention studies to better understand service delivery challenges’.

That means that portfolio committees need to go out and investigate issues of public concern without the departments tagging along.  School monitoring should mean meeting directly with parents, teachers and the community – not with officials.

Once we have formulated recommendations then we meet with the officials to discuss what they need to do.  There are huge potentials for the oversight model but we are still a long way from realising this potential.

The DA will not be supporting this Vote.