Democracy is not served by a weak or ineffective legislature

By Mark Wiley, MPP, Chief Whip of the WCPP:

Parliamentary governance is always going to be a matter for some debate.

Where one has a body of members who have enormous powers to decide the laws not only of a country but also for their own conduct and remuneration there are bound to be times of conflict.

Conflict of different political ideas and conflict of interest.

What may have been a labour of love and public service in times past has become to some simply another job that must pay the bills.

But democracy is not served by a weak or ineffective legislature. In order to maintain a semblance of respectability it needs to lead by example and be above reproach toward its own affairs.

In order to assist in fulfilling this ideal in this regard, the South African Parliament passed the Financial Management of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act, 2009.

This Act replaces the Provincial Finance Management Act

This new Act had to be implemented by all legislatures by the end of April 2015.

The purpose of this Act is: to regulate the financial management of the legislatures in a manner consistent with its status in terms of the Constitution; to ensure that all revenue, expenditure, assets and liabilities of the legislature are managed efficiently, effectively and transparently; to provide for the responsibilities of persons entrusted with the financial management of the legislature; and to provide for matters connected therewith.

The manner in which to achieve this aim was to appoint an oversight committee made up of non-executive members. The terms of reference for this committee are laid out in Chapter 2. 4 (1).

An oversight mechanism of Parliament must maintain oversight of the financial management of Parliament by amongst things –

  • Considering instructions issued by the Executive Authority in terms of section 37(5);
  • Considering the annual report submitted to Parliament in terms of section 60;
  • Considering instructions issued by the Executive Authority in terms of section 66; and

(Please note that the Executive Authority in this regard is the Speaker of the legislature)

  • Performing any other functions specified in this Act or by the Rules of Parliament, or consistent with the objects of this Act.

(2) Representation on the oversight mechanism must be in accordance with the Joint Rules of Parliament, which must provide that no Member of Parliament may attend a deliberation on a matter in which that member has a material interest.

I am pleased to report that the Western Cape legislature enacted this Act within the allotted time and now has a fully-fledged, multi-party, Parliamentary Oversight standing committee in place.

This committee is made of 5 ordinary members, excluding the Executive Authority, and is fully resourced to fulfil its oversight function.

Its first briefings have been concluded and reports of recent financial matters and executive instructions already tabled for consideration.

In due course the draft strategic plan, draft annual performance plan, draft budget, draft adjustments budget, and draft revisions to approved allocations must be tabled in Parliament by the Executive for referral to the oversight committee.

The Provincial Parliament’s monthly financial statements, quarterly performance reports and mid-year budgets and performance assessments must be tabled in parliament for referral to the Oversight committee.

Allegations of fraud, corruption or gross negligence by the Accounting Officer must be reported by the audit committee to the Executive Authority and the Parliamentary Oversight Committee.

It must be stated at this point that although these matters are to be referred to the Oversights Committee the Act does not stipulate how the Committee is required to deal with it.

An early observation is that the Oversight Committee must be wary of not treading on the terrain of the in situ Rules committee, chaired by the Speaker, which still deals with Parliamentary operational matters.

Then Chairperson, the new Act also obliges the legislature to enact various other mechanisms in order to be compliant.

The first is to establish an internal audit committee. This the Western Cape already has, albeit in a shared capacity and it remains to be seen if this will have to become solely serving audit committee – which has considerable financial implications if insisted upon.

Another costly matter will be the preparation of its financial statements in accordance with the Standards of Generally Recognised Accounting Practice – GRAP for short. Estimates to implement this system vary from R 6million to R 30 million. The BAS, LOGIS and PERSAL systems will all have to be changed to an integrated accrual system.

To some this these amounts may not seem much, won’t even dent a renovation of a presidential home.

But to the Western Cape the amounts are significant. Budget belt tightening for this year alone will be near to 2bn Rand. As it is the Western Cape legislature has the smallest budget and staff component of all nine provinces. Our budget is currently R111 m for a staff compliment of 101 to service 42 members while our nearest ‘competitor’ is the Northern Cape with R 134 m , with 141 staff and only 30 members. One wonders what the WC budget would be with census aligned legislature size with 60 members.

These statistics notwithstanding, madam Chair, we will make sure we get the public gets the answers and service it is entitled to and look forward to reporting on progress next year.

I thank you.