Tag Archive | government

Parliament goes into winter recess

….Flat battery problems

…Parliament, unexpectedly, has become the stage for enquiries into corruption; poor governance; downright theft and for having to call to account a whole clutch of government heads for achieving absolutely nothing on service delivery, the last issue now emerging as a major headache for MPs on the ANC benches for the 2019 elections.

It’s all a bit like pushing a car to make it start.

The Parliament we know and understand has somewhat changed in nature. An overhaul of who does what is needed.  It now needs a stable, successful and vocal Speaker of the House who appears more conscious of the need for change, not only with national government issues but not so divorced from provincial and local needs across at the NCOP, where most of issues of the day seem to be occurring.

Pyramids that work

Parliament is clearly at a stage where good leaders with better communication skills are needed.  Talk is amongst the economics fraternity to consider some sort of constitutional change whereby the message and the money from the top to travels down correctly through the tiers of government below; monitored on how policy on service delivery is acted upon; subsequently audited for its correct application and with report backs on achievements provided in terms of the money’s original purpose. 

An example would be Eskom.  Despite its many problems, as a self-contained entity it is always way ahead in numbers in creating new electricity connections in far flung rural areas, more so than municipalities and larger towns nearer to their communities.  However, when local governments and entities are asked to pay their Eskom bill, the money allocated from the consumer either has been used for something else, or the debt is paid out of money allocated by national government for a service delivery item, say, housing. 

The few

For some reason few Ministers and parliamentarians stand out as good administrators, leaving straight-talking persons such as Minister Pravin Gordhan, Bantu Holomisa of the UDM, Themba Godi on the Standing Committee of Public Accounts, Yunus Carrim of the ANC and Chair of the Finance Standing Committee and Joanna Fubbs on the Portfolio Committee of Trade and Industry as lone voices of reason.

Clearly the country should be training more young Pravin Gordhans who are just as good on spending the money as the Minister was on collecting it and allocating it.

Whilst much of the debate in the National Assembly, which we do not report on because of its political nature, is deteriorating Portfolio Committee work, which we do attend since this is the “engine room” of Parliament, is belatedly being led in many instances by unsteady hands at the helm where “the new dawn” is not being reflected or respected.  

Biding time

Something must happen, since this mixture of indecision, bickering and with angry voters at the door is explosive.  Nobody, it seems, is coming on strong as to what the new direction should be.  Some analysts say that the new President is not biting the bullet. Then one hears in parliamentary corridors that ANC infighting remains intense and the baton remains not properly handed over to the new team.

State salary and wage allocations are sitting at R587 billion, representing some 38% of the annual budget and therefore the largest public service in Africa employing over 2 million people.    However, ANC MPs are struggling to come to terms with the fact that 47 ministers and deputy ministers who lead this massive machine are just not achieving what they say they are setting out to do.

Nothing happening

Whilst the democratic process in theory seems to be working better in Parliament, getting things done seems rather like the task the salmon has when swimming upstream. It’s all hard work.  The parliamentary committee “to do” list is building up, with deadlines on international agreements not being met, matters being continually referred to courts and MPs sitting on their cell phones catching up on the infighting within their own parties.

The price for realignment of committee tasks and the calling of President Zuma’s acolytes to answer for past incoherent and dubious decisions are taking up hours of parliamentary time in enquiries and investigative meetings.   If this were to be costed out on a business basis, it would amount to millions of rands.  The shadow of Zuma, still a force within the ANC, hangs over many parliamentary meetings like a storm cloud.

Not working

However, in our view, being voiced at last in Parliament is probably the real reason for getting nowhere. It’s not just a Zuma problem. It has much to do with the three-tiered government structure that we live by that has become dysfunctional.

National Government, who receive tax payer’s money and allocate it on a policy basis to all nine Provincial Governments, are just not talking to each other properly.  The Minister of Co-operative Governance, put there to co-ordinate by Jacob Zuma, was none other than Des van Rooyen but President Ramaphosa has now appointed Minister Zweli Mkhize to the post wgich may assist.

 Bad showing

In the meanwhile, the outcome of a time-consuming parliamentary process of studying what went wrong in the last ten years, who stole what, who is to blame and who the crooks are, is seriously detracting from the main task of Parliament, that of debate on new legislation and coherent oversight on government departmental performances.

Now, with Parliament about to close for its winter recess, looking back on Cyril Ramaphosa’s first parliamentary session, because of this internal political bickering we have to say this session ended in an atmosphere of overwhelming disappointment.                                                             

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Parliament: National Assembly traffic jam

editorial…….

Massive public service vs National Assembly…..

During the last few weeks, the sheer volume of meetings in the National Assembly of Parliament to consider eachnational assembly members government departmental budget vote and each of the departmental five-year strategic plans has been overwhelming. Little of legislative consequence emerges during such a period each year, other than the tabling of technocrat Bills rather than important policy making legislation.

Sadly to say, not too much attention is paid by the media to any of these meetings. Big plans, impressive targets, promises to overhaul this, that and the other. Most working journalists of experience have seen it all before and mostly they try to get statements on issues from either the Minister or Deputy Minister beforehand.

Time is of the essence for all. But why is this period of the parliamentary diary so extraordinarily busy?

Traffic jam in Parliament

There is unfortunately a simple answer. With too many people trying to do too much in limited government hours, the resulting traffic jam results from the fact that South Africa has probably one of the largest government structures per head of population in the world, if not the largest. If it was one of the best, as far as delivery was concerned, probably this might be acceptable but sadly it isn’t and most, both locally and internationally, know it.

unionbldgsIn the fight that has now started to prune costs, moving Parliament from Cape Town to Pretoria has been suggested on the basis that this might save considerable airfare costs, time spent sitting in aircraft and train seats when the country needs one’s administrative time in the office and pointless time spent on hotel accommodation honing up on the next day’s parliamentary presentation.

However, all of this is only a manifestation of the real problem and it does not answer the question of why Parliament is so busy at this time of year.

Odious comparisons

Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan is obviously in an extremely embarrassing position. He must realize himself that the Cabinet to which he belongs is arguably one the largest in the world evidenced by the fact that whilst there are thirty-five very highly paid ministers in the South African Cabinet, the USA has a “cabinet” of sixteen. China pushes it a bit with twenty-five and India manages one of the biggest populations in the world with twenty-three.

It all becomes slightly ludicrous when an additional thirty-seven Deputy Ministers are weighed in to Team South Africa.

Wrong ratio

Down the line and aside from the cost of running all these ministries, the thirty-five departments belonging toparliament mandela statue these Ministers, accompanied by some seventeen of the larger SOEs, must all report to a totally disproportionate number of MPs in Parliament, both in the portfolio committees in the National Assembly and the select committees in the NCOP.

Hence the parliamentary traffic jam at this time of year. All this at the cost of quality oversight (the job of Parliament) and the slowing down of urgently needed legislation. Meanwhile, the number of MPs is governed by the Constitution. The number of cabinet ministers and departments (and consequently the ballooning public service) is governed by the President.

The answer to the parliamentary traffic jam problem and the imperilled and much-needed cost saving exercise in terms of the Budget is therefore really a complete no-brainer.
Previous articles on category subject
The big SA cabinet crunch – ParlyReportSA
Special cabinet statement might correct damage to SA – ParlyReportSA

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Houses_of_Parliament_(Cape_Town)

Parliament : some clarity on policy emerging

Departments brief new Parliament..

Editorial….

Again and again the words ‘certainty’ and ‘uncertainty’ have arisen in parliamentary working committees,  not only in terms of the foreign investment climate but also in terms of borrowing, building and direction of strategies to achieve growth and the creation of jobs.

More than anything else, uncertainty seems to be South Africa’s greatest economic stumbling block. Even public utilities, let alone investors, bankers and private sector industrialists, have made submissions asking for clarity on government policy and decision making.

Cabinet indecision could be the problem. Leadership could be the problem. Let the political commentators decide but from a parliamentary viewpoint this week one sensed the first elements of certainty and clarity.

IRP being finalised

No doubt the news that the integrated resources plan is finally happening will bring more certainty to the energy sector and the recent nuclear and hydro decisions have let everybody know where that sector is going.

Whether recent decisions are considered right or wrong in the health sector, Minister Dr Motsoaledi seems to have a firmer hand on the tiller.  Similarly in the transport sector, and more than just hopefully but certainly, the first Brazilian train is due to arrive and new coaches will shortly be going through some new stations that are being built.

Minister Pravin Gordhan has brought his experience with SARS to bear on local government and his unsmiling manner will no doubt rattle many a cage down the line and produce the necessary repayment plans.   He appears, from reports coming to Parliament, to be getting around the constitutional problem of local affairs being out of bounds to national affairs and will bring a number of errant provincial and local employees to court.

Saving the day

Although Parliament still cannot amend a money Bill but only debate same,  national treasury seem to have come to the party to plug the gap in certain instances, thus getting rid of expressions like “currently in negotiation on possible funding” in departmental and state utility reporting. But a what cost and will this be enough?  Be that as it may, the gap has been plugged.

Whether recent events are good or bad news according to the governing or opposition parties, confirmation of direction in government policy takes the crystal ball out of planning and strategy.   Decisions can be made.

We sense at the moment some direction in parliamentary affairs and in the coming weeks, whilst there will be surprises for some such as the Areva nuclear build award, disappointments for some such as no reversal of the decision to proceed with carbon tax and the worry of the decision to increase electricity tariffs despite the multi-year fixing, at least we are beginning to know for certain where we are.

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