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Parliament approves new Border Management Authority

……article 20 June 2020…….

The road to Africa: six new border facilities….

Department of Home Affairs has briefed Parliament on the final plan for the construction of six new modern facilities at South Africa’s border posts, part of a major continental plan to improve cross border trade in the SADC region.  The focus at present is  on issues involving the movement of goods transported by road.  This is in the absence of common rail networks and the lack of development by Transnet in the region.

This month Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi and Deputy Minister Njabulo Nzuza accompanied by Jackson McKay, the Home Affairs DG,  posted MPs of the Transport Committee on the latest position on development, a process which has until now been limping through both Parliament and the Department of Home Affairs for the last three years primarily due to changes in Cabinet, the difficulty of defining responsibilities between home affairs, treasury, public works,  defence, police and SARS.

Ideas on paper

However, the enthusiasm of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) for the project remains undiminished, it seems.  Most in business agree to the concept but providing it improves delivery, eases trade and is as far as possible, corruption proof.   In addition, it is acknowledged by most  that fully computerised customs posts are a logical answer but implementing the work so far in this area by both home affairs and treasury needs careful handling, MPs have said

The co-ordination in external affairs of state between some seven SADC countries have added to the gargantuan task, this being now the  ladder to climb.

Officialdom

The Border Management Authority (BMA) Bill was proposed to Parliament in 2015 by the then Home Affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, and at the time a strong suspicion was harboured by business and industry that the ulterior motives of the Bill’s tabling had much to do with the illness of state capture revelations at the time being exposed.

Many thoughts were expressed around accusations of “empire building” by DHA and the very thought of combining customs collection with immigration, complemented by adding defence and security, led to raised eyebrows amongst opposition MPs and some sections of industry.

It became apparent also that as early as 2013, MOUs were struck up between SAPS, SADNF and DHA, totally without the knowledge of Parliament on the staffing of a combined function to police borders, primarily with an aim of controlling immigration. These queries continued for the period that Gigaba was promoted to Minister of Finance by Zuma.

Hands of the money

Nevertheless, any idea of a further MOU between National Treasury and DHA was totally rejected by treasury officials. Within weeks of the Bill being first tabled in Parliament under the aegis of the Fifth Parliament, Ismail Momoniat of Treasury expressed the Minister of Finance’s view to MPs that any hopes that  DHA had of their new BMA staff  being involved with tax matters and customs dues would be rejected in its entirety.

At that point the Bill was still particularly loose and unacceptable as far as its wording was concerned  but it was still agreed by Parliament that, in a broader sense, trade corridors had to be improved.   Injected into the discussions during 2017 was Jacob Zuma’s eleventh cabinet change in the home affairs portfolio, past minister Ayanda Dlodlo, and as a person totally unaware of trade issue implications and the whole concept bogged down, beset as it was with refugee and immigration matters.

As time passed the task of opening up diplomatic and trade relationships in Africa seemed to become more evident. The project then fell to the now incumbent Minister Aaron Motsoaledi who has started pushing for better trade relationships and has begun forcing through the mechanics of trade mechanics and infrastructure.    With neighbouring relationships now coming to the fore under President Ramaphosa as African Union chair, to some extent SADC issues are looking up but still manacled by  economic collapse in both Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Wasted years

The core of  ANC thinking, like so many other radical African movements, focuses but little in economic terms on international trade and relationships and  nowhere  in this area has this been more evident than in the total lacking of debate during parliamentary meetings.  No serious consideration of development on the subject of road and rail links in Southern Africa has arisen at all or any real focus on the development of port authority controls and handling facility development for anything other than domestic reasons.  Most SADC countries complain of Durban Port “bottlenecks”.

In the past, such matters were left to a crumbling Transnet and under Jacob Zuma this position deteriorated to its worst ever in the history of South Africa, but now, in 2019, the Bill was re-tabled in the new Parliament of Cyril Ramaphosa and the ever busy Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi seems to have rescued to some extent the situation, coupled with efforts by the Ministry of Tran

sport with the Economic Regulation of Transport Bill, aiming at pricing controls  and transport management, which Bill is being processed by the parliamentary transport committee.

Refugees under focus  

During the recent passage of the BMA Bill, DG of Home Affairs, Jackson Mackay,  gave it his  best in a presentation on the subject to MPs and one had to admire what has been achieved in such a negative environment.     As a result of this portfolio committee meeting, the concept is now officially approved by Parliament, with MPs now calling for regular updates on the new “one stop border posts”, or OSBs, which will be at Beitbridge, Lebombo, Maseru Bridge, Kopfontein, Ficksburg and Oshoek.

Jackson Mackay’s presentation was supported by the 2017173-page report developed by the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency (C-BRTA) which had provided a bench-marking exercise along the highly trafficked road transport corridors in the west and east Central African regions, all with a view of finding solutions to opening up trade movement to and from South Africa.

Essentially, the “challenges” established, Mackay said, were congestion, delays at borders, and long journey turnaround times, all of which reduced safety and high cost of doing business, such factors impeding inter-regional trade.    Also, trade between the partnering countries stands at only 12% of the economic potential of the region.  Urgent intervention was called for by the report, Mackay said, especially given the fact that cross-border road transport carries over 80% of the total goods that are traded in the region.

Conclusion

The report concluded that the status-quo cannot be left to perpetuate if SADC was to achieve its set socio-economic and developmental objectives without implementing the multilateral cross-border road transport arrangements.  This has now been achieved, MacKay said, in the form of the Border Management Authority, already partially staffed. Essential now is the transformation of  prioritised border posts into “One Stop Border Posts” (OSBs)  to address “the hard and soft infrastructure challenges experienced at commercial border posts along strategic regional corridors”.

DG MacKay said that South Africa currently had an extraordinary number of border points at 72 in all.   Fifty-three of these were on land, eleven airports and eight seaports. Six of these had been officially selected as OSBs and were all road border crossing.The idea is at these crossings transport of goods is no longer stopped twice as previously, once for each country, but only once by the BMA on behalf of both nations. A speedy and consolidated service is to be installed.

Public/private partnerships

MacKay closed with the news that the project had been was registered with National Treasury (NT) as a private-public sector partnership and five consortia had pre-qualified in 2018 tenders to construct the OSBs, Treasury having granted approval to commence the request for proposals.

Budgets are to be submitted to Treasury in the 2020/21 financial year, MacKay said, and that the developers of each port of entry would be appointed by the end of the financial year. The key principle in all planning was “traffic segmentation, where the plans would have separate lanes for cargo, freight, general cars and for vehicles that needed to have goods declared, all only once”.

SA and Zimbabwe had already started preparing an OSB procedure manual for operations on their mutual border, MacKay said, and agreement had been reached with Botswana.  Construction is to start 2022-2024 on all six ports of entry and “the concessionary period” of start-up operations would be in the years 2024-2044, he concluded.

 

 

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Face out in Parliament 

editorial….July 13 2020…             

High Noon…

Parliament recently saw a drama being played out that was reminiscent of the old and famous movie where, after a long number of small confrontations, the two parties shoot it out in Main Street.  With the critical matter of the approval of South Africa’s economic direction at stake, shooting straight was not really the issue but who pulled the trigger the fastest.

The movie set for the shootout occurred before the Finance Standing Committee under chair Yunus Carrim on 7 July.  The stage was the public sector hearings debate on Minister Tito Mboweni’s Supplementary Budget, and this was before the house for adoption in conjunction with consideration of the report from the Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC), the independent entity that represents government opinion.

Amongst the twelve or so public submissions, including those from South African Institute of Chartered Accountants; Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA); COSATU; and the C19 People’s Coalition; was a new group, the Economists Initiative (EI), who had been on e-NCA the night before with spokesperson Neil Coleman of the Institute for Economic Justice and COSATU fame speaking on their behalf.

Neil Coleman claimed his group represented 122 economists and policy experts.   How fast this grouping had been cobbled together, we do not know. Coleman (brother of well-known Colin Coleman, businessman and also COSATU veteran) said in his interview at the time his group were going to reject the Budget in its entirety and ask Parliament to do the same.   Should Parliament fail to do this, he said, an approach to the Constitutional Court would be considered.   Most pricked up their ears at this and plugged in to the virtual debate following.

Broken promises

The shootout between EI and Treasury did eventually take place and most dramatically at that, the chosen venue being a Finance Standing Committee meeting on 7 July.    EI’s primary complaint was a repeat of what had been said before, in that in their view the Tito Mboweni austerity Budget had “completely betrayed the President’s R500bn Covid 19 rescue package”.  They told MPs that they strenuously opposed the extensive austerity package to be introduced over the next two to three years since it involved cuts of more than R400bn.

Joined by the Budget Justice Coalition (BJC – a coalition of civil society formations), both were the primary critics of the Budget and most vociferous on the subject, EI maintaining that National Treasury were “misleading the country by suggesting that the only route government had in financing the expenditure and the shortfalls arising from the economic crisis, was to borrow on international markets or from financial institutions internationally.”  This was totally untrue, they maintained.

BJC suggested that the Budget was “so regressive that it was probably unconstitutional”, EI stating that the Budget was “tantamount to committing economic suicide”.  As intimated on TV, they took the extraordinary step of calling for Parliament to reject the Budget and send it back for revision based on fresh ideas.

Re-action

National Treasury’s response to the attacks was overwhelming in its anger, particularly towards the EI. Treasury DG, Dondo Mogajane, begged MPs not to be “deceived and misled” by such submissions, or for Parliament to be used as a “platform for false, misleading statements”.   Importantly, DG Mogajane attacked the BJC and Economists Initiative inputs as being “politically motivated”.

There it was, a clear statement by Treasury that political interference was at the heart of the EI submission.

In the open

Immediately the chair of the Committee, Yunus Carrim, intervened and reprimanded DG Mogajane severely for first dictating to his committee what they should or should not believe;  secondly, for insulting members of a public sector submission invited to Parliament;  then for advising Parliament how it should respond to a submission, and in particular, for calling EI’s input “false, alarmist and misleading”.   Yunus Carrim as chair said this was all outrageous and insulting.

Carrim noted, “The DG is normally a mild-mannered man” and said that he could not understand the DG’s “change of character”. Carrim then insinuated quite clearly that perhaps Minister Mboweni had put the DG up to this. This was a most unpleasant exchange. The Treasury team denied strenuously that they had been told to say anything.

Carrim must have been perfectly aware of what was really going on and that MPs were being asked to go above the Finance Committee by EI and appeal to President Ramaphosa, but he still chose to lambaste Treasury representatives.

So, let’s look at the reason why our respected, experienced and usually quiet DG Mogajane uncharacteristically exploded.

Long war

The gun battle between National Treasury and the extreme left-aligned followers in the governing party alliance, such as COSATU, SACP and a number of ANC followers, has been going on for almost a year.  Maybe it was started some time ago with comments from Ace Magashule on nationalising the Reserve Bank, then followed by the quantified easing or QE issue and the possibility of using PIC benefit funds. Perhaps even the issue spoken of in hushed tones, the printing of money.

To this grouping of opinion, strict debt control and Budget cutting on social projects hurts the “poorest of the poor” in a disproportionate manner as compared to the wealthy and middle-class sector, not necessarily where the power base of the governing party lies.  This theme of thinking has been expressed many times by a multitude of observers.

No, no issues

On the other hand, Minister Mboweni and National Treasury, hating debt in any form especially crippling long-term debt, intend to curtail any proposal to accumulate vast quantities of debt.  This might be an over-simplification of policy calls but the suggestion in Parliament clearly came from the EI, as was forewarned, that the Budget should be re-written, or at least “revised”, representing a call to battle between the two ideologies.

For National Treasury it was the final insult and boiled down to a suggestion that Treasury should be constitutionally arraigned.  Another low level had been reached in the intercine war being conducted between the two schools of thought within the governing party. President Ramaphosa as always and characteristically said nothing.

After this altercation, EI then laid out before parliamentarians how the Budget had departed from the R500bn package promised.  The most important commitment to COSATU, EI said, was the implementation of the R100bn job creation promise but now, they said, just a mere 6% of this allocation was left.

Furthermore, Treasury in their view had gone back on the President’s promises had made cuts of more than R400bn, most of them they said affecting social delivery.

Arrived in Parliament

This rift in the governing party at the expense of national objectives is becoming more evident daily. For one party to the argument, the problem appears to be that the economy, spiraling downwards, is seen as becoming debt endemic which could well result in bankruptcy, no possibility of growth and therefore coupled into a scenario of endless poverty.

For the other party, the problem appears to be the view that the poor will not only continue to be poor, but that poverty will worsen unless further debt is risked by spending more into growth and spending to get out of debt.

Cul de sac

The legislation for the Supplementary Budget, the subject of the confrontation contains two Bills as with any budget, both of which are section 77 Money Bills in terms of the Money Bills Act.  This means that Parliament is allowed to comment upon the Bill in terms of the Constitution but not alter it in way, using a majority vote or not, unless so agreed by National Treasury.

The Constitution insists on this, in order to protect its people from interference in any Budget by any political party on an ideological basis or with motives not based on fiscal reasoning.

Particularly sensitive would therefore be any changes made subversively to the Division of Revenue Bill, the mechanism which breaks up the Budget and specifically passes the sums of money to the appropriate National Departments and to local government via the nine provinces. The reference to “political interference” is therefore the cause of the National Treasury’s discomfort  and what altered the mindset of the mild-mannered DG Mogajane.

 In conclusion

The person paid to make the final decision between the two choices is Minister of Finance Mboweni, and when he tabled the Division of Revenue Amendment Bill No 9 and the Adjustments Appropriation Bill No 10 said clearly in his speech on 24 June to Parliament that debt must be controlled. To change that, EI must go to the courts. So far nothing has happened.

Minister Mboweni summarised the details of his approach to the problem in his speech by stating that the “herculean task” for Treasury was to put measures in place to grow the economy but at the same time close the “hippopotamus mouth of burdening interest and loans”, i.e. the enormous sums required to repay debt in the future “in order to avoid a sovereign debt crisis”.

One man standing

Such a spectre could haunt any incumbent Minister of Finance, that of being considered as a bankrupt nation and a financial pariah, as was Greece, and dealt accordingly by creditor nations and international lenders.

Always we shall be distracted by the latest in Covid 19 regulations and the frightful pandemic engulfing our country but, in the background, this gun battle will continue within the governing party and, unfortunately, will play out in Parliament further.

 

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FFC: budget cuts may worsen service delivery

….article dated 20 July 2020…. 

Balance between needs and cuts required…. 

The Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC), the independent body which reports to Parliament on intergovernmental financial relations (IGFR) in terms of the Constitution, has told MPs of its deep concern that Minister Mboweni’s budget cuts, announced in the Supplementary Budget Bill, may adversely affect the ability of local government to manage service delivery commitments in the coming year.

FFC manager for fiscal policy, Eddie Rakabe, is also concerned that National Government has not given guidance to provinces and local municipalities on IGFR matters and how they should reprioritise their budgets after having chopped them.

Help down the line

Whilst acknowledging the reasons for the cuts because of the unforeseen pandemic, he called for government to recognise that a delicate balance has to be struck between expenditure reduction and the meeting of basic needs. On top of this, the Minister had asked all parties to switch to zero-budgeting  which may not be understood or implemented properly.

FFC Chairperson, Prof Daniel Plaatjies, acknowledged that an adjustment Budget by Minister Mboweni was necessary to mitigate the downsides of responding to the COVID-19 crisis but FFC’s main point was that in making Budgetary adjustments in such a short period of time, it was going to be extraordinarily difficult for all to produce new frameworks that were growth enhancing.

Not how much but how

Eddie Rakabe told parliamentarians that their comments were somewhat critical in the light of the Minister indicating that about R230bn in expenditure will have to be cut over the next two years which appeared drastic and care had to be exercised.

The FFC advises, he said, that a delicate balance must be struck between expenditure reduction and the meeting of basic needs. He was insistent that as expenditure is reduced, there had to be a plan to ensure that critical social services are not compromised.

The constitutional criteria in any Budget consideration had to be on the basis of spending where the basic rights of people are protected, Rakabe noted.  In this respect, the reprioritisation proposed by the supplementary Budget in the view of FFC complied with this criterion, he said.  However, the FFC was deeply concerned about the absence of a framework to guide provincial reprioritisation as a process — provinces having to do the reprioritisation on their own.

A little left and a little right

FFC agreed with the Parliamentary Budget Office, who had reported in the same meeting beforehand, that it was going to take a lot to get South Africa back to its pre COVID-19 position, which was not very strong in any case and the situation was fraught with the threat of collapse of social security plans.

Eddie Rakabe said, “We agree with the Minister that SA’s sovereign credit rating is a major concern since credit rating downgrades affect government’s ability to meet borrowing requirements and that to raise revenue from tax to meet social needs just because of the overwhelming need to meet debt servicing costs is not correct.

All the same, he said, the proposals needed much more care in application. Conditional grants had to be the main focus and whether there was a complete necessity for each.

 All too fast

FFC recommended that government reconsider the sequencing of the phases for managing the Covid 19 pandemic.    It was essential that capacity of provincial and local government treasuries be strengthened to ensure that they promote spending control and enhance spending effectiveness, they considered.

The FFC acknowledged the zero-based budgeting announcement but Rakabe said that he still remained most concerned about the effectiveness of changing the budget structure and the way things had been done for years so suddenly.  He said time and resources were necessary to “ operationalise zero-based budgeting” properly.

Hamba gahle

He warned that there are “a whole lot of issues that need sorting out before  moving full steam ahead with such a complicated financial concept being endorsed for all levels.

He told MPs of the Finance Standing Committee that in the FFC view, there was a great need to outline more clearly on how the un-allocated R19.6bn for job creation allocation is to work and who gets it needs to be  a lot more explicit.  On the President’s Covid-19 relief package, the divisions between national and provincial allocations were unclear, he commented.

Summation

Managing the fiscus through and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic had to be fleshed out in a lot more detail, Eddie Rakabe concluded.

From the meeting it became clear that whilst the FFC believes that  an increase in tax revenues  immediately was not a feasible policy option to assist local government through the COVID 19 period, the Minister’s announcement that future tax increases of R5bn in 2021/2022 year, R10bn in 2022/2023, R10bn in 2023/2024 and R15bn in 2024/2025 were considered as an acceptable necessary alternative.

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By-passing Parliament at one’s peril

….editorial,  30 May 2020

Regulations mania hits South Africa …..

Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest political and parliamentary figure of the last century, said that if you make 10,000 regulations you destroy all respect for the law.  Take a look at South Africa where far too many conflicting and nonsensical regulations are espoused on a weekly basis, some of them with only a loose and highly doubtful connection to the law, the Disaster Management Act, under which they are gazetted.

What started with good intent in the rush to halt the spread of Covid 19, ‘flatten the curve’ and buy time to build medical supply lines and PPE reserves, has turned into a regularised pattern of government by dictate.  We are in danger of getting used to the idea of government finding a way around the people’s Parliament just because 400 people can’t gather together in the light of social distancing, in itself another regulation.

This shortcut to governance has to be stopped before it becomes regularised in any way.  In the process of searching for a way to speed up what at times can be a cumbersome system of democratic checks and balances, the country has invented an immensely powerful and what could well be an illegal intervention named, by somebody unknown, as the National Coronavirus Command Council.

Rules in bulk

After only a month of the president’s announcement of the declaration of the national state of disaster, more than 50 sets of Covid-19 related regulations, directives, notices and directions have been published nationwide in its name.    Lawyers and business chambers are struggling to keep up with it all.

The problem now being faced is two-fold.  Firstly, the high-sounding and most unfortunately militarised name of “Command Council” represents an entity not recognised in the Constitution, or anywhere in the statute book.   It is purely an invention of a clique within the governing party as an instrument to administer a law cobbled together in a few months called the Disaster Management Act.

Somehow, without the knowledge of Parliament, a handpicked number cabinet ministers, chosen one has to assume by persons residing at Luthuli House, has granted executive functions and powers to a pick of between 8 and 19 cabinet ministers (the number varies) who meet at undisclosed places and take national decisions.

The same unknown group has ignored some thirty to forty other cabinet ministers for reasons unstated to form this command unit and there we have it, a new grouping administering a whole country by regulation.  It is so important that we do not get used to this alien concept as a substitute for ordinary democracy, whether or not it has a body a scientific expertise advising it or not.

Power point

On the subject of powers, the Constitution is quite clear – all cabinet ministers are accountable “collectively and individually to Parliament”.   But to repeat, this caveat is made nonsense of when a cabinet cabal, including the Deputy President, start making government policy affecting citizens’ rights without even a parliamentary nod.

Granted, that originally there was a need for speed and given the fact that Covid 19 is a disaster of global proportions, it was understandable that hastily convened and rushed virtual parliamentary portfolio committee meetings tried vainly to “debate” the issues that might arise as a result of implementing the Disaster Management Bill.    In fact, they did remarkably well in the circumstances and South Africa became the first country to try and handle parliamentary debate electronically in the light of lockdown.

Law by laptop

Virtual meetings make any meaningful debate nearly impossible at the best of times. They are designed more for briefings than for discussion.  In the understandable rush, the buttons pressing the “ayes” became the norm in the short time allowed. The Disaster Management Act (DMA) is the result and is now history.

Now, the buttons are being pressed by Dr Nkosazana-Zuma, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), the department which the DMA empowered, most assuming that COGTA would be more of a spokesperson for the system to be adopted.

Governance by regs

However, “risk-adjusted strategy regulations” were published in a flash by COGTA in the light of the disaster (not emergency) powers with a statement that read, “The Cabinet minister responsible for cooperative governance and traditional affairs upon the recommendation of the cabinet member responsible for health and in consultation with cabinet, declare which of the following alert levels apply, and the extent to which they apply at a national, provincial, metropolitan or district level.” It all sounded like we had things in hand.

In the UK or Commonwealth countries, this process would have amounted to making Dr Nkosazana-Zuma prime minister and Dr Zweli Mkhize her deputy prime minister.  Nevertheless, Parliament in SA  soon fell outside of the inner circle when it came to oversight. Parliament deals with legislation not regulation.

What sticks to the wall

After a week or so,  it became more than noticeable that many of the regulations just did not link up and appeared randomly unconnected. The cooked chicken problem, no flip flops and absurd choices on who could and could not work.   Looking at it from a parliamentary aspect, to create temporary hospitals and to ban liquor and cigarette sales, and then cancel one factor but not the other, seemed not only a stretch under the same law but also a legal anachronism.

Worse, just the act of banning liquor sales and thus damaging the tourism and hospitality industry possibly forever is unlikely to pass any “justification analysis” constitutionally.    Most of the public comments called for in the form of  business submissions are now accumulating in government offices or parliamentary boxes and certainly unlikely ever be seen by Dr Nkosazana Zuma.   She is known for having no appetite for this sort of thing, as was discovered by the African Union.

LIFO

Now many of the regulations are causing serious “unintended consequences” in application, such as schooling, resulting in a law gone rogue.  A further well publicised example has been where regulations allow religious gatherings whereas most major religions did not call for them, nor will exercise them. Gatherings include funerals for the dead but not a healthy game of bowls for the elderly. Most have no idea of who consulted who on outcomes, representing more muddled thinking by a body which records no minutes and meets in secret.

South Africa has invented a most dangerous mechanism where everybody just relies on the Presidency to eventually “put things right” when the panic is over.  To do this, President Ramaphosa, in the light of a forthcoming ANC conference, will have to dissolve this mechanism somehow and terminate its powers. This politically powerful entity is led by a person who contested with him the position of president and who split the governing party in half doing this.

Its going to be a bumpy ride.

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Parliament goes virtual for lockdown


….20 May 2020…

SA first with virtual e-debate

….At the same time as the venerable British Parliament was tackling what seemed to them a totally invasive idea of a virtual e-Parliament, South Africa was simultaneously tackling the same subject as COVID 19 arrived at the shores of Africa.  Immediately, the issue of the consideration of lockdown conditions arose in SA and the question of how Parliament could work with everybody boarded.

Whilst British parliamentarians dithered on the subject and due to the fact that the UK kept social distancing going for a much longer time before their lockdown came into force, South Africa’s virtual website portal went up in an incredibly short time and was first in the world by a few days.

Maak ‘n plan

In comparison, the British virtual system. which is also now also working, only allows for debate in the House of Commons whilst South Africa, in terms of its Constitution, follows proceedings in both the National Assembly and the NCOP and also at committee level as well, with the current joint meetings providing provincial coverage.

The design of the entrance website is pretty similar to the UK portal, the principle being the same but with a British budget, the UK presentation is a good deal slicker.  All the same, the Daily Telegraph complained after the UK launch that all that the voice links in the meetings sounded like Darth Vadar and it was confusing to know who was speaking.

Many players

The beginner’s look of the SA virtual meetings is understandable in the situation.   One can see in SA technicians are having a daily struggle with people using Skype and Zoom connections for the first time, some of whom have little knowledge of the difference between an app and a hard drive.

Most are trying, knowing it all has to happen and it would be best to learn quickly but a certain number of senior politicians still demand studio facilities and a camera.   We shall no doubt look back in years to come and laugh at these early attempts to live a virtual reality life.

48 hours allowed

In South Africa, where the decision to suspend the SA Parliament was a “precautionary measure” in the light of a forthcoming Cabinet decision on how to deal with the pandemic, Parliament’s presiding officers in the form of chief whips and political parties all agreed beforehand on the 17 March that the remaining two days of parliamentary business would be devoted to urgent legislation only.

As a result of this decision, Budget Papers in the form of the Division of Revenue Bill were hustled to the National Assembly for adoption in order that money could flow to the provinces and local government.   A Cabinet meeting followed and the Speaker of the House, who acts for the President in Parliament, was summonsed for a meeting soon after.

Hard facts

The role of Parliament is indispensable for the country to run.   The Constitution demands that Parliament scrutinise and oversee all Executive actions, processes Bills in the  form of legislation, to provide a forum for public consideration of issues and to facilitate public involvement in its legislative and other processes. Such is inviolate, whatever the conditions facing the country.

Realizing that the only way was virtual meetings to consider matters,  Speaker Thandi Modise issued a statement that Parliament would have to “intensify its technological capabilities for a transition to an “e-Parliament”.   She concluded that as a result, a decision had been taken that “Parliament will be able to resume taking advantage of virtual media technology”.

 Into action

The leave period, or recess, for MPs was duly cancelled and parliamentary staff were assigned permits to stay at work.  They used this time for urgent meetings -to assess how Parliament could best resume its proper function under lockdown regulations and deal with the lacuna (i.e. a situation where there is no applicable law to deal with the matter).

It was agreed by the Speaker that priority had to be given in Parliament to virtual meetings that required oversight on COVID-19 matters, bearing in mind the limited number of meetings that could be held at any one time.  It was also agreed that any virtual meetings would be primarily joint meetings based on the government cluster system, i.e. meetings comprising the various representatives from a number of differing committees affected by one subject.

 Order, order

Chief whips were then tasked to adapt parliamentary rules to meet the new conditions. All this had to be based on the procedures, precedents, practices and conventions, which have been developed over the years, known as parliamentary rules.  This was in respect of not only how NA and NCOP virtual plenary meetings were to be run but how debate was to be conducted committee.

Speaker Thandi Modise then confirmed to all political parties that in the planned virtual meetings, members of parliament would have the same powers, privileges and immunity as they have ordinarily in parliamentary proceedings.  Quorum requirements were to be exactly the same she said, and MPs would be entitled to cast their votes either electronically or by voice.

Public participation and access to virtual proceedings had to be made possible, said Modise, “in a manner that is consistent with a participatory and representative democracy, virtual meetings to be live-streamed wherever possible”.

Global comparisons

Despite time limitations Parliament was indeed able to try and benchmark against some other legislatures who were operating as legislatures whilst their countries were fighting against COVID-19. To the surprise of all, little was found.

The prime constitutional constraint in South Africa’s case was that any virtual meetings had to involve both the sittings of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces and these had to be seen to be happening if the public wished to observe proceedings, a factor necessary according to the Bill of Rights.   This was overcome by making most meetings “joint” committee meetings of parallel committees from both Houses.

One and only

In the UK, which has no constitution, a parliamentary virtual meeting concept had been designed and planning was six months into happening.  From a standing start, SA Parliament achieved their deadline in about a fortnight.  Australia and New Zealand are still only thinking of going about it and the USA is still fighting about lockdown itself.

Without fanfare, the parliamentary process under the extraordinary conditions began internally in the Cape Town precinct after a very short training period on 20th April, with access being made to the existing  public parliamentary website on the link www.parliament.gov.za/parliament-tv.

 Time will tell

The whole thing seems to work quite well but obviously glitches occur regularly whilst MPs struggle from time to time to find the mute button and some appear if they have just got out of bed.  Already, however, after an initial learning curve, things are changing and before long it will be the way things happen.

At each meeting, provision is made for the parliamentary secretary to log in those MPs present at a virtual meeting, name them, see them, accept apologies and at point count voting if required from those logged in through the  electronic response system.   Minutes are established later through the audio track recorded in the same manner as before. This is quite some procedure to witness in some of the hallowed chambers where the Speaker once wore a wig.

An MP’s presence in any virtual meeting is established through a secure link sent to their email address which also enables counting to be established for the purposes of establishing a quorum, taking decisions on issues or voting on a matter. Links are established on Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter and Instagram, the photography on Facebook on parliamentary issues being quite stunning.

 7 out of 10

In general, the new parliamentary virtual world established is considered by most quite for such a rush and the process will no doubt tide the country through this terrible period in its history.  This aside from any opinion on how well MPs handle their own inputs and deal with difficult question of switching between one another to pose and answer questions.  What you see is what you get.  The result is not always pretty but it is legal.

One advantage is that with so much happening with lights flashing and buttons to worry about, there is little time for any MP to have a quiet slumber.

Posted in Agriculture, cabinet, Communications, Defence, Earlier Stories, Energy, Fuel,oil,renewables, Home Page Slider, Justice, constitutional, Police, Public utilities, public works, Security,police,defence, Trade & Industry, Transport0 Comments

The NCOP: Use it or lose it

……article  20 June 2019…..

COGTA and the National Council of Provinces…..

We now know the names of some of the perpetrators of state capture who started their Machiavellian plans back in 2009, maybe even slightly before that.     It is galling to think that many of those with knowledge of what was going on have occupied parliamentary benches in the National Assembly for much of that period.

Perhaps many were too frightened or career-conscious to speak up.  Or perhaps they were simply instructed by party whips to manoeuvre matters in Parliament away from the truth.

The argument is now put forward by many of the non-whistle-blowers and the partially guilty that they preferred not to imperil the history of the governing party’s “struggle” but rather to await court findings as to their comrades guilt.   In the process, parliamentary rules regarding the oath taken to tell the truth and nothing but the truth have been broken. The good Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng is horrified, quite rightly.

A clue to direction

But this is all well-known and politicians do indeed lie.  However, what should have been spotted earlier, when connecting the dots, is that same the same lack of disclosure and half-truths have been mirrored in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) which acts as a conduit with the nine provinces.  Here any form oversight on funds has been totally zero.

Most of the MPs on Select Committees are sitting as permanent parliamentarians with about a third of the seats being provided for visiting provincial councillors who have no vote and appear on issues affecting their province. Those from the provinces attend mainly to be briefed on instructions downwards or bring their mandates in agreement upwards.

Nobody talks money

It seems that it is not in the brief of the NCOP to ask any entity on behalf of Parliament what happened to money appropriated or make an oversight call on any issues.   Instead, reconciliations and information on funds allocated on spending made, have to be wrung out of national government departments in the National Assembly by NA portfolio committees at annual report time.

Experts say the need for the NCOP should be completely re-evaluated to find out exactly what its tasking should be in the light of a much-changed South Africa.

Disconnect

By studying state capture in South Africa, one soon realizes it must be, even globally, one of the crimes of the century.  Its execution was made more evil since it has been perpetrated by hideous people upon a new nation, so new that its Constitution was only eight years old when the crime was planned.

Much of the manipulation of funds following was made possible by fact that the SA Constitution outlines an ideal three-tiered government structure dependent on the three pillars –   the government, parliament and the courts – but also it is dependant having an executive with the same morals as Nelson Mandela who with others of his ilk contributed to its making.

The voices of the people and the rights of the people so governed were paramount in the final document that was produced, and structures were outlined accordingly.  The passage of money to support such lofty ideals, however, was not.

Never again

What has been learnt now is that any ability of a state auditor to conduct oversight without the powers to insist on documents and without the ability to impose consequence management on those who should not have been trusted with money in the first place, is a fruitless exercise.

The second lesson learnt is that the total inability of the NCOP to make any useful contribution whatsoever in governance with either communications up the line or instructions down the line, is a non-starter on oversight matters.   In such an environment, state capture has flourished.

For what the NCOP has actually achieved in its twenty-five years, the institution would seem better disbanded since the only product of its enormous expense is to maintain it as a showpiece of the democratic process.  It contributes little more towards provincial and national co-ordination than would an echo-chamber. Without discussing money and being part of any oversight mechanism for Parliament as a whole, its presence seems in itself “fruitless and wasteful expenditure” since the MPs have no mandate to check for “irregular” spending, even if they were qualified to do so.

Slimming down

For the money spent, local government delivery has been a staggering failure with national, provincial and local government operating in three separate silos.  Nobody, it seems, really understands who it is that must actually do the work, rather preferring to be in charge.

Some state that the answer to proper service delivery at the coalface could be answered by changing the Constitution; that too many compromises were made during its negotiation, particularly on issues regarding provincial powers and local government.

Political interference

Both the National Council of Provinces and the South Africa Local Government Association (SALGA) have to be analysed to see whether they cannot be lifted from their sterile position as mere bag carriers and political lackeys of the National Assembly and turned into effective instruments of democracy for the nine provinces and call for oversight from them on issues arising.

With the parliamentary process as it is currently structured, the voices of the people must be made to sound louder that the voice of the party-political whip.    In the NCOP at present, no voices are heard at all.

Posted in cabinet, Public utilities, Trade & Industry0 Comments

Parliamentary Overview 12 June 2019….

 

Changing the guard…  

Plenty of note for business has happened legislatively during the parliamentary recess but perhaps none so important as the re-structuring of Cabinet. As a result  there will be a change in the appropriate portfolio committees to reflect any changes and a consequent shift in portfolio responsibility for various Bills held over from the previous Parliament.    In the areas of energy, trade and industry and communications this will be particularly interesting of who gets to be the chairperson in the light of differences emerging within ANC structures.

Parliament will choose its portfolio committee chairpersons for the National Assembly and select committee chairpersons for the National Council of Provinces on 27th June, two days after the State of Nation Address ANC party chairpersons.  These appointments reflect how a government governs on policy and legislation. Through the chairpersons.

Read more..Parliamentary overview 12 June 2019

Posted in Agriculture, cabinet, Cabinet,Presidential, Energy, Fuel,oil,renewables, Health, Justice, constitutional, Land,Agriculture, Trade & Industry, Transport0 Comments

Parliament looses control on government spending

SA’s big black hole in its fiscal galaxy…..

It  looks like the governing party knows even more about the daylight robbery going on in certain provincial and local government structures than was originally disclosed.    A big hole in local givernment spending is still swallowing up millions in taxpayer revenue.    Not good news when an election is happening.

As a result of the disclosures, this is a delicate moment for South Africa waiting to learn the make-up of the parliamentary political balance and who is nominated to Cabinet, and just as important as it is to see the structure of provincial government where most of taxpayer’s money is spent.

With the economy in peril, what happens now in terms of responses with regard to the outcomes on state capture and corruption, and how it is handled, is a matter of dancing on the edge of a financial cliff.  Financial commentators from the around the world are watching.

Gearing up

With Parliament re-opening, the third pillar of the South African democratic structure will again assume its critical role in debating and shaping government policy.    Equally important, it will resume its position as a listening post for business and industry.   We have sharpened our pencil.

Its seems such a short time since 1994 when Parliament started its first five-year government term. Looking back over the five terms, what a roller coast ride it has been.

Watching, waiting

Now, for the sixth time, 400 members on the national political party lists are allocated to the National Assembly (NA) and a further 90, representing provincial interests, go the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) in the form of 10 delegates for each of the nine provinces.

The NCOP has the task of monitoring the NA in fact, therefore representing, somewhat tenuously, the voice of the people in those provinces.

Good start

The home of the NCOP is a building opened in 1884 as the first parliament of the Cape of Good Hope which interestingly enough was multi-racial, condescendingly so some say.  Its good-looking edifice dominates the central portion of the parliamentary precinct, next to the more modern National Assembly building.

With political balance of the 490 MPs on the precinct about to be established and the voice of the people thus represented, there is a shadowy side to Parliament as well which many politicians at national, provincial and local government have learned to use or abuse.

 In reality, the NCOP is the combined voice of the nine legislatures of the provinces acting as a watch-dog and checking that the National Assembly is not disregarding their interests.

The watchers

Only 54 of its 90 seats allocated have voting powers, the balance of 4 members per province having a special status to be heard but who cannot vote.  One of those members with special status is the Premier of each province, all Premiers rarely attending being too busy with their legislatures.

The other three seats allocated as special status are for provincial members assigned for particular reasons, maybe on a specific debate, and who travel from the provinces.  Ordinary citizens cannot be heard unless invited to do so but may watch, unless the meeting is closed for good reason.

Basic work

When legislation is tabled, it goes first to the NA for debate and approval.  If it has strong provincial interests it is “tagged” to go to the NCOP not just for simple “concurring”. In this case, the matter is sent with a special call to all nine provinces for comment Houses_of_Parliament_(Cape_Town)and majority vote or rejection.  This mandate in reply from provincial power bases is then expressed upwards by the NCOP.

In the National Assembly, the 400 members are spread out into “portfolio” committees for debate on national government reporting on policy matters and in accounting terms.  Their main tasks are to approve the budget and allocate same to the nine provinces, also to debate tabled legislation and monitor how all national departments are performing against targets.

Numbers game

In the NCOP there is a problem. There are only 54 members allocated to it and who can vote.   With and far too many government departments to watch, as a result their monitoring brief on national departments is broken into selected groups. (Hence the term used by Parliament of “select” committees.)

In addition to the provincial presence, local government is represented in the NCOP by SALGA who can also attend meetings in the NCOP with a voice but have no voting powers. This really is the only contact Parliament has with local government.

Three-tiered cake

However, the snag with the system now becoming more and more evident is simply that the traffic on money matters is one-way only.  It goes from the top, downwards.    That is not because the system is wrong, since it was designed that way so that the NCOP is fully briefed on budgets and allocations to the provinces.

However, such a system can be easily “worked” to provide an outcome that hides criminal intent or sloppy accounting since no information is coming upwards other than when MPs decide to make personal visits as a committee team on a specific issue and travel themselves “downwards”.

Mushroom club   

Consequently, nobody in the NA has really any idea of what is happening in the nine provincial legislatures or how municipalities and local governments are spending the budget in a reportable audit form other than what is reported by to it by national government entities and departments.

For example, in the Free State, heaven knows what has been going on there for a number of years with past Premier Ace Magashule and his cohorts, who seemingly have only been monitored by AmaBhugane but certainly not properly by the Premier and the Free State legislature.

Nobody seems to have listened the DA in the Free State complain and their accounting experiences with Free State audits investigated, such matters having been brought up in question time in the NA again and again but written off as opposition trouble making. The NCOP, of course, does not come into the equation.

Another world

The net result is that none of the frightful qualified audits on Free State budget spending on infrastructure representing an accounting malaise of epic proportions have come fully before Parliament. At the moment the big black hole in the economy at provincial level appears to have much to do with the distortion in accounting terms between how the money was used for spending and what actually was the value of the work done, if at all.

When the power shortly returns to Parliament the President will only have a very short time to deal with his compatriots who, as Archbishop Tutu put it, have lost their moral compass and taught so many how to steal from the poor.

Perhaps the new challenge of the Sixth Parliament is to have better contact with provinces, municipalities and local government, since here lies the gaping hole in the economy coupled to lack of service delivery.

 

ends/ editorial /parlyreport/1 May 2019/sent to subscribers

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in cabinet, Finance, economic, Special Recent Posts0 Comments

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