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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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”.
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.
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