Tag Archive | Covid 19

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.

Posted in Agriculture, cabinet, Education, Enviro,Water, Finance, economic, Health, human settlements, Land,Agriculture, Mining, beneficiation, public works, Trade & Industry0 Comments

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.

Posted in cabinet, Cabinet,Presidential, earlier editorials, Finance, economic, Fuel,oil,renewables, Justice, constitutional, Security,police,defence, Special Recent Posts, Trade & Industry0 Comments

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


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