Service delivery targets fall short amid Budget bluster and electioneering constituency period
Two venues, four weeks, 42 Budget votes and — with a language service understood to be so understaffed and under-resourced no simultaneous translation into all South African languages is possible — only translations into English.
Political parties must give a heads up on what language their MPs would use in Budget vote speeches so “we can mobilise our resources”, according to House Chairperson for Committees Cedric Frolick at Thursday’s programming committee. Parliament must otherwise pay for additional temporary translators.
Some 16 months after the 2 January 2022 fire, renovations have yet to get underway. So venues for the physical sittings Parliament wants for the Budget vote debates are limited; not even a handful are hybrid-enabled to also allow MPs to participate online.
It’s part of the resource and time crunch of the 2023 Budget vote process.
Broadly speaking, parliamentary committees finalised oversight on the 2023 departmental annual performance plans in PowerPoint presentation-filled meetings during the two weeks that bookended the week’s break over Freedom Day.
These performance and strategic departmental plans are meant to set out how the allocations of the 2023 Budget are spent for what performance — a promise of outcomes for South Africans, so to speak.
But the level of interrogation depends on the committee, and the MPs, even though Parliament has the power to amend or even refuse to pass Budget allocations under the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Amendment Act.
It’s been patchy, but not always.
Much to account for
The parliamentary justice committee across political party lines sharply highlighted departmental failure to act on the previous year’s pledges, missing update reports from disciplinary action, the gender-based violence case backlog to the ICT system — and the reduction of performance targets, including on courts accessible to people living with disabilities and finalising maintenance matters.
“We are not in the business of developing APPs (annual performance plans) that you think you are able to meet,” was how justice committee chairperson Bulelani Magwanishe wrapped it. “The APP is an indication of our commitment to change the lives of our people. It’s not something that must be done just as a tick box exercise in offices.”
The justice committee decided on another meeting with the department and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola before the Budget vote scheduled for 30 May.
Hawks and SAPS shortfalls
Elsewhere, it emerged the Hawks have one out of every two posts vacant, and another R1.3-billion is needed for a full staff complement. This vacancy rate was noted as one of South Africa’s shortcomings, and grounds for grey-listing, by the global anti-money laundering and terror financing watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Read more in Daily Maverick: SA at 85% risk of being greylisted, so determined political will needed – and learning from Mauritius: report
The Hawks’ annual performance plan also shows a dip in service delivery targets. Having hit 84.38% for trial-ready dockets related to corruption in the public sector in the 2022/23 financial year, this target drops to 70% in the current 2023/24 financial year.
It’s a page from the SAPS playbook — making it look good to reach lower performance targets than were previously achieved.
The SAPS annual performance plan shows a drop in trial-ready dockets for public sector corruption to 70% in 2023/24, down from the estimated 85.12% of the 2022/23 financial year. The target for effective investigation of serious organised crime dropped to 72% in 2023/24, down from the estimated 75% reached in 2022/23.
Some policing targets, however, rise. Effectively investigating contact crimes, including murder, moves to 51.25% in 2023/24, up from the estimated performance of 46.36% in 2022/23. That was the year the murder rate escalated to an annualised 44 per 100,000 persons — among the highest in the world — according to the Institute for Security Studies.
Questions should be asked of the SAPS why their annual performance plan talks of “stamping the authority of the state”. This is at odds with the Constitution’s focus on people — and the police’s duty “to protect and secure the inhabitants” of South Africa in Section 205.
Scrutiny and interrogation
Ministers and their departments want to put forward their best foot in these committee sessions, which in recent years have frequently been treated as PR events. Much of departmental presentations deal with legislative and regulatory powers, mission and vision statements even though MPs are at least four years into the job — and should know these by now.
But questions must be raised over the overall paucity of lawmakers’ questions, for example, on the whereabouts of the much-promised — since July 2017 — Shareholder Management legislation to standardise regulation of State-owned Entities (SOEs).
The parliamentary public enterprises committee on Wednesday was told by the Auditor-General of two material irregularities notices for Transnet, and audit issues at several others, with concerns over indicators and corrective steps also raised.
Yet the Public Enterprises annual performance plan ministerial foreword talks of how the department “stands at the forefront of the government-led SOE reform programme. In response to the context and implementing some of the Presidential State-Owned Enterprises Council (Psec) outputs, our focus is on accelerating these efforts and ensuring that our SOEs are instruments of inclusive economic growth in line with our national vision”.
But at least some commitments emerge.
One, by June 2023, the board will be appointed for Eskom’s transmissions company which was functionally and legally unbundled over a year ago. Two, the SOE holding company that was first mooted in the 2022 State of the Nation Address (Sona), is to be established in the 2024/25 financial year as the National State Enterprises Holding Company.
Budget vote debates start on 9 May, although some days are cleared for business, like legislation, establishing an ad hoc committee for the next Public Protector or the presidential Q&A on 11 May. This high-pressure, logistics-constrained cycle concludes at the end of May with Parliament’s Budget vote — and, despite not having a parliamentary oversight committee, a two-day debate on the Presidency. DM