MPs’ no-shows at oversight visits, public hearings will hit their own pockets, says Frolick’s institutional directive
MPs will have to repay Parliament for accommodation and flights from their own pockets if they fail to show up for oversight visits, study tours and public hearings.
That’s the upshot of a letter Parliament’s House Committee Chairperson for committees Cedric Frolick wrote on Wednesday to all committee chairpersons, and copied to Parliament’s presiding officers, the Secretary to Parliament and senior managers across the parliamentary administration.
“Members (of Parliament), who have confirmed their attendances, and do not attend, will be held liable for the full costs incurred by Parliament,” says the letter seen by Daily Maverick that later also adds, “Cancellation by Members of their confirmed attendance of oversight visits, public hearings and any other committee activities must be in writing and supported by the chief whip of (their) political party before being submitted to my office for consideration”.
That such no-show antics were unfolding emerged in the programming committee on 7 September when National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula indicated her attention had been drawn to this. “At times even the SnT (subsistence and travel allowance) has already been given out to honourable Members and the members simply withdraw from sittings…”
Frolick had said he would put forward proposals through the Speaker’s office to nip this tendency in the bud. Already subsistence and travel allowances are being recovered from MPs who fail to attend as promised public hearings or oversight visits.
“I think it is ill-discipline when members confirm their participation in an activity, Parliament makes all the arrangements and pays the hotels and flights — and then they either don’t turn up, or the committees on the 11th hour cancels the public hearings.”
This did not portray Parliament well, nor “our commitment to get the public involved in the law-making process”, Frolick told the programming committee then.
“Somebody will have to pay for cancellations…We cannot have the taxpayer to continuously fund the bill for fruitless and wasteful expenditure. It will reflect on the audit of Parliament.”
Wednesday’s letter now has put in place those liability rules for MPs — they personally must pay if, without good reason, they don’t show up for public hearings and oversight visits they committed themselves to.
However, that letter also raises other concerns like “certain”, but unnamed, committee chairpersons and whips and MPs pressurising support staff to change confirmed bookings.
“This also includes… pressure on support staff for the utilisation of the contingency funds for items that are not supposed to be paid from the funds. All of this has financial consequences for the institution and amounts to fruitless and wasteful expenditure,” says the letter.
“Whips from political parties that serve in committees have no authority to issue directives to staff to make amendments to confirmed travel arrangements.”
And so, from now “no travel arrangements will be made for Members, who do not commit their attendance in writing” for oversight visits, study tours and public hearings.
Requests to change travel logistics must be made via committee secretaries to Frolick for approval, according to the letter. “Changes that are effected by staff without my approval will be viewed in a serious light and the staff member concerned will be held liable.”
While the aim was a working environment free of pressure for staff, and a subsistence and travel allowance system beyond any reproach, Parliament’s travel arrangements are under pressure.
International Relations since May has withdrawn its support for overseas travel. MPs across party lines complained of long delays in connection flights and more during the 22 September Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament meeting. DA parliamentarian Tim Brauteseth highlighted the lack of assistance while stuck at Dubai airport for 24 hours, “It was total shambles”.
Secretary to Parliament Xolile George told lawmakers then he’d update them at the next committee meeting, “We are now in transition in our travel management system”.
Efforts to obtain comment from Frolick telephonically and by messages since Thursday afternoon proved unsuccessful.
In the 2022/23 financial year subsistence and travel allowance prepayments amounted to R258,000, while parliamentarians were booked on 21,542 flights, according to that year’s annual report. And the audited financials show that against Parliament’s 2022/23 budget of R2.75-billion, the national legislature incurred R29,000 fruitless and wasteful expenditure for interest on late payments and R28,000 to “vehicle hire damages”.
For several consecutive years now Parliament has obtained clean audits. DM