In the Parliament’s Budget Vote, the Chairperson of the National Council of Province (NCOP), Mr Amos Masondo, gave a broad overview of how the NCOP fared in the last financial year and what it seeks to amend in how it conducts its mandate.  

Ms Masondo reflected on the impact on Covid-19 and the budget cuts on the work of Parliament and Parliament’s swift adjustment to such challenges. In response to Covid-19, he stated that “we responded quickly and decisively by adopting virtual and hybrid platforms to ensure that we fulfilled our constitutional mandate whilst minimising the risk of transmission in the parliamentary precinct”.

While Parliament embraced the need to embrace the  Fourth Industrial Revolution in conducting its work, the advent of Covid-19 has hastened this resolve considerably. “Our view is that the impact of the ‘new normal’ will require Parliament to continue to accelerate its digital journey. This will include systems that will enable Parliament to better track and monitor oversight activities,” he said.

He conceded that capacity will have to be built to ensure that Members and staff are able to adopt and embrace these new technologies and capabilities.

Despite its challenges, this digital migration has increased public participation, he claimed. “The majority of the meetings of committees, public hearings and plenaries of the Houses of Parliament were broadcast and streamed live on social media channels and radio and this increased the level of public access and participation in the work of Parliament,” he added.

Mr Masondo said Parliament is also on course with its plans towards free-to-air television and the creation of radio broadcast services that will sustain over 90% awareness levels and continue to boost participation levels.

In spite of challenges of the new normal, Mr Masondo pointed out that the NCOP has adopted 25 Bills that formed part of the NCOP’s contribution to bettering the lives of the people.

In line with its constitutional mandate to oversee the protection of the integrity of the three spheres of government, Mr Masondo said: “We processed 14 Notices of Intervention in the local sphere of government. But we remain worried by the increase in the number of repeat interventions.”

One of the critical interventions in this financial year, he said, is the inception of an Oversight Plan which is meant to coordinate oversight priorities and activities of committees, Houses, and Legislatures, including changes to the parliamentary programme to provide more time for committee and constituency activities.

Amidst the need to improve parliamentarians’ law-making and oversight capacities, and to ensure Parliament is innovative in how it conducts its mandate in this digital age, he said Parliament has to contend with incremental budget cuts. “There are projections of R257 million cuts in 2021/22, R339 million in 2022/23 and R296 million in 2023/24.” He admitted that this will put a squeeze on Parliament’s strategic plans. As a result, they have called on Treasury to consider parliament’s budgetary baseline review.

Participating on the debate, Ms Sonja Boshoff, said of concern is the lack of robust engagement with pieces of legislation that come before the NCOP. “When have we had a proper, quality debate on pieces of legislation that come before us?” she asked.

This, in her view, confirms the accusation of NCOP being a rubber stamp on the National Assembly. “When are we going to assess the effects of the laws that we pass on provinces.” It time NCOP took its law-making mandate seriously, she reiterated.

Ms Dikeledi Mahlangu said the complexity of NCOP’s role as an axis of intergovernmental pillar is a mammoth. She said that indeed there are workshops “to assist us to appreciate the complex nature of the NCOP, but they are insufficient. As a result, we are often left to work our way through”.  

Turning on to law-making, she remarked that the legal interpretation of law during law-making is critical. Instead of being capacitated with this skill set, “we are made to rely on the technical assistance of parliament’s legal department. As a result, we become depended on them and we are never in position to master it”.

She said this applies to oversight as well. “During our orientation, we are not equipped with necessary skills to analyse policies, to have consummate financial acumen, monitoring and evaluation capabilities to conduct effective and efficient oversight over provinces, departments and complex web of state-owned enterprises which all require different skills sets,”  she said.

Mr Moletsane Moletsane said, as expected, Parliament’s budget cuts came under heavy criticism. He said. It’s 8.7% cut is higher than that of the government departments. “How is Parliament expected to fulfil its mandate when its budget is lower than those it’s meant to oversee?” he asked.

Making an analogy to underscore the effect of budget cuts, the House Chairperson for Committees, Mr Jomo Nyambi, said: “How do you expect under resourced police officers to pursue wealthy criminals.”

He decried the resources allocated to committees or their ration compared to their counterparts in United Kingdom (UK). He said: “In UK, a committee Member has more than five assistants ranging from legal and policy experts to economists if need be in order for it to have sufficient support to conduct its work efficiently. With so much cuts, that is a bridge to far for us.”

The Chief Whip of the NCOP, Mr Seiso Mohai, said there is a growing realisation that there is a need to review the constitutional role of the NCOP in order for it to play a catalytic role in provincial matters, local government and traditional authorities.

This review, he opined, which would frame the new conceptual and strategic direction of public participation should consist of multiple stakeholders from government, civil society to academia. He said this would assist the NCOP to have an outcome-based approach that “measures its success and its failures objectively.”

He added that this review would assist the NCOP to rise and claim its rightful role in the intergovernmental sphere of the state. “And it’s necessary because we have far greater battles ahead.”

By Abel Mputing
2 June 2021