Parliament, Saturday, 16 May 2020 – The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services today heard that the relaxation of procurement rules during the Covid-19 pandemic should not be an invitation for improper relaxation of procurement rules.

Committee Chairperson, Mr Bulelani Magwanishe, commended the Office of the Public Protector of South Africa (PPSA) for this stance, and said the government is forced by the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic to reprioritise funds from time to time to address the challenges caused by the pandemic. “Funds should therefore be spent cautiously and effectively,” said Mr Magwanishe.

The PPSA told the committee that all the accounting officers across the board should be prudent when spending public funds, and observe the dictates of section 217 of the Constitution, the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), and Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA). “The relaxation of procurement rules is not an invitation for improper conduct and maladministration,” said Adv Busisiwe Mkwebane, Public Protector.

The committee heard that the PPSA received 158 new cases since the start of the national lockdown in March this year, and 16 of them relate to Covid-19. The cases include those of the South African citizens who were stranded in Egypt after they paid for flights to return back home due to the lockdown.

There is also a case that that involves a number of South African students who were in a similar predicament in Russia and needed repatriation. “We will continue to work for as long as the lockdown lasts while observing strict safety practices for both staff and external stakeholders,” added Adv Mkwebane.

Also, the committee heard that the PPPSA has a proposed budget cut of 17% which amounts to R57.6 million. This, according to the Adv Mkwebane, is a significant amount for PPSA given the current budget constraints the PPPSA experiences. The compensation of employees’ budget of R266 million includes the annual cost of living adjustments, as per National Treasury’s (NT’s) guidelines, the goods and services budget of R72.7million is mainly made up of contractual obligations of R60.7 million, funding of key activities in the Annual Performance Plan of R3.1 million and operational costs of R8.8 million. The table below shows the breakdown of goods and service.

The committee heard that PPSA will not be able to implement the planned targets for the 2020/21 financial year if the proposed budget will be implemented, and the contract that was planned to be awarded for employee wellness in the current year due to the current pandemic will also be impossible. The committee was told that PPSA will not be in a position to absorb budget cuts. All this, according to PPSA, has been communicated to the NT, the Office of the PPSA is waiting for the response.

The PPSA reported that during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years, 33 positions in the Office of the PPSA became vacant due to resignations. But due to budgetary constraints, the Office could not fill them. The funding which the PPSA has requested from the NT to fill the critical positions will amount to R52.7million over the MTEF.

Mr Magwanishe said the committee will request a motivation for the PPSA to NT in order to enhance its discussion with the NT regarding the proposed budget cuts. The committee also urged the PPSA for a report on possible savings due to the Covid-19 pandemic, savings from travelling which didn’t happen during this period. “Our country is in a very difficult position with the unforeseen costs relating to the pandemic. Every sent that the government can save to be in a position to spend on priority services should be welcomed.”


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