DATE: 1 JUNE 2021
Deputy Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Honourable Sylvia Lucas
House Chairperson for Committees and Oversight, Honourable Jomo Nyambi
House Chairperson for International Relations and Members’ Support, Honourable Winnie Ngwenya
Chief Whip of the National Council of Provinces, Honourable Seiso Mohai
Honourable Members of Parliament
Ladies and gentlemen
Honourable Deputy Chairperson, 25 years ago the Constitutional Assembly adopted the new Constitution for a new South Africa. The 1996 Constitution represented the collective wisdom of the South African people.
Then President of the Republic, His Excellency President Nelson Mandela, summed up this auspicious occasion when he said:
“… our national consensus recognises that there is nothing else that can justify the existence of government but to redress the centuries of unspeakable deprivations, by striving to eliminate poverty, illiteracy, homelessness and disease”.
The democratic Parliament has done a lot to bring our Constitution into life. Racist laws were repealed. Progressive legislation, aimed at transforming society, came into being. The people were placed at the centre of parliamentary processes and programmes. However, more work lies ahead in our pursuit of the constitutional objectives.
The 5th Parliament’s Report of the High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and Acceleration of Fundamental Change, led by former President Kgalema Motlanthe, noted that “government and Parliament have produced progressive policy and legislation, but with very poor outcomes”.
One particular area where we have seen major delays in the transformation project is land reform. Accordingly, the report of the high-level panel recommended that “well-situated urban and rural land must be redistributed to black people who were marginalised during apartheid”.
As we speak, the 6th Parliament is paying close attention to the resolution of the land issue. Increased security of tenure, land restitution and land redistribution are the three pillars of the land reform programme which we are pursuing with greater determination. The process on whether to amend Section 25 of the Constitution is nearing finality, the Expropriation Bill is being considered and the Land Court Bill was introduced in May this year.
Honourable Deputy Chairperson, Parliament plays a key role in building a legitimate state that serves the interests of the people. Such a state is based on democratic values and a culture of human rights. It uses public resources to reverse the “centuries of unspeakable deprivations” that President Mandela spoke about. It does this with the aim of bettering the lives of the people, especially the poor.
In line with this expectation, I am happy to reflect on Parliament’s performance in the past financial year. Our performance started on a good note with Parliament achieving its 6th consecutive clean audit last year. This affirmed our commitment to the principles of good governance.
Regrettably, we began the year having to contend with both the COVID-19 pandemic and budget cuts as a result of a strained national fiscus. However, we responded quickly and decisively by adapting both our business model and operations to ensure that we fulfilled our constitutional mandate whilst minimising the risk of transmission in the parliamentary precinct.
For over a year now, parliamentary committees and plenaries have been running successfully on virtual and hybrid platforms after a few initial teething problems. Institutional performance for the 4th quarter of the financial year reached 77%. This compares favourably to the last 5 years. Again, this affirms both the responsiveness, adaptability and agility of the institution.
When outlining future implications for parliaments, the Inter-Parliamentary Union observes that the power of new digital tools should be leveraged and embraced to deliver on the constitutional mandate of Parliament by:
- Finding new and better ways to connect with those whom it represents;
- Using social media platforms and open data as important tools that can allow the public to engage more effectively with MPs, ensuring openness and accessibility; and
- Modernising operations through workflows and automation, making it more resilient, effective and efficient.
Whilst our response to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an acceleration of digital adoption and innovation, it also brought with it a set of challenges that had to be overcome. These included:
- The state of ICT infrastructure,
- Provision of appropriate tools of trade,
- Low bandwidth and poor connectivity,
- Training of Members and staff to effectively use the virtual platforms and capabilities,
- Increasing broadcasting and streaming remotely,
- Irregular and flexible working hours, and
- Increase in information and cybersecurity risks.
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, as well as gain deeper insight and to make better-informed and faster decisions. Capacity will have to be built to ensure that Members and staff are able to adopt and embrace these new technologies and capabilities.
Needless to say, this has serious implications for our work environment.
Given the importance of public involvement in our processes, on the one hand we managed to enhance our communications channels. This entailed ensuring that members of the public have increased access to the business of Parliament than previously. 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.
The outcome of the public awareness surveys, which were conducted by Ipsos Markinor, tell us that the cellphone is one of the top 5 most accessible sources of information for the public, along with television and radio. This makes the information on the business of Parliament easily available to many South Africans.
On the other hand, significant improvements have been registered in relation to our parliamentary TV Channel. We are also on course 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.
We also witnessed the roll-out of Parliament’s District and Provincial Women’s Charter Review process, led by the Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP, Honourable Lucas and the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Honourable Tsenoli. Already, we are learning very important lessons from these engagements with regard to how Parliament can further contribute to advancing gender equality and women empowerment.
The National Council of Provinces made a significant contribution to the work of Parliament during this period. In respect of oversight and accountability, the House saw an increase in the number of questions to the Executive on matters affecting provinces. These mostly revolved around quality of health care, clean environment, quality of education, skills development, housing, water, electricity, sanitation and safety and security.
Besides plenaries and committee meetings, the NCOP also introduced special briefings by the Executive on a number of issues. There was particular emphasis on measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ten such briefings were held during the past financial year.
In respect of legislative work, a total of 25 Bills were adopted by the House. These included the Cybercrimes Bill, the Social Assistance Amendment Bill, the Local Government: Municipal Structures Amendment Bill and the disaster management-related Bills. These formed part of our contribution to bettering the lives of our people.
The NCOP is constitutionally mandated to oversee the protection of the integrity of the three spheres of government. As such, we also processed 14 Notices of Intervention in the local sphere of government in terms of section 139 of the Constitution. We remain worried by the increase in the number of repeat interventions.
The Policy Priorities, Strategic Plan, Annual Performance Plan and Strategy Choices documents set out the required change initiatives for the 6th Parliament. The following key institutional strategic initiatives will be implemented as key drivers of strategy execution:
- An Oversight Plan 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;
- A public participation strategy to enhance public information, access and participation through digital, joint and mixed platforms; incorporating social media and mainstream media;
- A knowledge management strategy to manage information and knowledge better for the benefit of Members, the institution and stakeholders; and
- A digital technology strategy to allow for the implementation of e-Parliament principles.
If Parliament is to operate more efficiently and effectively, specific and needs-based capacity-building programmes are required to equip parliamentarians with the skills needed to perform their functions. Through training provided to individual MPs, support provided to committees, Legislative Sector Support funded programmes and customised short-term courses, Parliament has managed to facilitate various capacity building programmes for Members during the course of the 6th Parliament.
Importantly, the task of improving the effectiveness of Parliament will require adequate resources. However, preliminary allocations for the medium term expenditure framework reveal that Parliament’s budget baseline has been adjusted downward. The reductions are as follows:
- R257 million in 2021/22;
- R339 million in 2022/23; and
- R296 million in 2023/24.
The effect of this is a squeeze on the funding for the implementation of Parliament’s strategic plan. As a consequence, we will need to reduce costs, cut non-essential functions and expenditure and reprioritise funding and resources. This will affect Parliament’s efforts to strengthen oversight and accountability and to further enhance public involvement.
In light of this, we have, as the Executive Authority, engaged the Minister of Finance on Parliament’s budgetary baseline review. We believe that the budget of Parliament is distorted due to the inclusion of items over which Parliament has no control. These are:
- Transfers to political parties;
- Medical aid contributions for former MPs and the Executive; and
- Travel entitlements for former MPs and the Executive.
Engagements on the budget baseline and the impact of the budget cuts have also taken place at administrative level. The discussions have included Parliament’s initiatives to manage and reduce the wage bill. Such initiatives encompass the Voluntary Early Retirement Dispensation for the staff of Parliament.
Parliament has resolved to implement the voluntary early retirement dispensation from the 1st of April 2021 to the 31st of March 2022. We have approved this dispensation for qualifying employees as per the rules of the pension funds used by Parliament. This reduction will be done in line with the fiscal challenges facing the country, from which Parliament is not spared, coupled with the protection of critical skills needed to deliver the business of Parliament.
Employees wishing to exit Parliament are provided with a fair and just process to do so without suffering penalties imposed by the pension schemes. Fifty percent of these employees aged between 55 and 65 years will be replaced with young and agile employees at entry level salaries. Three hundred and seventy-three employees of Parliament fall within this qualifying category. Should they all be released, it will cost Parliament just over Two Hundred and Sixty-five Million Rand.
While the process is voluntary, the Executive Authority or delegated authority will, before approval, assess the veracity and impact of each of these applications on the business of Parliament.
As Members might be aware, the issue of the proper funding of Parliament has been on the table for some time now. This point was also raised during our appearance before the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture. One can say that there is consensus among the political parties that Parliament needs appropriate funding in order to have the capacity to carry out its work.
We support the argument that a parliament that undertakes its work diligently and has the requisite capacity to fulfil its mandate will positively impact the management of the country’s public finances.
Let me, at this point, mention that the socio-economic impact study on the proposed relocation of Parliament has been completed. The report is now with us for consideration. Amongst the many details to be considered is the affordability and public participation process required for such a move, which will require an economic investment. I hope that Members will understand that this is a debate we do not want to entertain under the current economic climate.
Honourable Deputy Chairperson, on the international front, the African Continental Free Trade Area, a flagship project of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which commenced in January this year, is aimed at assisting the continent to achieve inclusive and sustainable development. Amongst other things, it seeks to promote and attain sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development, gender equality and structural transformation of the State Parties.
Developments such as these have necessitated the review of the Policy Perspectives and Operational Guidelines for Parliament’s Involvement and Engagement in International Relations. The aim is to provide a relevant framework for Parliament’s participation and cooperation in parliamentary international relations. The reviewed document is now awaiting consideration by the Joint Rules Committee.
The recent developments in the Israel-Palestine conflict have triggered renewed concerns. We support the view expressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the height of the attacks, that an end to Israeli’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land is the only way to maintain peace in the region, and that a two-state solution remains the most viable option.
At this juncture, I would like to thank the Speaker of the National Assembly and the rest of the leadership of Parliament for a great working relationship. The support of the Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP, Honourable Lucas, the House Chairpersons Honourable Nyambi and Honourable Ngwenya deserves appreciation. We remain indebted to the Chief Whip of the NCOP, Honourable Mohai, for smartly organising the work of the House. I also wish to thank the Members for their robust engagement on issues.
Lastly, I wish to convey great admiration for the support and leadership demonstrated by the Acting Secretary to Parliament, Ms Baby Tyawa, and her team during the most challenging times for our institution. I also wish to extend a word of appreciation to the Secretary to the NCOP, Adv Modibedi Phindela and the entire parliamentary administration, for their support to this House.
The “centuries of unspeakable deprivations” that the late President Mandela spoke about 25 years ago, have bequeathed to us a legacy of struggle. Despite the gains of the democratic Parliament over the years, poverty, inequality and unemployment continue to afflict our nation. The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately added to our woes. However, like any crisis, we must take advantage of the opportunities it presents especially as we embark on our economic reconstruction and recovery phase. There is evidence that we can continue to attain what we initially set out to do at the start of our democratic Parliament.
May we all remain steadfast in our efforts to achieve and uphold our constitutional promise of a better South Africa.