Office of the Chief Whip
Speech by Hon Cedric Frolick, House Chairperson: Committees, Oversight and ICT, during Budget Vote 2: Parliament
21 June 2011
My input in this debate will focus on the following areas of responsibility that my office is tasked with:
The primary function of Parliament is the processing and enactment of legislation, exercising oversight over the Executive and maintaining the link with citizens in its work.
The Model for Oversight & Accountability was adopted by Parliament in March 2009. This marked a key milestone towards a coherent and strategic approach for MP`s to conduct their work.
Acknowledgement need to be given to the valuable contributions by my predecessors, Hon Nhleko, Hon Setona from the NCOP, Hon Doidge, Hon Deputy Minister Andries Nel and Hon Deputy Minister Obed Bapela.
The Model seeks to improve existing tools of parliamentary oversight and to enhance the capacity of Parliament to discharge its oversight and accountability functions effectively. It consists of values and principles by which Parliament conducts oversight and the resources required for the task.
It is our collective responsibility to make the document a living instrument to sharpen oversight so as to give expression to the vision of "an activist Parliament". This will inevitably require an evaluation of existing structures in the Administration and a realignment of functions. Key to this will be the establishment of an Oversight & Accountability Section and the building of capacity in the Committee Section to achieve the efficient tracking and monitoring of resolutions of the House.
The work on the Oversight an Accountability Model has produced very critical work that is contributing towards the enhancement of the functioning of Parliament. The implementation has taken place through a number of different streams within the institution; however, these are not well coordinated and lack synergy. The following has been achieved:
1. Manual for Parliamentary Committees. The manual is a useful tool for both chairpersons of committees and members, which seek to guide members in carrying our activities in committees.
The monitoring of progress on implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and responses to climate change are important programmes in the calendar of Parliament this year.
Climate change is not only an environmental problem but also a challenge with clear economic and social consequences, which hinder the path to sustainable human development, justice, equality and combating poverty.
Parliament plays a critical role in any national effort to tackle climate change. In this respect, the concept paper for a Parliamentary approach to climate change focuses on advocacy and awareness programmes within the Parliament, Parliamentary villages and PCO`s.
FURTHER ACTIVITIES WILL INCLUDE:
1. Hosting on the National consultative seminar seeking to obtain national consensus with all the stakeholders prior COP 17. The seminar will draw govt, civil society, labour academics and experts on climate change matters; it is scheduled for 20-21 October in Parliament;
Political steering committees have been established to drive the COP 17 and MDG programmes, respectively, as well as technical teams from the parliamentary services, tasked with the responsibility to provide logistical and administrative support towards the success of these programmes.
Monitoring of the implementation of the MDGs: (2015)
All Committees related to MDG goals have been requested to develop programmes towards assessing the work done by Departments and to report by the end of this month. A parallel process will be taking place in all the provinces. This process is managed by my colleague in the NCOP, Hon Tau.
In addition, the Multiparty Women`s Caucus will do important work to assess from a gender perspective what progress has been made. In conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) they will have a workshop next week to refine the approach that they intend following.
An inter-legislature workshop is planned for mid-August to consider the outcomes of this project. This will be in preparation to the consultative seminar on MDGs, involving all stakeholders, that is scheduled for 5-7 September here in Parliament. The objective is to oversee the attainment of the goals set for the country, but more importantly to ensure that the quality of life of our people is improved across the country.
This objective is further to create more awareness and to enhance cooperative governance and accountability across the legislative sphere, so as to ensure that MP`s are adequately equipped to deal with MDG`s at international forums.
2. Portfolio Committees
Budget of committees: Allocations for this financial year reflect a 12% increase (from R44 100 million to R51 million). The budget allocation takes into consideration priority committees, as well as the PC on Water & Environmental Affairs, which will be processing the Green Paper on Climate Change.
Currently there are 47 parliamentary committees. This includes 30 Portfolio Committees, 2 standing committees and 2 ad hoc committees in the National Assembly; as well as 4 joint committees and 13 Select Committees in the NCOP. Furthermore, the establishment of a PC on Ministers in the Presidency and the Joint Committee on HIV and Aids is to be considered soon.
There are a total of 39 venues for Committees to meet; i.e. 33 Committee Rooms and 6 boardrooms. Three (3) venues are fully equipped for Video Conferencing. It is thus possible for Committees to interact with any stakeholder anywhere in the country or the world. This facility has massive cost-saving benefits for Parliament and persons/entities/officials who must attend Committee meetings in Cape Town.
However, committees face a number of challenges.
Time, in the parliamentary programme, for committees to meet is very limited. Most committees are allocated meeting slots between Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the afternoons mostly set aside for Plenaries and with caucus taking place on Thursday mornings.
There has been an increase in the number of committees that meet on Fridays. However, in order to execute more of their responsibilities, committees are encouraged to make further use of Friday mornings.
In discussion with the Programming Whip an expanded parliamentary programme framework up to the end of March 2012 has been developed. This will be submitted to the Joint Programme Committee later this week. Once adopted, a full calendar will be made available, giving committees the ability to plan ahead.
The limited number of venues within Parliament also poses a challenge. As indicated, there are not enough venues to accommodate all the committees. Often committees seek permission to meet in venues outside of Parliament. Such meetings could cost up to R 50 000 per day, using resources that could have been put to better use. Meeting in venues outside also has a negative impact on the operations of committees, as these venues tend not to be equipped adequately to meet the needs of committees.
With regard to the size of Portfolio and Standing Committees, a proposal has been placed before the NA Rules Committee to reduce the size of committees from 14 to 12 members. This will ensure that we have a greater number of MPs who are able to dedicate their time to certain focus areas.
Records of committees: While some committees are doing a sterling job in terms of record-keeping and the adoption of minutes and reports, others still take too long to adopt such records. This practise can expose Parliament, in that credible information will not be available when challenges arise.
The restructuring of the Committee Section is essential to ensure that quality support and output is provided to committees.
The role of the administration is to support Members of Parliament and in carrying out their mandates and political responsibilities. It is anticipated that the appointment of researchers and content advisers will be finalised by the end of this financial year. The legal support capacity is also limited and will have to be expanded.
A further committee project
We have good relations with the AG, and our continued interaction with his Office contributes to enhancing oversight functions. A general report on implementation of the Municipal Finance Management Act and service delivery in municipalities is due to be realised soon.
More work is to be done on the outcome of the report of the Coordinated Committee on Service Delivery, based on oversight work that was done in 2009/2010. In collaboration with the Auditor-General (AG) and Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), Parliament will hold a workshop of Chairpersons of Committees and members of the Committees on Local Government and Traditional Affairs both in the NA and NCOP, with the aim to further develop a coordinated approach towards improving service-delivery in local government.
Closure of meetings: Parliament has in recent years been challenged on a number of occasions - both in court and in the media - when meetings were declared closed. In order to ensure transparency and accountability in committee meetings, the current rules on the closure of meetings are therefore in the process of being reviewed. In the interim the practice has been developed that committees must seek permission from the Office of the Speaker in advance to have closed meetings, explaining why that is regarded necessary.
Parliament is a key role player in collaborative ICT related and knowledge management initiatives such as the Africa Parliamentary Knowledge Network (APKN) and Global Centre for ICT in Parliaments. The Global Centre for ICT in Parliament is an initiative of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) with the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
The Parliamentary ICT Strategy (MSP 2009-2014), "From e-Parliament to e-Democracy", advocates the increased use of the broadcast media and internet services to extend the reach of the Parliament to its citizens.
It emphasises Bill tracking mechanisms, monitoring and tracking of house resolution, improvements of budget performance and improvement of document managements system.
The strategic objective of ICT Strategy:
The ICT Focus Group politically oversee the implementation of the ICT Strategy. Earlier this year the membership of the Focus Group was reviewed to give more members an opportunity to understand the benefits of ICT. A workshop of the focus group was held on 6 June 20011 and highlighted the following:
1. The Focus Group has to play a critical role in driving the strategy and ensure that it is integrated into the strategic business of parliament.
Key developments in the implementation of the ICT Strategy:
1. An ICT infrastructure upgrade was undertaken and Parliament now boasts a secure high availability and high performance network;
Hon Deputy Speaker,
MP`s occupy a pivotal position to ensure that the laws and budgets we pass positively impact on the lives of all our people. Together, working with our people we can do more to ensure that the fruits of our democracy is enjoyed by our people.
I thank you.