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In Conversation with GPL Chairpersons

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As part of implementing the Gauteng Provincial Legislature’s (GPL) oversight and public participation mandates, Portfolio Committees have recently undertaken a process of scrutinizing Budget Votes of the Provincial Government Departments and the GPL for the 2021/2022 financial year. During this time Portfolio and Standing Committees assess the annual budgets of Provincial Government Departments, which highlight budget allocations against Annual Performance Plans (APPs).

The process includes a determination and assessment of the Department’s performance against the priorities identified in both the State of the Nation (SONA) and the State of the Province Address (SOPA) as they relate to Government Departments. The aim of the 2021/2022 budget vote analysis is to provide Committees of the Legislature with an opportunity to scrutinise the budget allocated to the departments. This analysis assists the Committees in making decisions of whether the allocated budget to Departments is in line with the planned performance targets as outlined in the Departments’ Annual Performance Plans. It is imperative that this analysis reveals whether the budget allocation and the APP remains aligned to the Provincial Priorities as outlined in the SOPA of 2019 for the five-year political term.

The current financial year budget allocations to departments come at a time when the nation is seized with an enormous responsibility of combating the Covid-19 pandemic and its social and economic impacts on society.  This has led to many budget cuts to the departments and stringent allocation of resources.  All of these will have some negative impact on service delivery and the implementation of the Province’s GGT2030 (growing together) strategy.  It is thus important for committees of the GPL to pay close attention to budgets of departments and how they are spent, to ensure there is minimal impact on services delivery.

This webinar was hosted by the Mail & Guardian and sponsored by the Gauteng Provincial Legislature (GPL). It featured as speakers Bonginkosi Dhlamini, Chairperson of the Oversight Committee on the Premier’s Office & the Legislature; Boitumelo Letsoalo, Chairperson of the Petitions Standing Committee; Dulton Adams, Chairperson of the Committee on Scrutiny of Subordinate Legislation; Sochayile Khanyile, Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA); and Hector Motivator, Founder and Managing Director of The Motivation Company. 

The proceedings were opened by Hector Motivator, who informed the audience that a number of radio stations were broadcasting the webinar. He introduced the speakers, but unfortunately only Sochayile Khanyile, Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), was available. 

Hector Motivator, Founder and Managing Director of The Motivation Company

Khanyile outlined the role of SCOPA, which is basically to analyse the various departments’ utilisation of their budgets. The oversight committee checks on the expenditure of the Office of the Premier; the duties of SCOPA also include law-making, oversight, governance and, importantly, involving the public. 

Each year Gauteng is given an amount by the national government for the financial year; this year it was R143-billion. A process is then followed: the financial MEC allocates the budget, then a number of committees assess it and engage the premier on the feasibility and appropriateness of expenditure. SCOPA oversees the whole process, and ensures that it is done with high levels of integrity.

Khanyile answered some audience questions about Tshepo One million (which began as Tshepo 500 000 in 2014), an initiative he said was created to promote employment and foster entrepreneurship among the youth of Gauteng. It helps young people to gain experience, skills and qualifications. This initiative received a lot of funding, but there were concerns expressed by the webinar audience that it hasn’t achieved what it set out to do. Khanyile also spoke about a programme called Welfare to Work, which began in 2013 and targets young mothers, helping them to find employment and become less dependent on their grants.

He was then asked about SCOPA’s role in probes investigating corruption. He said SCOPA relies heavily on credible information that it gleans from the Auditor-General’s reports. Audits deal with events that have already happened, but SCOPA has to deal with what is going to still occur. They can call departments to account, but importantly, they also have to ask what measures are being put in place to prevent recurrence. Corruption must be prevented by the various departments themselves; the forensic department oversees this process. The Office of the Premier can take consequence management steps if corruption is found to have taken place, and SCOPA puts pressure on the Premier to make sure that this actually happens. 

Why are corrupt officials not being arrested then, asked an audience member? Khanyile repeated that this responsibility lies with the Office of the Premier, which works together with law enforcement agencies; SCOPA just checks if this process is happening. There is action being taken on PPE corruption, for instance; investigations are also taking place concerning corrupt practises that took place during the sanitising of schools.

Questions were then raised about the Expanded Public Works Programme, which was accused of being an “unsustainable” employment option for the youth. These are temporary employment projects, said Khanyile, so it’s better for the youth to rely on other projects such as Tshepo One Million, which has been very successful.

The process of public participation is difficult when SCOPA reports are technical and financial, so education of the public must take place for better participation in the future. To encourage participation, there are public meetings, and since Covid-19, things like Zoom meetings. 

“We receive a lot of petitions at SCOPA,” said Khanyile, “concerning municipal services such as housing and electricity. These are important and can help to unlock problems on the ground. Any new legislation that is going to be passed requires the input of the public, so please take part in this process.”

Members of the public can contact SCOPA directly; they can write to me, said Khanyile, at [email protected] or phone me 071 6876732.

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