Inside Parliament : Committees Jumping Into Remedial Action
As the fallout from the arms deal scandal hits the Durban high court today in the form of the fraud and corruption trial of Schabir Shaik, many have been tempted to write off the oversight role of parliament as one of the casualties.
True, the scandal almost demolished the once-powerful standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), but it has since reconstituted itself and continues to pick away at the public sector annual reports, noting qualifications or emphasis of matter by ever-diligent auditor-general Shauket Fakie and make reams of recommendations for corrective action.
In addition, portfolio and select committees have jumped into action since the September 30 deadline for the submission of annual reports to parliament to examine some parts of the audit reports but homing in on all the non-financial information to see if it provided value for money in terms of the Public Finance Management Act.
The two finance committees last week examined the annual reports falling in their portfolios, mainly the treasury, Statistics SA and the SA Revenue Service (Sars).
As chairman of the portfolio committee on finance Rob Davies sees it, parliament should not only be examining the dry financials in the annual reports, which is Scopa's job.
They should take note of any financial problems such as unauthorised expenditure, but their main focus should be on whether the departments or entities concerned had met their targets, which indicated whether delivery had taken place or not, he said.
Although some departments seem to be catching on to the importance of having measurable objectives, they usually concentrate on quantity rather than quality and content, as statistician-general Pali Lehohla did last week when he rattled off the numerous publications of Stats SA over the last year without giving any real inkling of what they meant to ordinary South Africans, never mind policy makers.
The committee's hearings revealed, amongst others, the tensions between Lehohla and the Statistics Council, which is supposed to be Stats SA's advisory board but which has complained that its advice had consistently been ignored.
In the end, the committees decided to ask finance minister Trevor Manuel to intervene as a "matter of urgency" to sort out "governance issues" at Stats SA.
Treasury and Sars, not surprisingly, had unqualified audits, although Fakie had raised some matters of emphasis or issues of concern about the latter's financial reports.
Sars commissioner Pravin Gordhan was able to assure the committees that remedial action was in hand.
Sars fell some R800 million short of its tax collection targets last year.
Gordhan assured the committees that halfway through the financial year, monthly collections "are a few billion rand ahead" of target and Sars fully expected to meet and even exceed the R327 billion target this year.
The week ended off with Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni briefing committees on the bank's latest economic outlook ahead of this week's monetary policy review.
His warnings about the dangers of spiralling household debt might have struck a chord with some MPs, but he said that they also had a role to play in spreading the message to their constituencies that this was a dangerous road to go.
With acknowledgements to Lynda Loxton and Business Report.