Speech by Vincent Smith on Treasury Budget Vote

24 May 2007

Madam Speaker
Honourable Members

The Budget allocation is the primary tool available to Government to ensure that service delivery is possible. Almost 51 years ago, by way of adoption of the Historic manifesto of the People of South Africa in Kliptown, we the legitimate, democratically elected leaders of the people have an obligation to implement the Freedom Charter. Through that document we promised that “THE PEOPLE SHALL SHARE IN THE COUNTRY’S WEALTH” we further promised that “THE LAND SHALL BE SHARED AMONGST THOSE WHO WORK IT” and we further promised that “THERE SHALL BE WORK AND SECURITY”. The access to physical resources, particularly land, housing and community infrastructure is critical in the transformation of the economy so that we can confront the legacy and ultimately be victorious in the struggle against poverty.

Honourable members public spending rose by an average of 9.2% a year over the last 3 years. The consolidated budget in the year 03/04 stood at R375 billion, in the year 04/05 the budget stood at R410 billion, the consolidated budget figure in the year 05/06 stood at R466 billion and the estimate for the year 06/07 stands at R529 billion.  A real concern is the expected under spending of approximately 15% of the total budget allocations for National Departments in the current year. This amounts to R42 billion in addition to the under spending of R5 billion in the previous year. A simple calculation shows that for whatever reason the under spending by National departments over the past two years is R47 billion. This is money, we believe,  with proper planning and management would have gone a long way in the struggle to improve the quality of life of the citizens of South Africa. Parliament’s oversight and timely intervention in ensuring maximum value for money spent must be improved upon and strengthened.

Madam Speaker, at the ANC Stellenbosch conference in 2002, the movement noted, with respect to Financial Management in the Public Service that

  1. Staff do not have sufficient skills
  2. Fraud, maladministration and corruption is often not detected
  3. Financial management systems are not adequate to meet the challenges
  4. State assets are not managed prudently

And then resolved that government

  • Must address the skills gap, and secondly,
  • Develop and adopt appropriate financial management systems.

As we speak, many departments when called upon to account for the unspent funds blame it on lack of skills. Another reason being offered in mitigation of financial misconduct is the lack of financial and information technology systems. Those tasked with the responsibility for implementation of government policy must be made to understand that

  • The consequences of their actions or lack thereof, results in the young child still being taught under a tree in some parts of Limpopo,
  • The child in Eastern Cape because of, poor financial management and corruption within the administration must spend the day at school hungry because the school is unable to provide a slice of bread and a glass of milk.
  • The mother in rural KZN still battles to feed her family due to the non existence of a reliable system of getting child maintenance from a distant or absent husband, 13 years into democracy.

Honourable members, Section 55 of the constitution demands that the National Assembly provide mechanisms that ensure that the Executive arm of government is accountable to it and also to exercise oversight over the National Executive authority. In addition to the constitutional requirements, the ANC at its 50th conference in 2002 noted that

  1. Misconduct is widespread within the Public Service
  2. A culture is evident where individuals lack accountability and responsibility for the performance of their jobs.

And resolved that

  • Such acts must be punished urgently and appropriately.

The question that must be answered is “does the National Assembly have the mechanism demanded by the constitution and if so does that mechanism work efficiently?’ We want to argue Madam Speaker that the current practice of Portfolio committees focusing on policy and SCOPA focusing on financial management only is not yielding the desired results. We argue this point Madam Speaker because SCOPA interacts with the department as late as 18 months after the year end and in our view, accountability delayed is not very useful. We suggest that because of the more regularly interaction between departments and Portfolio committees it makes sense that all committees must engage departments on the financial management as well as the findings of the Auditor General so that oversight is exercised and corrective action, where necessary, is effected immediately it is detected. Honourable members, to continue the practice of committees working as silos and not in an integrated fashion examining financial management and policy simultaneously, can only result in the child in Limpopo continuing to be taught under a tree or the continued hardships that South Africans experience because of the lack of services. The real tragedy Madam Speaker, is that this hardship experienced by the masses of our people is not because of a lack of resources but rather because of the lack of accountability, a lack of a culture of Batho Pele and a lack of effective and efficient oversight by parliament and other constitutional institutions established to entrench the Bill of Rights as well as to protect the benefits derived from our hard fought for democracy.

Comrades, the strategy of departments spending aimlessly in March so that they are not guilty of having unspent funds must be discouraged with all the vigour that we can muster. Money gets used for meaningless procurements of goods and services at the expense of real investments that could contribute in fighting poverty. In some instances monies that must be returned to the National Revenue Fund lies in uncleared suspense accounts instead of being deposited in the National Revenue Fund and then re-routed by Treasury to more needy causes.

Madam Speaker, all of us must except that by its very nature oversight means that there will be inherent tensions between the Legislature and the Executive. All of us, the executive and the legislature (at least the ANC component thereof) must understand that together we are co-implementers of the ideals of the Freedom Charter and must not view each other as watchdogs or opponents.

Honorable members, comrades, “A BETTER LIFE FOR ALL” is not just a slogan, it is an achievable reality.

Parliament, as the primary oversight arm of the State, dares not fail in exercising its constitutional mandate because of fear or because of favour.

Oversight is not a Sunday morning picnic in the park or a popularity contest.

Oversight is about disturbing comforting zones. We have no doubt that if our role of oversight is exercised diligently, this will have a direct and immediate impact in us meeting the obligations and responsibility entrusted upon our generation, by the Freedom Charter.

The struggle to eradicate poverty and its legacy is the responsibility of all of us, this struggle is in recognition and in honour of the sacrifices of the Chris Hani’s, the Joe Slovo’s, the Solomon Mahlungu’s, the Steve Biko’s, the Robert Subuko’s, the Lilian Ngoyi’s and many other heroes and heroins that went before us. Eventually we must succeed in pushing back the frontiers of poverty for the sake our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

Madam Speaker, daar is van hulle tussen ons wat will se dat die stryd van die mense van Suid Afrika het geeinding oo die 27 April 1994. Die feite is dat stryd vir politieke mag het miskien geeeinding, maar it was die begin van die stryd om die lewe van alle Suid Afrikaaners, wit en swaart to vebeter. We want to emphasis that the struggle, as some amongst us conveniently believe, did not end on the 27 April 1994.

Comrade Trevor, like you we believe that this budget must contribute towards ensuring that “HUMAN LIFE HAS EQUAL WORTH”

Aluta Continua.