Debate On The Finance Mid-Term Budget Review Resolutions
By Roman Liptak MPL

Kwazulu-Natal Legislature Pietermaritzburg: Friday, 26 November 2010  

Honourable Speaker

Perhaps the most important issue that came out of this year’s mid-term reviews was the undertaking by the Hon. MEC for Finance that Treasury would furnish the finance committee with an overview of all ongoing investigations conducted both by Treasury’s internal audit unit and external agencies. The secrecy, which has long surrounded the outcomes of numerous investigations, has been the single largest obstacle for this House and its portfolio committees to conduct an effective oversight over the executive.

This is an important step forward and we hope that the overview of all ongoing investigations will be updated regularly with briefings from the relevant departments. This is indeed an opportunity to catch up with the portfolio committees in the National Assembly and other Legislatures which generally have a better track record of interrogating internal audit and forensic reports.

Although we appreciate this new spirit of openness, we do not accept the argument advanced by the Hon. MEC for Finance regarding the reasons for further withholding some outstanding forensic audit reports, particularly the infamous Agriculture report. We contend that the law enforcement agencies, which the MEC claims have advised against the release of this report, may have their own motives for the delay, which is now nearing five years.

We wish to refer the Hon. MEC to the legal opinion provided by this very Legislature, which discounts all justifications for invoking the sub judice rule unless the issue at hand has actually reached court, which is clearly not the case with the Agriculture report. It is time for this House to interrogate this and other outstanding reports through the relevant portfolio committees.

Another critical issue to emerge from the mid-term reviews was that of high levels of staff vacancies, which continue to compromise service delivery in the Departments of Health, Co-operative Governance and elsewhere. I would like to assure this House that we in the Official Opposition understand the complexity of staff vacancies in relation to the rocketing personnel expenditure in all spheres of government.

But, at the same time, we feel that critical vacancies must and can be filled without too much fiscal instability as long as the provincial government makes a serious effort to address and prevent unmanaged over-expenditure emanating from the implementation of various unfunded mandates, including the Occupation Specific Dispensation.

The provincial government must use its leverage in all intergovernmental forums to ensure that legislation passed at national level does not impose unfunded mandate onto provinces and municipalities. By the same token, the same applies to the provinces, which should be equally cautious about enacting legislation that imposes financial obligations on local government.

We believe that unfunded mandates can be prevented if the operational impact of national policy decisions, such as OSDs, is determined at intergovernmental level and agreed with the relevant provincial government department prior to implementation.

Similarly, there should be alignment between political decisions and operational implementation and agreement should be reached for any proposals on increases of service levels prior to their announcement. And finally, the availability of funding must also be negotiated and confirmed.

One other issue that impacts on critical staff vacancies is that little or no attention has been paid to improving staff retention in most government departments. The one incentive that supplements a meaningful staff retention strategy is often a meagre scarce skills allowance.

In an environment where highly specialised skills are vital to deliver services, the payment of a miniscule sum per month is an insult to the skilled worker concerned. This is the reason why specialists opt for greener pastures in the private sector, where their skills and experience are appreciated and appropriately rewarded.

We therefore urge all the MECs to introduce urgent and meaningful measures to retain the skills that are left in their departments, ensure proper training and conduct a vigorous recruitment drive in order to attract the sort of people needed to perform critical services – even at the cost of extending or renewing the moratorium on the filling of non-critical posts whichever is the case.       

I thank you.

Contact: Roman Liptak, 078 302 0929