KZN Legislature budget is not a good budget

Democratic Alliance media statement by Mark Steele, MPL

Chief Whip to the DA in the KZN Legislature

 

KZN Legislature budget is not a good budget

 

This is not a good budget for the same reason that none of the budgets presented this year is a good budget. They are all poisoned by being drawn from the same well – a well of equitable share and conditional grants cuts, of a 1% VAT increase and unfunded mandates imposed on a province which has proved incapable of fighting for the interests of its own residents.

All of these are factors which collectively make up what is politely called ‘fiscal consolidation’. They refer to the fact that KZN as a province is at the end of a whole sequence of bad governmental decisions by the Zuma administration – bailing out unsustainable State Owned Entities such as Eskom and SAA, committing non-existent resources to fund Higher Education after decades of underfunding, under-collecting R50 billion by SARS-ravaged bad appointments, and allowing criminals to loot billions to stash away in Dubai.

 

This is the context in which all the votes in the 2018/19 budget have to present a ‘brave face’ which fools no one. We, and the people of KZN know that their interests, their schools, their hospitals and their municipalities have been sacrificed to cover up for the fact that accountability is not part of the ANC vocabulary.

This is also not a good budget because the Legislature has had to accept a cut of R2.856 million, imposed by provincial Treasury, which will come into effect in the 18/19 Adjustment Budget.  This is in addition to the cut made to fund the unfunded mandate of the iZinduna which should be a direct charge on the national fiscus but has been passed on to all KZN departments to fund, including the Legislature.  This situation has led to the extraordinary recommendation from Stacov not to accept this budget because of a failure to consult as per the requirements of the Financial Management of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act – otherwise known as FMPPLA.

As it states in the Treasury Green Book – ‘Most provinces agree that the budget allocation for provincial legislatures should be top-sliced from the provincial equitable share and elevated to national budget level.  This would ensure the autonomy of provincial legislatures and would be in line with FMPPLA.  The Speaker’s Forum will discuss this further’.

From the point of view of good governance, the advancement of Legislature autonomy is clearly of political benefit to the governments of all provinces in the country. But it must be autonomy to strengthen oversight of the executive and public participation in the business of democracy – not a licence to print money in excessive wage settlements.

 

Stacov will have to watch closely the projected Compensation of Employees increases over the MTEF period – projected to be 7.9%, 7.6% and 10.7%.  If these percentages result however in increased staff capacity, and not simply more money for the same or fewer numbers of staff then that is to be welcomed.

The DA urges the Speaker to look in particular to increasing the allocation of researchers to at least one per every three members.  Nothing will improve oversight as much as increasing the research capacity of the Legislature support staff – whether this be in dedicated budget analysts for all portfolio committees or in more research assistants for the Members of the House.   On this score it is sad to hear research staff complaining after a portfolio budget briefing that the Members were supplied with issue-based questions and yet the members of that portfolio committee have not made use of this material.

 

The budget allocations for Oversight and Public Participation remain static over the MTEF period – in other words we are anticipating only inflationary adjusted spending increases but no real increases in staff or equipment capacity over the immediate future.  Research which I have seen and can share with the political leadership of the Legislature suggests that KZN is at the low end of the comparative table of Legislature spending per capita of provincial population.  We are comparable to Gauteng but way below the middle rank of spending as in the Eastern Cape and the Free State.  We do not need to follow the profligate norms of the North West or the Northern Cape (and we all know what has just happened in the North West) but it does suggest there is some room for growth in future legislature budgets provided it means improved oversight and public participation.

The recent Stacov workshop saw some very healthy and critical discussions around ways to improve the current ways of conducting sector parliaments and of the need to get our public participation extended into the online community.  These cross party discussions need to be on-going so that public participation can be strengthened across all portfolio committees and the work of the Legislature as a whole.

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