Show us more value for money

Implement zero-based budgeting, substantially improve oversight, cut that wage bill and improve professionalism in the public service, OUTA tells Parliament in comment on the medium-term budget

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27/11/2020 08:57:45

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Show us more value for money, OUTA tells Parliament


                                                                                                                                                                                                                    There is no more money to waste so effectiveness and efficiency of public spending must improve, OUTA told Parliament today.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA made a written submission to Parliament on the recent Adjustments Budget and, on 27 November, Matt Johnston, OUTA’s Parliamentary Engagement Manager, made a verbal submission to a joint sitting of the Standing and Select Committees on Appropriations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    This is OUTA’s second submission to Parliament on October's mid-term budget. The previous submission was to the Standing and Select Committees on Finance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    “For too long, everything has been a priority, spending has been growing, as has public debt, but services delivered are of a shockingly low standard,” Johnston told the committees.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Services and investments have effectively been crowded out by debt servicing costs, politicised spending programmes and generous wages for white collar public servants who often don't do their work. The economy is stagnant and the pool of tax revenue is shrinking.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    To successfully navigate an economic recovery, there must be acknowledgement that there is a need to address not only where public finances are being allocated, but also the delivery against that spending.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    “Parliamentary committees need to improve the quality of their oversight role,” said Johnston.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA has recently produced two documents critical of Parliament’s oversight: a report called “MPs asleep at the wheel” which highlights the inadequacies of Parliament’s oversight, and an affidavit to the State Capture Commission documenting how Parliament repeatedly failed to act against state capture.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Parliamentary oversight is weakened by MPs who are busy but ineffectual, and MPs rely primarily on information provided by departments whose delivery is being assessed, without verifying this information. Parliament receives a budget of over R2bn per year but OUTA is not convinced that Parliament is providing good value for money. We urge Parliament to ensure that its oversight is robust and effective.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA also calls on the Standing and Select Committees on Finance to review the public participation process in favour of more robust inclusion of civil society on budgetary decision making, rather than allowing public opinion to be fobbed off.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA agrees with the Treasury’s proposed zero-based budgeting approach to improve how money is allocated and wants this implemented at the local government level too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA called on the Appropriations Committees to conduct oversight visits to Provincial Treasuries to find out what they are doing to remedy the issues of worsening audit outcomes in municipalities. The local government revenue model needs to be revisited and OUTA urged the committees to request the Fiscal and Financial Commission and Parliamentary Budget Office to undertake research on this to be presented in Parliament.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA supports the just energy transition, which would take the country forwards from a reliance on outdated and climate-impacting fossil fuels towards achieving energy security through a diverse range of renewable energy sources. Such a transition must ensure that those who work in the coal-mining sector and fossil-fuel industry are accommodated in a fair way. A core priority of the country is to address energy poverty and electrification has been identified as one of those means to reduce energy poverty. But this has been deprioritised by massive reductions in the two adjustments budgets this year.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Electricity needs to become an economic enabler. In the past, the economy has been held hostage by Eskom’s decisions, including investing in mega-plants associated with corruption and wasted costs. OUTA notes with dismay the moves towards building nuclear power generators, which are outside the Integrated Resource Plan and have ominous budget implications.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    There is a need to protect the fiscal framework against crisis budgeting such as SOE bailouts. It is not a mystery when SOE debt repayments are due, and we call on the committees to seek input on improved management of these contingent liabilities. We regard this adjusted budget’s R10.5 billion bailout for South African Airways as a waste of scarce resources, and note it required shifting funds from 35 different budget votes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA is concerned that in the adjusted budget, the National Prosecuting Authority, Special Investigating Unit and the courts get cuts – largely to fund SAA. OUTA insists that the justice system must be funded sufficiently, as investor and public confidence will be bolstered by a strong justice system that fights corruption effectively. When state capture culprits in the public and private sector start going to jail, we will see a significant change in the country.   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    “The wage bill needs to be addressed – remuneration in the public service is beyond what is necessary or justified in terms of labour productivity and performance outcomes,” said Johnston.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA would like to see an investigation into the hiring practices at departments that were restructured as state capture manoeuvres, and for the DPSA to deal with officials who are doing business with the state. These officials cannot be welcome in public service any longer. We want to see dedicated and valued frontline personnel, and support greater levels of professionalism within the public service. We would like to see the public service attracting excellent talent and people of the highest ethical standards. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA’s presentation to the committees is here.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA’s full submission is here.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Picture: Shutterstock

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    OUTA is a proudly South African civil action organisation, that is purely crowd funded. Our work is supported by ordinary citizens who are passionate about holding government accountable and ensuring our taxes are used to the benefit of all South Africans.