Speech Notes: Bobby Stevenson, MPL, Budget Vote of the Provincial Legislature 2019/20

Issued by Bobby Stevenson, MPL

Firstly, on behalf of the Democratic Alliance, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to Premier Oscar Mabuyane and his family following the loss of his younger brother, Mr Sonwabo Mabuyane, as well as to the family and friends of MPL Ncediwe Nobevu-Booi, and finally to the other staff members of this institution who have recently lost their loved ones.

The budget of this provincial legislature takes place within the context of a budget crisis for this institution. This is indicative of the state of our national fiscus. As a country, we are fast moving towards a fiscal cliff. There is a predicted a R120 billion shortfall in revenue as at the end of March 2020. This is a result of a decline in tax revenue and the Eskom crisis.

This means that South Africa, as a whole, is operating within extremely tight fiscal constraints that poses huge danger to the financial stability of this country. It is unlikely that one will be able to raise this additional revenue from taxes, whether they be income, company or VAT, as this would result in massive push back from the people of this country. It is no wonder that the Director General of the Treasury was recently reported in saying that one of the ways of filling the hole of the fiscus was to cut civil servant salaries by 10%.

What is needed to put this country back on a sound economic footing is structural economic reform, which means; fixing our education system, initiating privatization with regard to our SOE’s, liberalizing the labour laws and cutting back on the state wage bill.

Failure to do this will land us fairly and squarely in the arms of the IMF. We need to urgently change direction and chart a new course for this province. Of we are to build a better tomorrow, we need to save this institution from the rising cost of COE.

It is in this context that the 8.5% rise in salaries to the staff of this legislature – management excluded – was an extremely extravagant gesture and out of kilter with the financial reality that this country finds itself in. The Gauteng legislature increased its salaries by 6.3%. This legislature cannot afford these increases in the long term. We are in a perilous financial situation in this country.

The budget of the legislature has declined by R24, 497 million, when one compares the 2019/2020 budget with the revised estimates of 2018/2019. This is indeed bad news for this House, and it impacts on our ability to do our oversight and committee work.

When one looks at the budget of committees, one finds that goods and services, the budget that really pays for the “doing” part of our activities, has declined by 38%; from R20, 085 million to R13, 061 million, which is a decline of R8, 024 million. Likewise the transfers to political parties have not kept pace with inflation at all and show a decline.

Going forward and looking at the state of our national fiscus, the Speaker will have to invoke the rule that allows us to prevent the budget being introduced prior to consensus on the allocation to the legislature between the MEC for Finance and the Speaker.

There are a number of other issues that concerns the Democratic Alliance, first is the state of members’ houses. It is quite clear that the model that is currently being used by the legislature, namely that of a prestige manager liaising with the Public Works Department, simply doesn’t work. One needs a new operating model. The prestige manager can only make requests to public works and not issue instructions that have to be followed.

The DA would like to suggest that aspects of maintenance required at the homes of the MPLs be outsourced to the private sector by entering into a service level agreement with certain suppliers. This would allow a speedy service when it comes to some of the problems that are currently being experienced.

We also believe that there needs to be a complaint login system in the legislature, where if you report a fault within your house, you are given a reference number and management then monitors the log to see how long it takes to sort out some of these queries. It is rather obvious to some in this House that a department like public works is really not geared up to deal with residential maintenance.

This complaints login system should also be extended to other matters such as; the general maintenance of this institution, broken furniture and IT problems.

A further aspect that concerns the DA is that officials are occupying houses that are meant for members. This cannot be allowed and we support the recommendation of the committee in this regard.

We are now in the age of what is termed, ‘the fourth industrial revolution’ which amongst other things necessitates high speed internet connectivity. The state of our ICT infrastructure in this legislature needs to be radically improved. We look forward to the changes that it can bring to this legislature in the coming years.

One of the changes that an upgraded ICT infrastructure can bring to this House, is that of livestreaming. The existing infrastructure in the chamber already allows for the recording of both audio and video for house proceedings. These feeds are recorded at broadcast quality, and the feed is broadcast internally. At very little additional cost, this feed can be converted to a format that is more compatible with live streaming, and then streamed live via a reliable internet connection, to social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook.

The DA therefore believes that livestreaming can be introduced in this House, at very little extra cost, if one has an extremely reliable internet connection. What this would do, would put this legislature in the same league as the National Parliament, and other parliament’s throughout the world and bring it firmly into the era of the modern digital age, and become a leading force in the fourth industrial revolution when it comes to legislature proceedings.

We believe that this is totally in keeping with the legislature’s mandate of increasing and promoting public participation in our affairs, and will certainly allow more people access to what is happening in our institution, particularly house debates across this whole province.

We welcome the savings that come from a SOPA, one can imagine that if one use some of it to put in the infrastructure for live streaming every time this House sits, could be a potential reach of an even greater audience that our SOPA’s ever did.

The DA is firmly committed in ensuring that the activities of this legislature are well promoted, because when that happens we entrench a culture of democracy in our province.

The Democratic Alliance is also concerned about a number of other issues that are covered in this report such as; cleanliness, security and the need for a research budget to be increased. One issue that is not discussed in this report but was debated in the committee was the Speakers idea of lifestyle audits.

The DA does not have a problem with lifestyle audits, but if there is to be consensus on this matter, there needs to be a multiparty committee that sets down the guidelines for these lifestyle audits, and also a multiparty committee that will receive these reports in regard to these lifestyle audits. What one is essentially dealing with, is one’s rights to privacy, and the potential misuse thereof. This needs to be balanced with multiparty scrutiny.

In the light of the committee finding which admits that there is a legislature budget crisis, the DA cannot support the budget of the legislature before we have a comprehensive report of how the matters are going to be dealt with going forwards.

The DA supports the committee report, with the exception of the clause on supporting the appropriation.