At a time like this, our country and province face an unprecedented humanitarian crisis fueled by the health pandemic as well as the meltdown of our economy. The Eastern Cape was in a crisis prior to COVID-19. We are now dangerously close to going over the edge of the cliff while being pounded by the forces of a perfect storm.
These two overarching issues are not only going to heavily influence and direct the work we do going forwards, but it also directly impacts on our operations in the legislature.
Already the COVID-19 virus has prevented us from meeting in person but the legislature has swiftly adapted by utilizing technology so that the work of the House can continue. It does however have its limitations, and we need to move swiftly to our hybrid model.
The economy is in great crisis. Our debt to GDP ratio scheduled to exceed 80% by the end of this year while 10 years ago it was around 25%. The expanded rate of unemployment is now 49% with the rural areas being particularly hard hit at 56%. Not only are we are expecting a tax shortfall in the region of R300 billion this year, but municipalities are also running out of money.
These factors influence what we need to do, but also places limitations on how it can be done.
One of the key issues that concerns the Democratic Alliance is that of the rising costs of COE within the legislature. This is scheduled to go up from R330 million in the 2019/20 financial year to R365 million in the current financial year. This is influenced not just by the proposed salary adjustments but also by the job grading and evaluation, the implementation of the organogram and the filling of vacant posts. The COE contributes roughly around 50% of the legislature’s budget.
In contrast to this, the goods and services budget has declined in the 2019/20 financial year from R114 million to R80 million in the 2020/2021 financial year.
Treasury have already imposed cuts of R40, 7 million on the legislature’s budget of which R10 million have already been taken for subsistence and travel leaving a further R30, 7 million to be cut.
The provincial treasury needs to be reminded that we are not a government department upon which cuts can unilaterally be made. The rules of this House (which I helped to change a number of years ago) made provision for the Speaker and the MEC of Finance having to reach consensus on the legislature’s budget before the total provincial budget can be introduced. This is to ensure the separation of powers so that the executive cannot limit our ability to oversight them.
If the total sum of R40, 7 million was to be taken from goods and services we would only be left with R40 million, while bearing in mind that last year’s budget was R114 million.
If this was to occur, the operations of the legislature would be severely compromised and we would not be able to fulfil our mandate as public representatives to do effective oversight in this province, as no funding for travel to the legislature and around the province would be available. One cannot allow the core business of the legislature to be compromised in this way.
We cannot be looking at increasing the costs of COE by engaging in job grading and evaluation at the cost of core business. We need to face some brutal facts driven by the economic circumstances of our time. We need to be looking at plans to rationalize the cost of COE in this legislature. The country is running out of money and we are in great danger of a sovereign debt crisis.
At a time like this we cannot simply be filling every post, only those that are exceptionally critical should be considered. It should be noted that the average cost of civil servants wages in this country is 40% higher than the average cost of employees in the private sector. There has to be a greater tradeoff between goods and services and the cost of COE.
These are tough political decisions that acquire leadership, but leadership is what is required at this time if we are going to chart a new course into the post COVID-19 world.
One of the big investments that we need to make is in our IT sector. We have an antiquated IT system in this legislature, and the plans for upgrading it need to be completed as a matter of urgency. One cannot send a file greater than 4mb through the legislature email server as it bounces back.
We welcome the advances that the legislature has made thus far with regards to livestreaming meetings, and putting them on YouTube. These advances must continue to be improved upon as we continue to find new methods of public participation that can utilize technology and potentially save on costs. This is particularly so when it comes to big events such as Taking Legislature to the People, which can cost the legislature an excess of R2, 5 million.
Going forward there are a number of issues that need to be addressed, namely;
the improvement of security and access to the legislature buildings,
a system in place for the maintenance of members’ houses,
a training workshop to deal with the constituency model, and
More effective utilization of existing office space to assist with the shortfalls and needs in this regard. The Democratic Alliance no longer has a caucus room.
Our oversight work going forward needs to ensure that we are relentless in eradicating maladministration and corruption in this province that steals resources that should be there for delivering services.
It is our job to ensure that the budgets of this legislature, the budgets of this province provide value for money in order for the citizens of this province to live a life of value. A life of value is one in which one has efficient services, employment, a good education, safety and security and access to a social safety net.
Let us strive to achieve this so that our province becomes a place of rising opportunity for all its people so that everyone can live a life of value, for businesses to grow and succeed and where people can feel safe.