Parliament. Picture: GCIS
Parliament. Picture: GCIS

The Appropriation bill, which allocates this year’s R1.4-trillion budget to government departments and entities, is due to be adopted by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Tuesday but the DA is objecting to the rushed manner in which it has been processed through parliament.

The bill was adopted last week by the National Assembly and has to be processed by the end of July so the Treasury can release funds to finance government operations for the rest of the financial year.

In an interview on Tuesday, DA leader in the NCOP Cathy Labuschagne objected to there being no debate on the bill as such, only voting on the individual departmental budget votes. She also objected to the fact that neither finance minister Tito Mboweni nor his deputy David Masondo will speak to the debate as they are both overseas.

“We should have a proper debate, but that is not going to happen today. The NCOP has a specific role. We are not here to do the same thing as the National Assembly. We are the checks and balances. In my view we are just ticking the boxes and are not really taking anything into consideration,” Labuschagne said. She noted that the DA had specific amendments to the bill that it would have liked to have had debated and considered.

Labuschagne was worried about what seemed to be the gradual and ever-increasing limitation of the right to debate the appropriation bills. There have never been any significant amendments by parliament to appropriation bills

She noted that the DA had fought hard during the fifth parliament for the strict adherence to the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act, which governs the way money bills should be processed by the two houses of parliament. The act had not been followed and the appropriation bills have always been dealt with in haste. 

This year’s elections and the fact that the ruling ANC delayed the work of parliamentary committees by taking three to four weeks to nominate their committee chairs meant that the process of adopting the bill had been particularly rushed, Labuschagne said.

Concurrence only

DA member of the NCOP’s select committee on appropriations Dennis Ryder said the committee had been informed by committee chair Dikeledi Mahlangu — apparently on the advice of the chief whips — that the reason there would be no debate as agreed to by the committee was that the bill was only sent to the NCOP for concurrence and, furthermore, that the minister and deputy minister would be absent because they were overseas.

“So they are expecting us to simply rubber stamp the work of the National Assembly,” Ryder said. He noted that at provincial and local government level public participation over budgets resulted in very material changes.

Mahlungu was not available for comment on the matter but said during the NCOP’s consideration of the bill that the elections had substantially reduced the time available to process the proposed legislation.

Ryder said The Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act requires a thorough interrogation of money bills as well as a public participation process and submissions by various departments. This is particularly important with the current appropriation bill, which proposes austere measures and the cutting of departmental budgets.

“What we are seeing is money being moved out of government services towards the funding of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and a lot of departments feel hamstrung. We should be interrogating these matters and hearing from departments what their issues are, as well as getting inputs from the SOEs about how they plan to use the money. But we haven’t had the time and opportunity to do that,” Ryder said.

There were very limited public hearings on the bill held jointly by the National Assembly’s standing committee on appropriations and the NCOP’s select committee.

Mahlangu said in her speech in the NCOP that the select committee on appropriations was not happy with the way the SOEs were managing their money and was very opposed to the Treasury giving money to them as bailouts or guarantees without imposing very stringent conditions, noting that they should not be given a blank cheque.