SA’s rule makers resist having rules applied to them

Yesterday the bill was the subject of public hearings and deliberation in the national council of provinces (NCOP) select committee, where parliament's accounting officer, Zingile Dingani - better known as the secretary to parliament - came out against the legislation.

The bill – originally drafted about six years ago by University of Cape Town academics Christina Murray and Conrad Barberton – has been the subject of a battle between finance minister Trevor Manuel and the executive authority of parliament, in the form of the speaker and NCOP chairman Mninawa Mahlangu.

The former speaker – Baleka Mbete, who is now deputy president – spearheaded the process to get the bill passed, in an effort to give parliament to have a greater say over its own financial management.

After the victory of the Jacob Zuma faction at Polokwane in December 2007, the stage was prepared for the bill’s passage.

The treasury has wondered all along why the Public Finance Management Act – which governs budgets and the spending of government departments and the judiciary – is not good enough for parliament.

Parliament, however, wanted to boost its independence. The bill was passed last September by the national assembly.

Now the NCOP looks set to delay the legislation. Finance select committee chairman Tutu Ralane says mandates still have to be negotiated with the nine provinces, which the NCOP represents.

The jury is out on whether the process can be completed by the time the election takes place, probably in April, but the bill seems to be contradictory on just who is accountable for the financial management of parliament. It appears to specifically exclude the speaker – who is now Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde – and the NCOP chairman from responsibility for the oversight of parliament’s budget preparation.

Three years ago parliament fired its chief financial officer, Harry Charlton, who exposed the Travelgate travel coupon saga, for "an indisputable colossal contempt" for parliament’s prescribed policies and procedures. Charlton, who subsequently won a labour court action, which is still being appealed by parliament, is now apparently happily living in Australia. His matter is before the labour appeal court.

Parliament had better get its own rules about financial management right. – Business Report

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