The oversight alarm bells are ringing

2010-10-23 16:18

Briefings on government’s 2009/10 yearly reports are dominating the agendas of ­Parliament’s portfolio committees.

It is a time for good performance to be commended, instances of mismanagement probed and targets set.

One component of government will, however, escape assessment.

In the absence of a dedicated ­portfolio committee to oversee its activities, the presidency will ­remain sheltered from the red pens and prying eyes of MPs and the ­public.

The annual reports of the presidency and the National Youth Development Agency, which falls under it, have illustrated how maintaining the oversight vacuum will increasingly undermine Parliament’s ability to hold the executive accountable.

Like any other ­national department, the presidency and those ministries in it are required to go through a budgetary process, formulate and implement a strategic plan and carry out their business in a transparent manner.

In addition, the increased size, mandate and budget of the Jacob Zuma presidency have lent a greater ­urgency to the DA’s proposal for a dedicated presidential portfolio committee to be set up.

According to the presidency’s 2009/10 yearly report, R5.8 million worth of office equipment was written off as “lost” and almost R1 million in irregular expenditure was incurred.

The poor performance of the presidential hotline and the conflicting data from the presidency ­regarding its performance are further testaments to serious administrative weaknesses.

Of greater concern are the criticisms of auditor-general Terence Nombembe regarding the presidency’s poorly formulated strategic plan.

The core responsibility of the presidency is the implementation and achievement of the state’s strategic agenda through “considered planning, coordination, oversight, mobilisation and support”.

That the body tasked with driving the government’s strategic objectives cannot, even with R25 million worth of advisers and the establishment of two new ministries dedicated to planning and performance monitoring, develop a coherent strategy of its own, exposes fundamental deficiencies in government’s most powerful department.

While the youth agency was able to put forward a clearer strategic ­vision, it fell far short of meeting its objectives.

An amalgamation of the failed Umsobomvu Youth Fund and the National Youth Commission, the agency’s first year has been characterised by poor performance and ­allegations of resources being abused to fight party political battles rather than improve the economic position of young South ­Africans.

Of its 68 targets, 44 were not achieved and nine could not be measured at all.

Insufficient funding and the ­global financial crisis were largely used to explain the organisation’s poor delivery.

This stands in stark contrast to the more than R11 million paid in salaries to the 12 members of the agency’s operations executive committee, the awarding of more than R1?million in bonuses to management personnel and irregular expenditure of R11 million.

In the absence of a portfolio committee, such acts of mismanagement, poor planning and power abuse cannot be effectively probed.

Given the increasing degree of ­secrecy that shrouds the affairs of the government, opposition parties and civil society need to view ­attempts to increase oversight of the presidency as a vital weapon in the fight to defend fundamental democratic values.

It is a telling indication of the ANC’s reverence for these principles, and its vision for our democratic future, that the ruling party’s resistance to greater oversight of the presidency appears to be growing.

»? Trollip is the DA’s parliamentary leader

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