Cape Town - The information officer in Minister of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Jeff Radebe's office has declined to make available the so-called Mandate Paper that sets out government's budget priorities, claiming it's a classified Cabinet record.
DA finance spokesperson David Maynier said in a statement on Tuesday that he submitted a request to access the document in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) in September this year. He said the request was denied on the basis of the paper being classified.
In a letter addressed to Maynier, Stanley Mtakumba, Paia deputy information officer at the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) said: "In terms of Section 12 (a) of Paia the DPME cannot grant your access to the Mandate paper since it is a classified record."
Mtakumba said in the letter that the "formal release" of the Mandate Paper is likely to take place in 2019, once consultative processes have been concluded. He said the Mandate Paper was a "work in progress".
Radebe's office, however, denied the document is classified. His spokesperson Mmabatho Ramompi told Fin24 the Mandate Paper "is definitely not classified", and she pointed out that Radebe even held a media briefing on its contents on September 7.
Maynier said Radebe appears to be the new "budget tsar" and the fact that the document cannot be made public is "bizarre". "Especially when the Constitution specifically states the the budgetary process must promote transparency."
There has been concern that the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation's (DPME) involvement in setting budget priorities could usurp the function of National Treasury's own budget processes. Radebe has repeatedly denied such claims.
Fin24 reported in mid-August that government has downplayed suggestions that it wants to create a "super presidency" by having a hand in budgetary processes.
At the time Radebe acknowledged that the mandate paper was a significant “budget reform”. He said that the budget process will in future consist of two parts – a prioritisation process led by the DPME and the Presidency, culminating in Mandate Paper, and the standard allocation process led by the National Treasury, in consultation with state departments.
On Tuesday, the Parliamentary Budget Office, which presented a preview on the medium term budget policy statement, said the Mandate Paper will serve to strengthen the alignment of the budget with the medium term strategic framework and the National Development Plan.
It said the paper would help with a "focused implementation" of government's spending plans in the last 24 months of the Jacob Zuma administration.
Maynier, however, said that the new parallel function of budget prioritisation suggested that "chaos is reigning" in government ahead of the MTBPS.
The mini budget will be delivered by Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba on Wednesday.
"That is why I have requested the chairperson of the standing committee on finance Yunus Carrim, to request [the] Minister make a presentation on the budget prioritisation process at the briefing on medium-term budget policy statement," Maynier said.
The post-MTBPS analysis takes place on Thursday, when Gigaba and National Treasury officials will brief Parliament's finance committees on the rationale behind the policy statement.
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