June 22, 2021

Briefs that show it all: Nice job, if you can get it

You are going to have to exercise some patience if you are waiting to see the sixth parliament get on with it. The official opening is the State of the Nation Address, which falls on 20 June, and that will be the first joint sitting of the new MPs. After that the plenaries begin with debates on SONA in both Houses. But the real work of parliament, as we know, happens in the committees, which only get going on 2 July.

Committees are popularly known as the “engines of parliament” because they drive the law-making process as well as parliament’s constitutionally determined responsibilities of public participation and oversight of the executive. Yet the new committees meet for the first time only on 2 July -- and close again for recess four weeks later, on 29 July.

If we consider that the last time parliament’s committees sat was 20 March, this means Members last were seen exercising their primary duties six weeks ago.

You may well be asking what then do our Members of Parliament do to earn their salaries of R1,106,940 a year or R92,245 a month – which is the lowest salary a backbencher in parliament can earn. Committee chairpersons earn R1,405,015 a year, or R121,251 per month; minority party leaders R1,309,563 a year or R109,130 a month; the leader of the opposition earns R1,600,467 a year which works out at R133,372. Chief whips fall into the same salary scale. Those who have been selected to serve as cabinet ministers get R2,401,633 a year, or R200,136 a month.

If you are interested, the highest paid members of parliament are the National Assembly speaker and National Council of Provinces chairperson, who each earned R2,825,470 in the 2018/19 financial year. That worked out to R235,455 a month. In other words they earn as much as the Deputy President.

Not bad if you consider that the first term of the sixth parliament sits for all of five weeks.

Oh for the glory days when GDP was predicted to grow at 1.5%

Only last quarter the DA’s M S Shackleton asked the Minister of Finance on what basis he believed the country’s GDP would grow by 1.5 percent in the 2019-20 financial year. The written answer he received from the Minister in March was, “growth is expected to be supported by stronger household spending and private sector investment” .A clearly over-confident Minister of Finance said at the time “real gross domestic product growth is expected to increase from an estimated 0.7 percent in 2018/19 to 1.5 percent in 2019/20”.

The Minister added, “[H]ousehold spending is projected to strengthen due to gradual improvements in disposable income and credit extended to households”. He also expected real wage growth in the private sector and stated: “In 2019/20, investment growth is expected to be supported by a rising need to replace worn capital, an expected improvement in certain export commodity prices, and a gradual recovery in business confidence.” Well, someone got their sums wrong.

The ever-ebullient Minister Mboweni said back in March, “Government has made progress on restoring policy certainty with many measures being implemented or prepared for implementation. Improved traction on the reform agenda could increase growth, if reforms are well-received by investors and businesses.”

His reply did acknowledge that there were real risks to the economic outlook for 2019/20, such as Eskom and “the potential impact that ineffective implementation of its reconfiguration could have on capital flows; the level of the exchange rate; and investor confidence. Other near-term domestic risks include the potential for disruptive load-shedding, prolonged industrial action and whether a hesitance to investment continues well beyond political events scheduled this year.” He did add some further warnings about the consequences of global impacts on our economy, but they are too depressing to list here.

Land Commission may prolong the long-running Mala Mala land claim

Remember the most expensive land restitution deal in South Africa’s history, and the country's longest-running? Well, still no end in sight for it. It appears to be ongoing and on its way back to court.

R1.1bn was paid for the purchase of bits of the exclusive Mala Mala game reserve in a land restitution project that was expected to benefit 960 households. The reason it upset so many people at the time is that the minister effectively spent almost the entire annual land restitution budget for that year in one go.

It took decades to reach the agreement. The initial offer of R751.7m, made in 2008 and accepted by the owner, was rejected by the Minister at the time, Lulama Xingwana, as ‘exorbitant’ and he refused to approve the transaction. Off it went to the Constitutional Court, where curiously the price of R1.1bn was eventually agreed on by Minister Gugile Nkwinti just before the case was due to be heard and was hastily removed from the Court roll at the last moment.

A lot of people were to gain much from this massive payout, but not, it turned out, the majority of the community that it was intended to benefit. The Communal Property Association represented two communities – the Mhlanganisweni and Mavhuraka – but somehow only one actually benefitted. It emerged after the lengthy negotiations that the N’wa ndlamharhi Communal Property Association (NCPA), in whose name the land is registered, only recognised as beneficiaries 250 households who belong to the Mhlanganisweni community. Those from the Mavhuraka community got nothing. Chief Commissioner Nomfundo Gobodo, briefing MPs earlier this year, said the CPA should be placed under administration.

This land deal also holds the record of being one of the longest-running of all the many protracted land claims, and it looks like it is about to beat its own record. The Commissioner has announced that he wants to stop payouts, which is unlikely to go down well.

How are we doing on the land restitution programme?

It’s hard to say because ... well, because of lots of reasons, but the ministry that deals with land cannot answer this question. It turns out it does not own land but administers land on behalf of the Department of Public Works. This land is leased to prospective producers, and assistance is given, apparently by the department now known as the ministry of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, according to terms set by the World Trade Organisation, which has categorised South Africa as a developing country, which allows for provision of grants to support production, as long as it doesn’t extend to “subsidising production” or “initiation of production enterprises”.

Whether this sheds any light at all on South Africa’s urgent – and massive – land reform needs is not clear. But parliament was provided with a list of land and portions of farms administered and leased out on behalf of the Department of Public Works, and this journalist counted a total of 244 that are leased to prospective producers. Unfortunately it didn’t say how many lessees benefit from grants.








Last modified on Sunday, 09 June 2019 17:39

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Notes from the House is an independent online publication that tracks and monitors Parliament’s role in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to improve the lives of South African citizens. Published by Moira Levy with the support of the Claude Leon Foundation.

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