Western Cape parliament needs millions to shape up

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Millions are needed to fix problems at the Western Cape provincial parliament, its speaker told this newspaper, while the provincial finance ministry has confirmed it would help.

Sharna Fernandez, speaker for the provincial parliament, or legislature, told Weekend Argus on Friday she needs an immediate R34-million to get her house in shape. She has appealed to provincial finance minister Ivan Meyer for cash.

Sharna Fernandez, speaker of the Western Cape provincial parliament, says she needs R34-million to turnaround challenges including staff shortages and IT upgrades at her office in Wale Street. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Sharna Fernandez, speaker of the Western Cape provincial parliament, says she needs R34-million to turnaround challenges including staff shortages and IT upgrades at her office in Wale Street. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“Our parliament (or legislature) has always been the leanest, meanest machine trying to do as much as we could with few resources. But we need to grow our staff complement in order to deliver a service that is compelling,” said Fernandez.

“We need funding. It’s not a matter of when we get it… We need R34-million.”

From her sixth-floor office in Wale Street, Fernandez said this would help her address staff shortages as well as upgrade financial and technological systems.

Weekend Argus last week reported on the impact of austerity measures at the legislature, based on an internal report its secretary Hamida Fakira presented to its oversight committee.

Fakira’s report highlighted weaknesses with the legislature’s finances, information and communication technology, security and management facilities as well as human resources.

The report warned understaffing had led to “fatigue and burn-out”, with the legislature’s 16 committees unable to deliver effectively as a result.

Fernandez did not deny any of the report’s claims, but said the legislature was not on the brink of collapse, as the report alluded.

“The report wasn’t a shock for me. We know our committees are under pressure. But I can only fix it if I have money. As long as I don’t have money I can’t fix it,” said Fernandez.

When she left the corporate world after three decades to join the legislature 15 months ago, Fernandez stepped into a leadership role that demanded a “tightening of belts”.

“I did say to staff that we needed to do more with less. But I didn’t mean more work with less people. I meant less money but we have to get the job done,” said Fernandez.

“There is no access to a bottomless pit of money. There is a crunch on the system. There are severe financial constraints.”

Fakira meanwhile said her report “should not have gone out with emotion” that it contains in its written form, which Weekend Argus obtained.

“We have been having a lot of discussions about it. We do have financial pressure. We have a shortfall,” said Fakira.

“It’s an ongoing discussion and we have to come up with a solution. There was also anticipation about whether we are going to meet our targets or not.

“We don’t have money and that’s why we have doubling up of staff. We are doing a patch up here and there. We are doing whatever we can without money.”

By Friday night, Western Cape finance minister Ivan Meyer said his ministry would step in.

“We have a plan to deal with the situation. I am in discussion with the national Treasury about this matter,” said Meyer.

“The ministry of finance will assist them (legislature) in the short term and is already supporting them. I am also supporting them to set up a fully functional budget and treasury office.

We are providing them with financial technical expertise as a transitional arrangement.”

Meyer asserted: “There is no crisis.”

Legislature staff are grumbling though, alleging that austerity measures “only work towards the ground and defies gravity when it comes to the speaker”.

Staff members who did not want to be named, stating they did not want to lose their jobs, said Fernandez had been on “unnecessary” overseas trips and wasted money.

Fernandez said her trips were work-related, adding that her door was always open to all 94 staff members to address their concerns.

“I am concerned that we have staff who feel that way. I’ve spoken to almost every single staff member. I told them to talk to me,” said Fernandez.

“There are the few who are disgruntled, who might have historical issues they haven’t resolved and they might have developed a gripe.

“But we have no monsters and dragons lurking here. What you see is what you get.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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