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The role of Parliament in energy oversight

Lance Greyling (ID) 15 September 2010.

Speech delivered to the South African Civil society Energy Caucus by Lance Greyling.

SPEECH IN FULL –

“Let me start by thanking you for once again inviting me to present at this civil society energy caucus. As I said last year, I really do share your values in fighting for a just and sustainable energy future. I also welcome the opportunity to share a panel with my Public Enterprises Portfolio Committee Chairperson Ms Vytjie Mentoor in discussing this vitally important topic.

To my mind the role of Parliament in providing oversight over the energy sector should be a clear cut one, but unfortunately this year has proven to me that this is certainly not the case. In fact I would go so far as to say that Parliament and particularly the energy committee has been negligent in its duties to provide proper oversight over the energy sector and, in particular, energy planning.

Parliament essentially has three roles, which are laid out in the Constitution, namely that of drafting legislation, approving Government budgets and performing oversight over the work of Government Departments. Unfortunately it is the last role of performing oversight that is not clearly defined and there have been big debates over what constitutes proper oversight. I will, however, return to this issue later.

On the first issue of drafting legislation, I believe that Parliament initially lived up to its role in completing the 2008 Energy Act. I was on the Committee at the time and I remember stating in my speech in the House how this Act would usher in a new regime of energy planning in South Africa. We had worked very hard in that Committee to ensure that energy planning no longer took place in this ad-hoc fashion, but that the Department, through the mechanism of the integrated energy plan, would be forced to properly model all factors pertinent to our energy future, including environmental sustainability, job creation, industrial policy objectives and a host of other factors.

Unfortunately none of this happened because the Department has still not lived up to its provisions in drafting an integrated energy plan. Instead the Department has only concerned itself with the Integrated Resource Plan, which is only mentioned in one line of the Electricity Regulation Act of 2006 and the factors that need to be modeled are left up to the discretion of the Department. We are clearly doing things back to front when it comes to energy planning and Parliament should not be endorsing this approach. So why has this happened? This brings me to the second role of Parliament, namely, approving budgets.

The Department of Energy claims that it only received the budget to set up any kind of modeling capacity at the beginning of this year, which explains the delay in getting started on the integrated energy plan. On this I have sympathy with the Department, and I think that Parliament should be playing a far more vociferous role in arguing for a larger budget to be allocated to this Department so that we can finally capacitate it to the extent that it can perform its planning mandate properly.

This brings me to the last role of Parliament, namely this poorly defined concept of oversight. There is a big debate over what Parliament’s precise role is concerning policy making. Some people argue that Parliament doesn’t have much say over policy as this is the prerogative of the Department or the Executive.

I believe though, that at the very least Parliament has a duty to ensure that the integrity of the policy making process is upheld and that the South African public is not short-changed due to the influence of special interests. In the case of this latest IRP I believe that we have been completely remiss in this duty.

Firstly, Parliament has not sufficiently questioned the Department as to the composition of the so-called Technical Advisory Panel, tasked with coming up with the assumptions that would feed into the IRP process. When I asked the Minister who sits on this Technical Advisory Panel, I got back a very interesting reply. It is basically a Who’s Who of the coal mining and energy intensive users club in South Africa, such as Xstrata coal, BHP Billiton, Sasol, Energy Intensive User Group and Eskom. The only person from a renewable energy company who was supposedly sitting on this panel was Glynn Morris from Agama Energy, except that when we contacted him he informed us that he had in fact never been invited to sit on this panel!

Essentially then, the Department has succeeded in locking in all vested interest groups into the Technical Advisory Panel and even though they claim that it is just about technical expertise, we are not allowed to see the minutes of these meetings, nor are we allowed to see the thinking behind the different energy assumptions that they come up with.

Given the importance of this twenty year energy plan one would also have expected Parliament’s Energy Committee to have had a tight rein on this process, constantly questioning the Department over problematic issues, such as the short space of time that was allocated for public participation. Despite my best efforts though, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee chose not to have any briefings on the IRP until the process was about three months down the track and we were not in a position to iron out these problems. We still have only had one parliamentary meeting on the IRP and it is unclear whether we will have any more before this process is over.
In conclusion then, I believe that Parliament has a huge role to play in strengthening energy governance in South Africa. Unfortunately though I don’t think it has come close to truly living up to this responsibility. I will continue to fight for this, but ultimately it is also up to civil society and the public at large to put greater pressure on what is essentially your Parliament to ensure that this takes place in the future.

I thank you. “

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