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Legislation - Public Finance Management Act - PFMA

This web site is regularly updated with material related to the Public Finance Management Act.

Queries related to the interpretation of the PFMA and/or the Treasury Regulations may be e-mailed to Mr Jayce Nair and a response will be forwarded within 72 hours of the receipt of the query.

Public Finance Management Act (No.1 of 1999 as amended by Act 29 of 1999)

Introduction
The Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), 1999 (Act No. 1 of 1999) (as amended by Act No. 29 of 1999) is one of the most important pieces of legislation passed by the first democratic government in South Africa. The Act promotes the objective of good financial management in order to maximise service delivery through the effective and efficient use of the limited resources.

The key objectives of the Act may be summarized as being to:
  • Modernise the system of financial management in the public sector;
  • Enable public sector managers to manage, but at the same time be held more accountable;
  • Ensure the timely provision of quality information; and
  • Eliminate the waste and corruption in the use of public assets.
The Act, which came into effect from 1 April 2000, gives effect to sections 213 and 215 to 219 of The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Act No. 108 of 1996) for the national and provincial spheres of government. These sections require national legislation to establish a national treasury, to introduce uniform treasury norms and standards, to prescribe measures to ensure transparency and expenditure control in all spheres of government, and to set the operational procedures for borrowing, guarantees, procurement and oversight over the various national and provincial revenue funds.

The PFMA adopts an approach to financial management, which focuses on outputs and responsibilities rather than the rule driven approach of the previous Exchequer Acts. The Act is part of a broader strategy on improving financial management in the public sector.

Background and Approach
The Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), 1999 (Act No. 1 of 1999) must be read together with the Public Finance Management Amendment Act (Act No. 29 of 1999). The two Acts do not make sense on their own - the initial consolidated bill had to be separated into two bills for technical reasons to comply with the Constitution which determines various procedures for the passage of bills through Parliament. The first Bill (now Act No. 1 of 1999) had to apply only to the national sphere, and be passed as a section 75 bill as outlined in that section of the Constitution. Almost all references to provinces were removed from this Act, resulting in missing numbering in the Act in order to protect the numbering system for the consolidated Act. A second bill (now Act No. 29 of 1999) amending Act No. 1 of 1999 was then introduced to incorporate provinces - this Bill had to be passed in terms of section 76(1) procedure in Parliament, as outlined in that section of the Constitution.

The PFMA gives effect to section 216(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Act No. 108 of 1996). This requires national legislation to "establish a national treasury and prescribes measures to ensure transparency and expenditure control in each sphere of government, by introducing:

  • generally recognised accounting practice;
  • uniform expenditure classifications; and
  • uniform treasury norms and standards.
The Act also gives effect to other sections in Chapter 13 of the Constitution. These sections are:
  • Section 213 that limits exclusions and withdrawals from the National Revenue Fund through an Act of Parliament;
  • Section 215 which notes that budgets and the budgetary process "must promote transparency, accountability and the effective financial management of the economy, debt and the public sector" and for national legislation to "prescribe" budget formats for all the spheres of government;
  • Section 217 on procurement to be "in accordance with a system which is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective;
  • Section 218 on the conditions for the issue of guarantees by a government in any sphere;
  • Section 226 that limits an exclusion from a provincial revenue fund through an Act of Parliament;
  • Sections 100 and 216 on intervention by the national government when an organ fails to perform an executive function related to financial management, and circumstances under which funds may be withheld.
The Public Finance Management Act will replace or supercede the various national and provincial Exchequer Acts and the Reporting of Public Entities Act currently in place. Financial accountability was undermined as different legislation applied for different entities. Further, legislation regulating financial management was narrowly focused on expenditure control.

Key Policy Issues
Division of responsibility This Act assumes that the political head of a department (Cabinet Minister or a provincial MEC) is responsible for policy matters and outcomes; this includes seeking Parliamentary (or provincial legislature) approval and adoption of the department's budget vote. The head official (Director-General of a national department or provincial head of department) is responsible for outputs and implementation, and is accountable to Parliament or provincial legislature for the management of the implementation of that budget. This approach is in line with the approach of the new Public Service Regulations, which relies on a performance-driven system based on measurable outputs.

Application of this Act: Departments and Public Entities
This Act gives effect to section 216 and other sections of the constitution. It will apply to the national and provincial spheres and public entities under their ownership control. Parliament, provincial legislatures and independent institutions established by the Constitution are also covered in this Act. The Municipal Finance Management Act, No. 56 of 2003, covers the local government.

An important objective of this Act is to put in place a more effective financial accountability system over public entities. All entities are required to be listed- the major public entities listed in Schedule 2 enjoy full managerial autonomy, with government only able to intervene in its capacity as a majority or sole shareholder. Other public entities are listed in Schedule 3, and enjoy lesser degrees of autonomy.

Composition of the National Treasury

The National Treasury is comprised of the Minister together with the national department or departments responsible for financial and fiscal matters. The Minister is the head of the Treasury.

Powers of the National Treasury

The Constitution confers extensive powers on national government to determine the financial management framework over all organs of state, in all spheres of government. National government must, through national legislation, determine uniform treasury norms and standards. The National Treasury is further expected to monitor and enforce these norms. The National Treasury, therefore, not only implements the budget of the national government, but also plays a financial over-sight role over other organs of state in all spheres of government.

Establishment of Provincial Treasuries- their Role and Function

This Act establishes provincial treasuries, which are responsible for preparing and managing provincial budgets, and enforcing uniform treasury norms and standards as prescribed by the National Treasury and this Act. Note that this chapter is excluded in the first bill as it applies to provinces, but was included in the second, section 76, amendment bill.

Accounting Officers

This Act confers specific responsibilities on accounting officers. The Act vests four key responsibilities, which are:

  • the operation of basic financial management systems, including internal controls in departments and any entities they control;
  • to ensure that departments do not overspend their budgets;
  • to report on a monthly and annual basis, including the submission of annual financial statements two months after the end of a financial year; and
  • to publish annual reports in a prescribed format which will introduce performance reporting. Accounting officers who are negligent and make no effort to comply with these responsibilities will face strict disciplinary sanctions, including dismissal. Similar sanctions will apply to treasury officials failing to carry out their responsibilities. The new Public Service Act regulations and the trend towards performance contracts will complement this approach. Accounting officers are expected to appoint chief financial officers as part of their senior management to enable them to fulfill these responsibilities.
Similar fiduciary responsibilities and sanctions are also outlined for the Boards (called accounting authorities) of public entities.

Voting by main division and virement

The Act requires parliament to vote by programme ("main divisions within a vote") rather than departmental votes. This will require further information on outputs per programme, and limit the powers of accounting officers to move funds between programmes. Such movement or virement is restricted to 8% of the total allocation for a programme.

Improved information and timely submission of financial statements

The Act aims to address the problem of the late submission of financial statements within government, to comply with the constitutional obligations for generally recognised accounting practices and greater transparency, and to improve financial management and accountability through better and more timely information flows. It establishes an Accounting Standard Board to determine generally recognised accounting practices for all spheres of government, including the local sphere.

Chapter Summary of the Act
Chapter One of the Act deals with definitions, objects, application and amendment of this Act. The Act will apply to national and provincial government institutions, which include national and provincial departments, and the entities under their ownership control. Key definitions to note are those of ownership control, government enterprises, main division within a vote, unauthorised, irregular and fruitless expenditure and wasteful expenditure. A procedure to amend this Act is included and is intended to prevent other Acts of Parliament from amending or inadvertently by-passing the provisions of this Act.

Chapter Two of the Act establishes the National Treasury, and deals with its composition, functions, powers and responsibilities. The National Treasury is comprised of the Minister and the national department or departments responsible for financial and fiscal matters. The Minister is empowered to delegate the day-to-day operations of the Treasury. The National Treasury is empowered to develop the overall macroeconomic and fiscal framework, co-ordinate intergovernmental fiscal relations and the budget preparation process, manage the implementation of a budget and promote and enforce revenue, asset and liability management.

The National Treasury is also empowered to determine a banking and cash management framework, and to require banks to provide information on the accounts of national and provincial institutions. The chapter also gives effect to section 213 of the constitution on the management of the national revenue Fund, any exclusions to depositing money received, and the authorisation required before incurring any expenditure.

Chapter Three establishes provincial treasuries and deals with their composition, powers and functions, and the management of provincial revenue funds.

Chapter Four on the budget process gives effect to section 215 of the constitution on the timing and content of national and provincial budgets, and the reporting requirements that will promote greater transparency in the implementation of a budget. It outlines what adjustments budgets must deal with, and outlines the minimum content for multi-year budgets. This section also contains a clause on unfunded mandates.

Chapter Five ensures that all national and provincial institutions and entities have accounting officers, spells out their responsibilities and the disciplinary sanctions that will apply in the event of negligence in fulfilling these responsibilities. This chapter obligates accounting officers to produce monthly and annual financial reports for their political heads and accounting officers to prevent overspending on budgets. The shifting of funds between programmes (or main divisions within a vote) or virement is also dealt with in this part of the Act. Chapter Six of the Act ensures that all public entities are listed in two Schedules. Schedule 2 covers the major public entities, and confers maximum autonomy to these entities. Schedule 3 covers all the other public entities with lesser degrees of autonomy. This chapter outlines the fiduciary and other responsibilities of the governing boards of these entities, which are similar to the responsibilities of accounting officers.

Chapter Seven covers the responsibilities of Ministers and MECs, who are referred to as the executive authorities of departments and public entities.

Chapter Eight of the Act outlines general principles on borrowing and the issuing of guarantees. This chapter gives effect to section 218 of the Constitution on the issuing of guarantees. The chapter also regulates the borrowing operations of the national government and determines the person who can borrow on behalf of any national or provincial government entity. It makes illegal any other forms of borrowing or financial commitment, with strict sanctions applying.

Chapter Nine of the Act lists the areas over which the National Treasury is empowered to issue treasury regulations and instructions. It also obligates the appointment and composition of audit committees.

Chapter Ten of the Act defines financial misconduct, and deals with the procedures for disciplining those public officials guilty of financial misconduct. It also includes a provision for criminal prosecution to apply where there is gross financial misconduct.

Chapter Eleven establishes an Accounting Standards Board, which will have the power to determine generally recognised accounting practices for the public sector.

Chapter Twelve deals with transitional and other miscellaneous issues related to the implementation of this Act and when it takes effect. Some of the provisions of the Act cannot be implemented immediately, and may take up to five years to implement fully (e.g. the sections relating to consolidated financial statements). The transitional arrangements will allow the Minister to phase in such provisions.



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