Department's Human Resources Branch: Performance discussions

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Justice and Correctional Services

29 March 2007
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Meeting report

JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
30 March 2007
DEPARTMENT'S HUMAN RESOURCES BRANCH: PERFORMANCE DISCUSSIONS

Chairperson:
Ms F Chohan-Khota (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Branch: Human Resources
30 March 2007 Presentation to the Portfolio Committee
Eastern Cape: Vacancy List per Rank/Level as on 28 February 2007
Status Report to Audit Committee on Human Resources Audit Findings as at 23 March 2007
The Recruitment Strategy
HR Responses to the Internal Audit Report Dated November 2006
Provincial :Vacancy lists per rank/level as on February 2007
[For all unavailable documents, please email info@pmg.or.za]

 

Audio Recording of the Meeting

SUMMARY
The Human Resources branch of the Department of Justice briefed the Committee on its budget and performance, as a follow up on previous meetings. The Branch had over spent by R1 million in the previous year and projected to under spend this year, because of the number of vacancies. The budget increased R82.09 million to fund the personnel and the internship programme and to try to fill the vacancies. At the end of January there were 233 officials and 59 vacancies. The profile for staff was presented. The staff count was 151 461. This had decreased because of staff resignations or contracts ending. The vacancy rate increased to 15.8%.  The Department was currently auditing information so that it would be credible. Recruitment was to be fast-tracked. The disciplinary profile was given. The HR branch had put a number of plans in place to redress the problems raised by the internal audit, including plans for skills development.

Members asked for comparison of the current and previous vacancy rates, the unfunded posts, the necessity for the audit, the fact that some had been re-prioritised after funding was found, then reasons for the staff mobility, and the fact that delivery of services was compromised by the vacancies. The Committee was requested to provide a specific update, especially on court services, and quarterly reports. Further questions addressed the underperformance of the Department, particularly in comparison to Correctional Services,  whether an acceptable vacancy rate had been identified, the reasons for delay in disciplinary matters, the trend of disciplinary matters, and the need to take a tough stance. The Committee then addressed the Internal Audit Unit findings. Questions were asked on the skills competency procedures, the steps to appointment, challenges and blockages in the systems, how the Department was addressing the problems, and the lack of strategic planning. IT was emphasized that a proper plan, with time frames, was needed. Late report submissions were a problem.  A number of questions were addressed around the probation period and some doubts expressed whether HR was managing the end of probation properly.

MINUTES
Human Resources Branch of Department of Justice: Briefing
Mr Johan Johnson, Chief Director, Budgets, DOJ, focused on the budget of the Human Resources (HR) branch. He told the Committee that the budget allocation for 2005/06 was R60.3 million but that the branch had overspent by R1million, although in goods and services there was under spending.

In 2006/07 the budget allocation had decreased to R58 million. The reason was that there was R62 million in the regional budget, from which a deduction of R15 million had been made because there were people working in the regional departments although appointed to the national office establishment. R11million had been allocated to fund the current ongoing internship programme.  The projection was for an under spending of about R7.6 million as it could be seen that there were vacancies in the various components. For the new financial year the budget increased from R58 million to R82.09 million.  The substantial increase was to fund the personnel and the internship programme and to try to fill the vacancies.. At the end of January there were 233 officials and 59 vacancies.

Discussion
The Chairperson remarked that basically the R11 million for interns had been put to compensation of employees.

Part II of Briefing: Staffing profile
Ms Shali Chikane, Chief Director, Human Resources, DOJ, noted that her presentation would address some of the concerns raised by the Committee earlier in the year. She advised the Committee that the staffing profile excluded judges and magistrates. As at 28 February 2007 the staff count was 151 461,  which meant that DOJ had created about 330 new E-Schedule Clerks posts.

Ms Chikane then tabled and explained the staffing profile, and emphasised that the head count related to people actually occupying posts. The numbers had decreased by 432, because of staff resigning or contracts ending. The Department’s vacancy rate increased from 11.2% to 15.8% due to the fact that they had created the new E-schedule posts. The average temporary units reflected that there were more staff than vacancies. The vacancy profile given on slide 7 was both for the regional and the national office. She browsed through the comparative analysis from the Annual Report of 2006. She tabled the vacancies per region per level. She said that the DOJ was currently auditing information from the Department so that it would be credible.

Ms Chikane described the recruitment plan and advised that DO wanted to fast track the recruitment by creating a national capacity. She noted that the Human resource Profile was provided in specific response to the request of the Committee. She also gave the current disciplinary profile, highlighting the length of time taken on cases, and the numbers.  DOJ were now demonstrating a desire to fast track the cases, and this was shown by the number of cases that had been finalized. There was also a table of the number of grievances and complaints, analysed by type.

Ms Chikane then noted that the Branch had put a number of plans in place to redress the problems raised by the internal audit. These included plans for skills development.

Discussion
Mr S Swart (ACDP) asked for a comparison of the current vacancy rate with the previous year’s vacancy rate.

Ms Z Hanise, Acting Chief Director: HR, DOJ replied that compared to last year, the current year’s vacancy rate had dropped, even though the staff turnover still changed dramatically from month to month. She noted that there was particular staff mobility at the beginning of the year.

Mr Swart asked whether, since there was an increased budget, the vacancies would be filled.

Ms Hanise replied that there was a timeframe to drastically reduce the vacancies, which was until June. She continued that currently recruitment was done at the head office and the Department was looking to devolve the function to regions. The biggest challenge here was the consolidation of the information across the country, but it would be to their advantage to make the process easier.

Ms C Johnson (ANC) asked if all the unfunded vacancies were necessarily covered in the preceding budgets or whether there would be questions of unfunded posts year after year.

Ms Hanise replied that in the case of unfunded posts DOJ had resorted to co-funding for the positions. Moreover, it  reviewed the staff so that if there were projects that needed to be done it would then fill the required vacancies.

Ms Tshidi Modise, Director, HR, DOJ added that one of the few things DOJ was engaged with to combat vacancies was that it would embark on an internal audit of the establishment and identify the vacancies that were funded and not funded, and if there was going to be any additional funding directed at the vacancies this would be done. This could possibly stretch over a period of one or two years she added because there were situations where posts were created but were not being funded. 

The Chairperson asked why the Department needed the audit.

Ms Modise replied that the presentation talked about checking the establishment and verifying the posts that were funded and the ones that were not funded.

The Chairperson remarked that it was incredulous that the HR Branch did not know the posts that were unfunded.

Ms Modise replied that this was not necessarily so at the moment, because some posts had been funded but had been recalled by the line-managers, and the funds re-directed elsewhere.

The Chairperson remarked that it was outrageous that posts were identified as necessary, and were then funded, only to have the money re-prioritised.

Ms Modise replied that this was so because when posts later become vacant the line- managers would then look again at the establishment and determine what their priorities were.

The Chairperson remarked that this was a different situation. She would like to know what exactly warranted the audit because if HR was aware of their establishment then it should know the amount of posts , both funded and unfunded.

Ms Modise replied that the audit was necessary because there was mobility in the personnel in the different branches. This was something that HR might not have been made aware of, and thus needed to verify this information.

The Chairperson asked if the movement of staff was people moving from one position to another.

Ms Modise replied that this was not necessarily only in relation to staff, but included funds re-prioritised.  She gave an example of new digital recording system in the courts. This new system might require a lot of lot of data capturers and in the absence of funds to hire the data capturers HR would rather then look to whether it could re-route administration clerks to data capturing so that the job was done.

The Chairperson asked why HR then needed an audit to ascertain that a person was in the post or not.

Ms Modise replied that this was done so that the information would be credible.

Mr G Solomon (ANC) remarked that the vacancy rates which were high among administration clerks was a huge concern because it meant that delivery of services was being directly and negatively impacted.

Ms S Camerer agreed and asked if there were any steps in place to address the vacancies in areas such as administration clerks.

The Chairperson remarked that the Committee was worried about the fact the more vacant posts existed, the more it meant that service requirements were not being met. The Committee wanted to know the measures HR had taken to prioritize the court services.

Dr Khotso De Wee, Chief Operations Officer, DOJ, replied that DOJ must accept the criticisms that to some extent the vacant posts compromised on the delivery of services. He however wanted to report, as indicated previously, that DOJ had created 1 171 posts for court stenographers, E-Schedule posts numbered  345 posts, the court managers 216 posts, and senior family counselors about 100 posts. He emphasised that DOJ was prioritising court services, but it could be that it was not doing this fast enough.

The Chairperson remarked that she was still worried when she discovered that the posts that were linked to delivery were not filled. The Committee felt that DOJ was not adequately equipped. She added that the Committee required an update, especially on court services, on how things were improving. She emphasised that she did not want a spreadsheet. What she would like was a detailed analysis, along the lines of "Eastern Cape: x number of positions filled, which would be a, b and c." She also emphasised the quarterly reports and told the Department that the first report was due in June, the second in September and the third in December.

The Chairperson added that she was disappointed by the fact that the DOJ had under performed, and that tit had achieved less than the Department of Correctional Services. She realised that there were material differences but noted that the situation did not look good. One of the reasons she had asked for the comparative analysis was to get a sense of what might be an acceptable vacancy rate. She believed that DOJ should be prioritising working on a standard of acceptable vacancy rates for the Department in comparison with other departments.

Ms Hanise replied that in terms of the comparative analysis the biggest problem was a lack of updated data and as a result they had to get the information from the various departmental websites, which in turn were sometimes a little outdated. However, DOJ would continue with the comparative analysis and hoped to use the Departments of Health and Education statistics as comparisons.

The Chairperson remarked that Education and Health were better because they also had several sites and services at the sites. She emphasised that an important discussion had ensued in the previous meeting when she asked if there was an acceptable international vacancy rate. She added that she would also like to know the statistics from other countries, especially the vacancy rates of their courts

Ms Johnson asked where the personnel was going, considering that the Department had such a high mobility rate

Ms Hanise replied that the problematic levels were Levels 2 to 4 and the biggest challenge was attracting the staff and keeping them by offering them competitive remuneration and more opportunities.

Ms Camerer asked why the disciplinary matters were being delayed.

Ms Chikane replied that the delays were partially attributable to the fact that in serious matters the police were also involved,  and DOJ had to wait for them to finish their investigations before it could close the matter. The second point was that the investigating and presiding officers were employees in management positions. Normally the presiding officer might require that the investigating officers furnish him or her with more information, which could make the matters more protracted. She added that DOJ was working on improving the situation.

Mr Solomon asked for the trend of disciplinary matters since the incidents of fraud and theft seemed to be quite problematic for the department.

Ms Chikane replied that most of the employees of the courts were not able to manage on their current remuneration, and had difficulty in budgeting, and therefore were tempted to indulge in fraudulent behavior. She said that this was the main problem. DOJ had therefore decided to establish a programme to help the employees learn how to manage their own finances. She further added that because the proposed projects had not yet taken off the courts were still handling a lot of cash. DOJ hoped that this trend would reduce as the courts handled less cash.

The Chairperson remarked that a person who committed theft should be charged and appropriate measures taken.

Ms Chikane replied that the more serious crimes involved suspension.

Ms Meruti remarked that the people suspended on fraud and theft charges should not be getting full pay whilst they were being investigated.

The Chairperson agreed and remarked that this was exactly the same issue the Committee had raised before. It was found that people suspended on suspicion of fraud or theft were charged three years later, having received full pay while on suspension. This was not an ideal situation as it seemed the culprits were being rewarded for bad behavior. She acknowledged that DOJ was worried about the legal implications, but said that if it did not adopt a tough approach it would never get around the issue.

The Chairperson asked how far DOJ had progressed with a particular cases involving disputes around the CEO and the deputy CEO, and why this was taking so long.

Mr De Wee replied that he did not have the requisite information, other than being aware that investigations were pending.

The Chairperson remarked that the Committee was not pleased with the progression of this case. She highlighted that the matter had been delayed endlessly and she was of the opinion that a person who had transgressed should be dealt with and the matter closed. She requested a written report as to when the matter started, what where the charges, how far the disciplinary action had gone and when the matter was going to be concluded.

HR audit findings as at-23 March 2007
The Chairperson asked DOJ to elaborate on its response that stated that there was a new structure but DOJ were waiting for approval. She asked if the skills competency was being ignored, because the audit reflected that they were people in positions they were not qualified for. She remarked that she did not understand why psychologists had to do the competency assessment.

Ms Matsie Litheko, Director, Human Resources, DOJ replied that the background of the particular audit report must be considered as well. The competency assessment was a process used in the Department to recruit senior and middle management. During the recruitment there were two process of elimination, firstly by interviews and secondly by a competency assessment. This, in relation to Senior Manager positions, was a prescript from the Department of Public Services and Administration (DPSA), but the Department had decided it should be used internally. When the investigation was conducted DOJ had presumed that the audit team had misunderstood the process in that only psychologists appointed by the DPSA could conduct the competency tests.

The Chairperson remarked that in a nutshell DOJ were not assessing skills training, but something else.

Ms Litheko replied in the affirmative.

The Chairperson asked for the steps taken in appointing a person, and how HR would deal with the problem of grading their skill in respect to the Department’s goals.

Ms Hannelie van Niekerk, Director, HR, DOJ, replied that the ideal development strategy was to look at the strategic objectives of the department and from there to develop profiles, and competencies linked to specific profiles, to determine the job-specific competency to achieve the objectives. These profiles were then used to do a skills audit to identify the gaps needing to be closed. However, the Department was in the process of being redesigned, and  what was used now was a skills audit done previously as well as needs analysis from the different branches, both of which were used for the projection of skills training programme. With all due respect, the internal audit unit had mixed up the situation and it had not given a true reflection of the situation. 

The Chairperson remarked that the systems did not work well. For example, if the manager wanted to upgrade someone and sent for reports, it seemed that the path for those reports to get to the required place was not in order. She wanted to know if this process was now working or if there were challenges and blockages.

Ms van Niekerk replied that the systems were not running smoothly as indicated by the problems of service delivery and other problems.

Mr De Wee added that in terms of the competency skills, the Department seemed to more focused in merits and pay raises than in skills development. However, he also wanted to say that the burden of this responsibility lay with the supervisors and they were the ones signing off on performance agreements. He was also aware that in certain areas people would say they did not have the capacity.

The Chairperson said that the major question was what the Department was doing about these problems.

Mr De Wee replied that the truth of the matter was that the problems started at a low level, with people failing to sign and submit performance agreements, thus not supporting performance management.  However he was pleased to say that about 80% to 90% of the managers were signing and submitting their performance agreements and the next step was to focus on specific areas in performance management, and make sure that supervisors were available. There had been progress but there was still room for further improvement.

The Chairperson read the competency assessment and the audit finding. She remarked that the statement was very worrying as it reflected a lack of strategic planning and thinking on the part of HR, and she was not sure what HR's comments and action plan meant.

Ms Litheko replied that she wanted to contextualise the situation. As mentioned, there was a need to have the process in place as to when and how recruitment was done, as this would help HR to identify the skills they might need five years from now. But before they could do this they had to go through other processes, such as identifying the competencies needed and only then could HR create a job profile for all the jobs.

The Chairperson remarked that there was no resource unit strategic plan and she declared that HR could not operate a unit without a plan. The Committee needed a date when this was going to be addressed. She realized that it was a big job, but must have a time frame. She also wanted to address the late report submissions. A further problem was the probation period mentioned on page eight. She sought an explanation on how this process was functioning as the problems she saw were the induction problems and the issue of the probation reports.

Ms Hanise replied that this was a problem that HR was working on solving. However, HR was not responsible for the probation, which lay in the hands of the Public Education and Communications unit. The problem was that HR, when needing to submit the reports, did not have them and this was not in its competency. HR had brought this to the attention of the proper authorities. Sometimes it was possible to receive reports from the line-managers.

The Chairperson remarked that HR surely had some system in place that dealt with the probation, because when it came to the end of the probation period someone should be asking whether the salaries were to continue with employment. She wanted to know whether any person was responsible for asking the line manager if a particular employee was still employed. She asked if this meant that HR were keeping records on and paying people when they were not sure if the probation was successful or not.

Ms Hanise replied that on a monthly basis HR sent reminders to the line managers on outstanding probations, and followed these up. HR had discovered that they had a serious backlog problem.

The Chairperson said that her real problem was that at the end of the probation there was no report on the probation whatsoever. She then asked whether the system automatically stopped paying at the end of the probation.

Ms Hanise replied that the system would carry on paying.

The Chairperson remarked that this probably meant that DOJ was extending and keeping people beyond their signed contracts. She added that she could not determine the number of cases where this had happened in the report, and requested DOJ to furnish the Committee with full details on cases where it had not followed up on probation.

The Chairperson asked what had happened in month six.

Ms Litheko replied that when DOJ appointed people on probation these were permanent staff on probation in another job.

The Chairperson asked that whether the person could be fired if he or she did not perform well.

Ms Litheko replied that in literal terms the person did not leave the system because he or she would have a permanent job, but they would be fired from the probation.

The Chairperson asked how HR could know if person was still there or had moved on when it did not have the assessment reports.

Ms Litheko replied that HR knew if the person was around or not through the payroll reports that had to be signed by the line-managers.

The Chairperson replied that the point was not whether they reported for duty, but rather whether they successfully concluded their probation.

Ms Litheko replied that HR kept tabs on the people because every month line-managers submitted reports.

The Chairperson asked how the Department’s system operated in the twelfth month if there was no report.

Ms Litheko replied that if the line manager said that the person was not suitable, HR would then go and check through the employee personnel.

The Chairperson asked what would happen if there were no reports.

Ms Litheko replied that the question had a lot of legal implications.

Mr Swart remarked that from his understanding when probation ended that was when the contract ended.

Other Committee business
The Chairperson informed the Committee that it would be meeting with the Legal Aid Board, Chapter 9 institutions and the Chief Justice. Woman in Dialogue had invited the Committee for a visit in Pretoria.
The meeting was adjourned.

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