The Committee commended PanSALB on its receipt of an unqualified audit report. This was a great improvement on the disclaimer of opinion by the Auditor-General in 2007/08. The board had suspended the previous CEO on charges of financial mismanagement.
The Pan South African Language Board expressed its concern about lack of funding which impacted their service delivery. The presence of nine provincial offices was a financial burden and they having a re-look at their structure. Another major challenge was the lack of a language act to aid in the execution of their mandate and allow them to enforce compliance. Also discussed at length was the limbo that PanSALB was in as it fell into a “grey area” within the structure of government. It was not an entity of the Department of Arts and Culture and PanSALB even had oversight over the Department in language matters. They had confusion as to whether they belonged to Arts and Culture or were an independent body having their own executive authority. The Department of Arts and Culture were not obliged to take care of them and thus they did not have a voice when Treasury decided on funding.
Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) Annual Report briefing
Mr Chris Swepu, Acting CEO, explained the PanSALB mandate and then provided an overview of their performance over the past year. With regards to their administration, he admitted that there had been teething problems with non-compliance but they were working very hard to eradicate them. He pointed out that whereas PanSALB was given a disclaimer of opinion by the Auditor-General in 2007/08, they had received an unqualified audit opinion for 2008/09. Following forensic charges of financial mismanagement, the board suspended its CEO, Ms Ntombenhle Nkosi. The board had since appointed the Deputy CEO, Mr Swepu, as acting CEO. The board implemented a job grading process to improve working conditions. As a result, they had lost only five staff members in the financial year.
He then outlined what service delivery they had achieved in what he called “dire financial circumstances” - working with a budget of a little over R47 million. They had improved communication with external stakeholders by introducing a quarterly newsletter and with internal stakeholders by introducing a monthly newsletter. They had worked on several partnerships. The provincial offices had visited many municipalities with outreach campaigns to promote multilingualism and monitor language policy implementation. Progress had been made with spelling and orthography rules that had led to publishing of booklets and the development of terminology. Mr Swepu listed PanSALB’s achievements in the development and promotion of literature as well as the development of a Khoe-San dictionary.
He noted that they were receiving more linguistic human rights complaints. Although he complained that these were predominantly from one language group which showed a lack of awareness of linguistic human rights. They would try to give special attention to this with their limited resources.
Mr Swepu gave a summary of past spending patterns dating back to 1999/2000 with more detail provided on expenditure over the last four years. He then looked at a detailed breakdown of the 2009/10 budget.
The challenges they face included:
- Funding was their biggest challenges which spelt service delivery in dire financial circumstances
- The lack of a language act to aid in the execution of their mandate and to allow them to enforce compliance.
Some of their future plans were:
- They were considering appointing an official fundraiser to help them with capital projects.
- Develop more policies for improved governance.
- Better proactive monitoring and case handling of linguistic human rights violations.
- Reviewing systems for monitoring of government departments.
The Chairperson emphasised the importance of PanSALB in promoting a peaceful society where people were respectful and accepting of one another. He pointed out how many countries had failed to do this and there had been disastrous consequences.
Mr P Ntshiquela (COPE) commented on the fact that Mr Swepu, who was now Acting CEO of PanSALB, was previously Deputy CEO. He asked if they were now without a Deputy.
Prof Sihawukele Ngubane (PanSALB Board Chairperson) responded that they would not proceed to appoint a Deputy until Mr C Swepu’s position was made permanent.
Prof A Lotriet (DA) congratulated the people involved in PanSALB on receiving an unqualified audit opinion. She referred to the suspension of former CEO, Ms Ntombenhle Nkosi, due to irregularities and misconduct and asked the board to clarify the seriousness of these charges and whether they could lead to serious action. She asked if this instance of misconduct had a negative implication on PanSALB’s finances.
Mr Swepu answered that the charges were serious to the extent that there was a serious disciplinary hearing scheduled for 4, 5 and 6 November 2009 and that it was difficult to get into the details without prejudicing both the board and the suspended CEO at the hearing. He said that there were two main allegations, namely insubordination and financial mismanagement by flaunting of procedures which did have negative financial effects
Prof Lotriet said that she had a full understanding of PanSALB’s lack of finances although she asked whether the current type of structure, such as the Provincial Offices, also impacted negatively on the financial burden of PanSALB. She asked whether these provincial structures could be made lighter. She said the initial idea was that Provincial Offices were not supposed to be heavy administration but purely be contact point offices in the provinces
Mr Swepu replied that the board had looked at this and had drawn up a strategy which they saw as their mandate and new three-year strategy. They still hoped to invite the Portfolio Committee to look through it. The board had commissioned a re-look at the structure itself. With the current structure, the Provincial Offices only consisted of three people in each province and only four of the provinces had vehicles.
Mr P Ntshiquela (COPE) asked if the serious allegations made against the former CEO implicated other staff members. He referred to the presentation where it stated that the allocated R47,4 million fell seriously short of what PanSALB required to carry out their mandate and asked how much was the gap between the allocated amount and the actual budget they had submitted.
Mr Swepu answered that according to the forensic report there were no facts that pointed fingers at any of the staff members. He said they would be happy to compile a detailed report after the hearing.
Mr Lovell Sing, PanSALB CFO, said that they had asked the members of the board to write up a wish list of projects they wished to implement in the different focus areas. This amounted to R121 million which was not possible with the allocated budget of R47,4 million and so they had to portion and cut back on what they wanted to do which affected service delivery.
Ms H Msweli (IFP) expressed her concern that PanSALB had not yet visited all municipalities and asked if they were still going to.
Mr Swepu replied that they were continuing to do it and were raising the number of municipalities they had visited. He said that they sought assistance from Local Government and Traditional Affairs in terms of what they do in these municipalities.
Ms M Morutoa (ANC) asked the board to clarify their monitoring mechanisms of linguistic human rights complaints. She referred to a current example where the
Mr Swepu replied that they were in constant communication with the Department of Education. There were a variety of problems regarding implementation of language and education policy. Some schools had no language policy and there were documented cases where schools refused to accommodate other languages. They had committed to get together with Department of Education to strategise and review the language and education policy. Monitoring was an essential part of ensuring that there were no linguistic human rights violations. PanSALB was meant to conduct research by reasonable sampling and bring about a status report. However, due to being financially handicapped they could not produce these research reports. These would be essential to know how far the country was in terms of the commitment that had been made in the Constitution. Their request for funding was so that they could do that which was critical to their mandate of monitoring.
Adv Zixolisile Feni, PanSALB legal adviser, added that it was crucial to the mandate to pass a language act in Parliament. The current lack of a language act made it difficult to enforce compliance. There had been many instances where public institutions did not respond to their queries about linguistic human rights violations and that apart from publishing them in the Government Gazette, there was not much recourse. They would be engaging with government about the enactment of a language act. Mechanisms should be put in place that gave beef to the board about language violations. He asked that the Committee should look into empowering PanSALB with the power of enforcement so that they could fulfil their mandate.
Mr Ntshiqela commented on the painful process of losing staff members and asked if they had any staff development programmes. He referred to the request forwarded to the Committee regarding lack of funds and asked if there was any fundraising strategy. He commented on the lack of co-operation bewteen the government and the board. He asked if this was because of government or the department.
Prof Lotriet referred to the uncomfortable relationship between the board and the department and asked what they were going to do to remedy this.
Ms Msweli expressed concern about the fact that lack of funds would prevent the promotion of indigenous languages in schools and that assistance was needed to implement these important projects.
Mr Swepu answered that relations with the Department since the assumption of office of the new Minister had been good but the problem was that PanSALB was not an entity of the Department of Arts and Culture and PanSALB even had oversight over the Department in language matters. There was no consolidation in the Department budget vote of PanSALB and there was no consolidation of PanSALB in the Annual Report of the Department or in their strategic planning. This deprived them of a platform to present their wishes and deprived them of representation when the strategy plans were presented to Treasury for funding. This was why PanSALB was funded as if they were still their 1995 structure when there were no provincial offices. This was why 64% of funding went to salaries because no one represented them in any form.
He stated that this was something they need to address because legislation had placed them in some grey area. They had been implored to submit quarterly reports to the board but he believed that this defeated the point - as there was nothing the board could do with these reports. They were in limbo and no one took responsibility for them. Other than the fact that the Minister was very nice to them, structurally there was no co-operation. He also mentioned that there was a lack of co-operation in monitoring compliance and that people could choose not to respond and there was not much they could do as they had no enforcement power. They were still waiting for a response from the SAPS National Commissioner on the urgent matter of police being instructed to take statements only in English. If the Commissioner did not respond there was nothing they could do. They had attempted to fundraise and noted in the presentation that they wanted to put together a fundraising committee. In the past it had been difficult to request funding due to their having a qualified audit report but they hoped that by maintaining an unqualified report they would have more luck. He also said that they had instituted a staff development programme which would include a performance assessment system.
Prof Ngubane said he wanted to highlight that added to this confusion “of where PanSALB belonged”, they were sometimes regarded as in the Public Finance Management Act as a Chapter 9 institution but in the Constitution they were a Chapter 1 institution. They had the confusion as to whether they belonged to Arts and Culture or were an independent body having their own executive authority. The Department of Arts and Culture were not obliged to take care of them and if they had problems they did not know whether to run to the Portfolio Committee or the Department of Arts and Culture.
The Chairperson asked them to clarify where people thought they belonged.
Prof Ngubane answered that although they were thought to belong to Arts and Culture there were no structural mechanisms that linked them. Legislation made it very clear that PanSALB had oversight of all government departments and that they were supposed to report to Parliament but there were no structural mechanisms and they did not know where to go to for funding to support them and they had to submit things that were not even looked at.
The Chairperson said that they must finalise a strategic five-year plan and that everyone was interested in that. He reminded them that the old paradigm of funding following planning no longer existed and it was now that planning followed funding. He advised them that it was critical for them to talk passionately about their programmes and not just about salaries and this should help them to get the funding that they needed. PanSALB should look at critical issues such as education, job creation, health and crime as they embodied all these elements. The corrupt conduct should result in mechanisms of internal auditing being instituted. He warned them that they must never use shortage of funds as an excuse of not going into rural areas. He was encouraged to see that they had started going into the rural areas as this had been ignored for years but they had just touched the top of the iceberg and they must continue with this. They must come up with language programmes. The oversight model was critical.
He asked them to clarify what the presentation mentioned about other interactions they had outside the border and what sort of international relations this involved. He wanted to congratulate them on receiving an unqualified audit opinion. He was concerned that all 11 languages were not represented by the board members and asked for a time frame of how long that should take to remedy. He asked to what degree the status report would be taken seriously. Interaction between them and the department was essential. He had not received their newsletter reporting on what they were doing. They must invite the Committee to their head office and to events and encourage interaction. He was very happy that they were dealing with the issue of 2010 terminology and said that all languages of each province must be represented on airport signage.
With regard to the language right complaints, the sooner that a language act was functioning the better. They need to have a report on where there were legislative gaps. They needed to know about where and why the departments did not co-operate. They must practise cutting down unnecessary meetings and that meetings must be married to real programmes. Partnerships were the name of the game and they must never destroy partnerships. The way they dealt with allegations was critical. He advised that religions promote cohesion amongst people. He appreciated the effort they had put in ensuring all languages were represented in TV shows. The issue of language monitoring in education was critical. They had to attract funding without compromising their independence and power - as fundraising could result in their compromising this.
Mr Swepu answered that the cross-border relationships involved terminology forums that standardised indigenous languages such as the Nama language. They were engaged with Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) and the Minister with regards to implementing tourism signage that reflected all languages. It was essential that all our airports represented an African country. They would appoint an additional member so that all 11 languages were represented on the board.
The meeting adjourned.
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