The Office of the Public Protector (PP) briefed the Committee on its Strategic Plan and budget for 2010-2013. The main aim of the Public Protector was to ensure that all those who had been wronged by the State received appropriate redress. The new mandate was to strengthen Constitutional democracy by investigating and redressing improper and prejudicial conduct. Alternative dispute resolutions such as mediation, conciliation or negotiation would now be considered. The Public Protector would investigate violations of the Executive Members Act of 1994 and the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). The key strategic objectives were that the PP should be accessible to and trusted by all persons and communities, should provide prompt remedial action, and should promote good governance in the conduct of all State affairs. The PP should be an efficient and effective organisation, and develop an optimal performance and service-focused culture. The new components were outlined. It was noted that early resolution was important. The challenges were named as the PP not having forensic competence, and complaints based on the Executive Members Act had increased, stretching the resources of the Public Protector. It would try to improve stakeholder relationships in order to provide a better service. Over the years the budget had increased from R29 million to R110 million, and had increased by 3.1% during the current financial year. Personnel costs continued to increase, and therefore during the current financial year R1 million less had been allocated to Goods and Services. The financial challenges included a lack of funds for more regional offices as well as insufficient funding to allow the financial system, human resource system and Enterprise Resource Planning to be upgraded.
The Committee asked about the decisions around the distribution of funds per province. Members commented that there was insufficient enforcement of the Promotion of Access to Information Act. The Committee enquired about the number of case backlogs, as well as the total figures for the number of investigated cases. They highlighted that the main gaps occurred at municipal level and enquired what plans in particular the PP had for addressing this, ensuring that the legislation was complied with, and that there were structured interventions. Members questioned whether mobile offices might not be more effective from a cost and outreach point of view, asked about the progress in the Oilgate case, whether PP would take its own initiative in investigations, why the media appeared to be more proactive and successful in uncovering issues, and whether it was issuing subpoenas. Members commented that the PP did not appear to be visible enough to the community, and did not appear to have achieved much. Other Members commended the work done, but suggested that stakeholder meetings should be held more frequently and that the PP should give greater feedback on its activities. The specifics of the backlog were sought and provided. In answer to comments that the PP had too small a budget, Members commented that it would not be possible to increase the budget this year, and that in any event more, and more frequent information would have to be provided to support an increase, including quarterly reports.
Office of the Public Protector: Strategic Plan and budget 2010-2013 briefing
Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Public Protector, highlighted to the Committee that the mandate of the Office of the Public Protector (PP) had been revised. It was important for the PP to have a positive impact on government in order to ensure positive change. The PP wanted to ensure that all those who were wronged by the State received redress. The new mandate was to strengthen Constitutional democracy by investigating and redressing improper and prejudicial conduct, maladministration and the abuse of power in all State affairs. Administrative disputes would be resolved through mediation, conciliation or negotiation. The focus was to try to ensure that those wronged received redress, and ensure that the PP would investigate violations of the Executive Members Act of 1994 and the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), since the PP had responsibilities in terms of these Acts. It was also important that it forge a trust relationship with the community, as lack of public confidence and trust could be an impediment to servicing the public fully.
Mr Themba Mthethwa, Chief Executive Officer, Office of the Public Protector, noted that the key strategic objectives were derived from the planning framework. He outlined these objectives. The PP should be accessible to and trusted by all persons and communities, and it should provide prompt remedial action. It should promote good governance in the conduct of all State affairs, and should itself be an efficient and effective organisation, and an optimal performance and service focused culture should be developed. In relation to the first strategic objective, the PP was planning to have an annual Good Governance week. The strategy for achieving prompt remedial action was that there be consolidation and roll out of intake and early resolution components throughout the country. The PP would investigate and resolve complaints of improper conduct, maladministration and corruption by State organs and take appropriate action, in order to achieve the objective of promoting good governance. It would investigate complaints relating to the Executive Members Ethics Act in order to ensure the promotion of good governance in the conduct of all State affairs. The strategy for its own organisational efficiency would entail a review and alignment of the human resources strategy with the organisational strategy.
Mr Mthethwa then outlined the programmes and sub-programmes that explained how the strategic objectives would be achieved. Under Programme 1: Strategic Direction and Executive Support, were located the sub programmes of the Public Protector, Deputy Public Protector (DPP), Executive Support and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Programme 2: Core Operations, including the sub-programmes of Outreach Education and Communication, the Intake and Early Resolution Unit, the Good Governance and Integrity Unit, Service Delivery Unit, and Provincial Representatives. Programme 3: Corporate Support Services, including sub-programmes dealing with Finance and Supply Chain Management, Human Resource (HR) Management and Development as well as Information and Communication Technology (ICT). It Other subprogrammes dealt with Facilities Management, Logistics and Security Management and Legal Services and Knowledge Management. The CEO, CFO and Corporate Support Services were the new components, which were still in line with the core structure.
The PP had to ensure that the early resolution system was working and that the professional capabilities of investigators were strengthened. The challenges facing the PP were that it did not have forensic competency and there was a lack of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) skills. The complaints based on the Executive Members Act had increased and the time limit for the conclusion of investigations set in the Act meant that the resources of the PP were stretched. The PP needed additional funding in order to assess communities. A good governance and integrity unit with specialised forensics had to be rolled out in order to assist the PP.
Adv Madonsela added that the PP was leveraging stakeholder relationships in order to improve its performance. Stakeholders were the Ministers, Premiers and everybody in the Executive who was responsible for the compliance of his or her relevant institution. The other stakeholder was Parliament. The leveraging of stakeholder relationships also meant working together with the other Chapter 9 institutions and watchdog institutions.
Mr Jevio Mculu, Chief Financial Officer, OPP, presented the budget. He said that over the years that it had been in existence, the budget had increased from R29 million to R110 million. The budget increased by 3.1% during the current financial year. Personnel costs kept on increasing. R35 million was allocated to goods and services during the last financial year, whilst only R34 million was allocated this year. This was because of personnel expenditure. R30.9 million was set-aside for the Strategic Objectives. 13.2% of this amount went to Strategic Direction and Executive Support Services, 34.4% to Core Operations and 52.4% to Corporate Support Services. The financial challenges included a need for money in order to build more offices to reach out to citizens. There was a need to upgrade the Financial System, Human Resource System and Enterprise Resource Planning. A further challenge came from the high staff turnover and the costing model for investigators had to be developed.
Mr J Jeffery (ANC) said that he was surprised that Parliament was not invited to the Stakeholder meeting and this was a huge omission. He said that the main gap in the Executive Ethics Act was at municipal level. Councillors had an Act that governed them, but he questioned who was responsible for ensuring that they complied with this legislation. The problem with PAIA was that it was not being enforced, and he maintained that there had to be further engagement on this issue.
Mr Jeffery noted that the PP had regional offices, but he questioned whether a mobile office would not be a better idea for reaching citizens, as well as possibly being more cost effective. He felt that the provincial allocations did not make any sense.
Mr S Swart (ACDP) asked for a progress report on the Oilgate matter. He asked whether it was possible for the PP to take its own initiative and investigate the issue of service delivery protests. He also asked if there was better cooperation between departments, or whether it had been necessary for the PP to issue further subpoenas. In regard to the case backlog, Mr Swart asked if this was increasing. He questioned the reasons for the budget increase of 19% during the previous financial year?
Mr G Ndabandaba (ANC) asked how much the average citizen knew about the services provided by the PP.
Dr M Oriani-Ambrosini (IFP) asked what services were achieved by the PP out of the R110 million budget. He pointed out that most of the “scandals” were brought to the fore by the media, whilst the PP was nowhere to be seen or heard. In the Hitachi matter, the PP had investigated the matter and declared a conflict of interest, yet made no request or ruling that this contract should be cancelled. He commented that this presentation was virtually the same as the one that was presented last year. He recommended that the PP’s budget should be reduced, even halved, until the. The Mail and Guardian had about one-third the budget of the PP, and yet the former did more to expose corruption.
Ms N Michael (DA) completely disagreed with Dr Oriani-Ambrosini. She felt that the PP had done a sterling job in exposing corruption across the country. She noted, in answer to the comment by Mr Jeffery, that she had been present at the stakeholders’ meeting and she had been invited there in her capacity as a Member of Parliament. The stakeholders’ meeting was a success and the ideas that were tabled were very important. She noted that she had asked questions about why corruption investigations in Limpopo had not commenced, but was pleased now to note that such investigations had been started. She suggested that the stakeholders’ meeting had to occur more regularly. Feedback from the PP on what it was doing was important. This could be done case by case at stakeholder meetings.
Adv Madonsela gave a general response to the questions. She replied that Parliament was indeed regarded by the PP as an important stakeholder. Parliament was invited to the stakeholder meeting through the Office of the Speaker.
She noted that there were more investigations than the investigators could handle. The PP’s strategy concerning investigations was prompt responses and rigorousness. In some instances one had to be compromised for the other. In order for both to be accommodated, adequate resources had to be secured.
In regard to local government, she noted that the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) was included in the strategy. The PP, however, had not targeted ethics at the level of municipalities. Earlier during the month there was a meeting of the Chapter 9 institutions in relation to PAIA. The core mandate under PAIA lay with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
In regard to offices, she said that the citizens’ feedback had been to the effect that mobile offices were not preferable. The travel costs between the regional offices and the provincial offices were high. Citizens had asked for more offices that would be aligned with municipalities. The provincial allocations were done in accordance to the number of regional offices. The PP was, however, unable to reach all citizens. There were 48 million South Africans and the PP wanted to reach at least two thirds of them.
In answer to Mr Swart, she noted that an appeal had been lodged in the Oilgate case, but since it was sub judice, the matter could not be discussed further.
When the service delivery protests erupted the PP held stakeholder consultations to address the matter, especially in Balfour, which experienced the first protests. The PP would cooperate with the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) to address service delivery protests. The PP was moving towards working with all relevant stakeholders in solving problems and addressing serious issues.
Mr Swart interjected and asked how the PP would decide which municipalities to assist.
Adv Madonsela replied that Balfour was the only municipality where the PP had intervened, as there was a lot of violence there. The PP was working with the Minister of Justice and did not make unilateral decisions regarding interventions. The PP had not issued any more subpoenas recently. It would do so in the near future. However, the PP would consult stakeholders first before doing this.
Adv Madonsela stated that the case backlog over the past year had decreased.
Mr Swart said he had asked for specifics on what was the current backlog, not whether or not it had decreased.
Adv Madonsela replied that the Chief Executive Officer could give the specifics. The figures were not finalised, as they were still being audited for the year-end.
Mr Swart requested a report on what the PP had said.
Adv Madonsela replied that an audited report would be before Parliament by the end of the week. The PP was trying by all means to reach as many people as possible through the Outreach Programme. More community radio stations would be used. However, the budget for creating a brand awareness was about R500 000, and there was a limited amount that could be achieved with this figure. Much was in fact being returned to the State from the budget allocated to the PP. This was reflected in the Annual Report. The Chapter 9 institutions existed in order to strengthen democracy. The PP responded to public outcries and initiated its investigations. The PP, in its findings on the Hitachi case, recommended that appropriate legislation should be drafted. It had written a letter to Parliament to follow up on this.
Dr Oriani-Ambrosini interjected and said that none of his questions had been answered. His question related to exactly what scandals the PP itself had exposed and whom it had punished. He said that exposure and punishment by the PP was not happening. If the PP issued subpoenas to Ministers, then a strong message would be sent out. Institutions were recognised by what they achieved, and the PP had not done anything relevant in the past 15 years that had impacted significantly on corruption.
Adv Madonsela replied that the PP dealt with matters that had been brought to its attention through reading about issues in the media, or through an officially lodged compliant. No compliant that had been brought before the PP had been discarded. Personally, she noted that she would not, in order to promote the organisation, investigate a matter in order to make a name for the PP. She said that adverse findings must be based upon thorough investigations. If Dr Oriani-Ambrosini was aware of a matter that warranted investigation, then he should bring it to the attention of the PP.
Adv Madonsela commented, in relation to the suggestion made by Ms Michaels, that the PP would consider making the stakeholder meeting an annual event. The PP would also consider involving the complainant throughout the investigation.
Adv Madonsela noted that the budget that had been presented before the Committee was smaller than what was required in order for the PP to meet its Constitutional mandate. The number of investigators had to increase as they were already stretched. The PP would consider appearing more frequently before the Committee.
The Chairperson agreed with the last statement, saying that the Committee and the PP had a legal relationship, in view of its responsibility to report to the Committee.
Mr Jeffery said he understood the plea by the PP, as well as the problems around developing a costing model for investigators, but if the model had been developed already then it would have been easier to pursue a request for more funds. It would be useful to engage with the PP for a stakeholder consultation process. He noted that certain municipalities had ombudsman, and enquired whether the PP was considering a relationship with them.
Adv Madonsela replied that there had been an attempt to set up cost centres and there were allocations from the budget for this. The PP was considering a model on how best to pay investigators. The current salary model was insufficient for the PP to fulfil its mandate. The PP had had consultations with the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). One of the proposals was that municipalities should have their own ombudsman.
Mr Mthethwa added that the PP received 12 000 to 13 000 cases per year. 3 000 cases were carried over and thus the final figure was about 15 000 finalised cases. There were 63 investigators, so that each investigator would handle close to 250 cases each.
The Chairperson thanked the PP for these figures, but commented that there was some doubt whether the budget could increase for this financial year, although it might be possible to do this in the next financial year.
Mr Jeffery said that before the budget could increase, the PP had to provide more information.
Ms S Sithole (ANC) said that the PP had to communicate more with the Committee. The budgetary process started early and therefore the PP had to provide reasons for an increase earlier on. The PP also had to provide quarterly reports.
The meeting was adjourned.
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