Human Sciences Research Council and Public Service Commission briefings

Standing Committee on Appropriations

22 April 2010
Chairperson: Mr E Sogoni (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) gave a presentation to the Committee, noting that its work was closely allied to the national Government’s priorities. The presentation focused on the work done in relation to healthcare, focusing specifically on appropriations for HIV/AIDS, and the progress being made. The HSRC noted the discussions around male circumcision as one of the initiatives to halt the spread of the disease but noted that there was a need for increased focus on prevention as well as making more AntiRetroviral Treatment available. In relation to rural development, the HSRC noted that various different agricultural systems were apparent. It outlined the need to focus on inputs and prices, and the need to assist farmers in making the transition from subsistence to surplus- production farming. Members asked a number of questions about the management of farms transferred to new farm owners, the need for better training programmes, the need to capacitate agricultural colleges, and how farmers could be assisted, firstly, to change from being subsistence to commercial farmers, what market niches could be created and how they could be assisted to get their produce to market. Members also enquired whether any research had been done on the impact of urbanisation and farming, costings around subsistence farming and the effect on rural economies. Members also enquired, in relation to HIV and Aids issues, whether the figures were accurate, and whether the amounts paid to NGOs, in particular LoveLife, were justified. They asked how to ensure accountability for donor funding, and the challenges around male circumcision and the need still to stress that condoms should be used. They further enquired what had been done to ensure that the spouses of truckers who were tested and found HIV positive were protected.

The Public Service Commission gave a presentation to the Committee, in which it tracked the spending patterns of five Departments, their compliance with performance management and also ethics and financial management. Many of the departments surveyed received unqualified audits. Most of the departments managed to spend their appropriations in line with benchmarks. However, there were instances where disciplinary procedures had not been complied with as they should, or where performance information was not made available. Members questioned some of the information, seeking clarity in particular on the performance of the Department of Correctional Services, the statistics in regard to the provincial departments for vacancies, the reasons why posts would be described as “unfunded” and the reasons for the non-compliance with the number of days in which disciplinary proceedings should be finalised. Members said that Departments should be held accountable for non-compliance. The Committee noted the comments of the Public Service Commission about the powers of Parliament to take these issues further, and also noted that the question of the Public Service Commission’s budget residing within that of the Department of Public Service and Administration should be taken further, to preserve the independence of the Commission. It was noted that a future presentation should address exactly what the Commission had the power to do.

Meeting report

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) briefing
Professor Leickness Simbayi, Research Director: Social Aspects of HIV and Aids, Human Sciences Research Council, noted that the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) worked in accordance with the priorities of government. These priorities included the creation of decent work and sustainable livelihoods, a rural and urban development strategy that was linked to land and agrarian reform and food security, education, health and the eradication of crime and corruption.

Professor Simbayi outlined the HSRC’s strategy to improve health care and the health of the population.  This included providing greater leadership on healthcare, improving the quality of health care and also implementing the national health insurance plan. One of the key health issues affecting many South Africans was HIV /AIDS. South Africa boasted the highest Anti Retroviral (ARV) treatment programme, with almost one million people living with HIV and AIDS having been treated to date. Although there was much more that needed to be done, he noted that this was an enormous achievement.

He further noted that for every six people treated for the virus, another six were infected, and this had led to the consensus that there must be a balance between ARV roll out and prevention. The South African National Aids Council (SANAC) was the national coordinating agency for AIDS and he highlighted its critical role in ensuring that South Africa had a comprehensive plan to battle HIV/AIDS.

The HSRC conducted research, and noted that the reach of HIV/AIDS communication had affected a total of 80.9% of South Africans.

Professor Simbayi looked at the policy implications of HIV/AIDS, stating that the new treatment criteria and the current campaign would lead to a greater increase of people requiring ARV treatment. There was also a greater need to promote prevention activities among those who were HIV negative. One of the key programmes outlined and emphasised by Professor Simbayi was the decision by government to implement medical male circumcision as an HIV prevention strategy. There was also a need to create some synergy between medical and traditional male circumcision. 

Mpumalanga, KwaZulu Natal (KZN) and Northern Cape had been prioritised by government to start implementing medical circumcision. KZN had developed a plan to implement over the next five years, and had started to implement at two sites now the cultural ban on male circumcision had been removed. He emphasised that there was clearly a need for some local funding to implement this excellent plan. Local and donor funding would ensure the sustainability of provincial programmes.

Prof Simbayi noted that there had been increased allocations to the comprehensive HIV and AIDS grants and increased support for large non governmental organisations (NGOs) in the HIV/AIDS sector, with behavioural change and communication programmes such as LoveLife and Soul City. LoveLife had apparently also received funding from the Department of Social Development (DSD). There were also increased amounts allocated to improve human resources and quality of health services in the Department of Health’s budget. The proposal by the Minister of Health to source cheaper ARVs would hopefully prevent the stock outs seen over the last year.

Professor Simbayi agreed with the Department of Social Development’s proposal to pay grants to recipients directly, as it helped with the problem of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS; most of whom had been made vulnerable to infections. The allocation from Department of Science and Technology (DST) for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment technology research should be revisited. There was more support needed from DST. He suggested that the Department of Health should be the lead department, but that more research was needed into social/structural and behavioural HIV prevention interventions. Professor Simbayi noted that the current funding model only had funds coming from foreign donor funds.

Professor Simbayi noted that the Department of Basic Education had also been allocated sufficient HIV/AIDS funding for Lifeskills Education to support the important work being done by this Department in preventing children from becoming infected with HIV/AIDS in the first place.

Dr Peter Jacobs, Chief Research Specialist: Rural Development and Agrarian Reform, HSRC, noted that the HSRC research investigated different approaches to improving food security and also expanding livelihoods through small scale agriculture. The policy implications of rural development included the growing spend on rural development, from R 6.7 billion in 2010 to R8.3 billion by 2012/13. Dr Jacobs conceded that this was a large increase, but not yet enough to challenge the levels of neglect. He also noted that agricultural support budgets allocated to provinces were also very small. He wanted the Committee to understand that critical attention should be given to improving water management, land management, agricultural support, and research into both commercial and domestic farming and also to look at matters such as input cost.

The conceptual and strategic framework for a comprehensive rural development programme had been drafted. Dr Jacobs outlined that there was a three pronged strategy. The Comprehensive Rural Development programme included agrarian transformation, rural development and land reform. His research also included fast tracking the expansion of rural development nodes.

Dr Jacobs said that the policy and capacity issues include the development of a White Paper on Agrarian Transformation, Rural Development and Land Reform. He also said that the Green Paper that was being tabled before Cabinet included the setting up of the Rural Development Agency (RDA) aimed at coordinating implementation. The aim of the Green Paper was also to create an overhaul of land policy framework and consolidate all land related laws. There was also a revised tenure security law for farm workers.

Dr Jacobs noted the controversy around the role of traditional leadership in land reform, and said that the issue of development was not being addressed adequately. There should also be greater effort to fix collapsing land reform projects through interventions.  

The Chairperson noted that another opportunity should be afforded in future to examine the other work being done by the HSRC.

Mr M Swart (DA) asked Mr Jacobs about farms that had been transferred to new farm owners and the management of these farms, saying that there had been reports that these had become derelict and were mismanaged. He said this was the first year that South Africa had to import food. This he regarded as disgraceful, and he wanted to see more measures in place to rescue farms and to help new farmers to manage their farms properly.

Mr J Gelderblom (ANC) wanted to ascertain whether there was research being done to make farm work attractive and also to capacitate agricultural training colleges. He also wanted to know how small farmers could be assisted in their transport costs to get their produce to markets, and proposed that a subsidy could be given.

Dr Rabie wanted the committee to distinguish from subsistence farming and commercial farming. He asked if there were ways to change subsistence farming into commercial farming, and he reiterated that there must be a market niche for this to take place.

Ms Mashigo (ANC) made reference to the impact of urbanisation and farming in urban areas and asked if there had been research conducted on this.

Mr G Snell (ANC)
noted that the number of households who relied on subsistence farming had decreased. He enquired whether there was any research on costings for subsistence farmers, and how they affected rural economies.

Dr Jacobs replied to all issues around agriculture. He noted that with regard to traditional technologies, there was funding available from the Department of Science and Technology. South Africa had several systems of agriculture. Unfortunately the national data was imperfect. However, it was certain that about 34 000 people were classified as commercial farmers and about 300 000 farmers were classified as emerging farmers, of whom many were beneficiaries of land reform. There were also about one million subsistence farmers. Their challenge was to make the change from subsistence to surplus production. This was where the State could help. Most of the support services were not being provided through State programmes, but through the commercial sector. Dr Jacobs also noted how strong the various associations in the commercial sector were; he noted that there was a high quality support system in place and this was what was lacking in the subsistence farmers. If subsistence farmers received more assistance they could produce a surplus.

International and local research showed that by reducing input cost productivity would be raised. Farmers who had to make the transition had very low purchase inputs so the question was how to improve access to these. This, however, might not be the only way to improve inputs. There were debates on alternative strategies to lower the cost of farming. Ecologically sustainable agriculture was now being researched, to devise ways of using all inputs in an integrated way, and limiting using inputs that were not environmentally friendly. It was possible for South Africa to develop a simple system to do this. In Malawi there was a voucher system that allowed small farmers to get their products to the market. The menu of options to reduce the cost of farming and the menu of options to reduce the strategies of farming were expanded. Dr Jacobs said South Africa needed to capitalise on this.

Dr Jacobs noted that urban agriculture allowed for farming on a smaller scale. However, this was yet to be fully explored, but work had begun at Early Childhood Development education centres and at schools that allowed for both the feeding of children and teaching to take place. This dealt with the issue of drawing more youth into farming. Dr Jacobs was working with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to upscale the agricultural colleges, and the curriculum should provide for these kinds of interventions. In Kenya it was part of the school curriculum that there must be a food garden at the school. The programmes in South Africa were presently fragmented, and there was a need to integrate these programmes.

Dr P Rabie (DA) queried the accuracy of the HIV/AIDS prevelance figures, saying that he would have thought they should be higher.

The Chairperson interjected to note that the figure represented those tested.

Professor Simbayi noted that the table showing HIV testing showed how many people had gone for an HIV test, which concluded that the national prevalence overall was 11%, although this varied by province and race.

Dr Rabie said that during a sports debate that he had attended delegates were very critical of LoveLife, concluding that it was not delivering commensurate to the amounts of money granted to this organisation.

Ms R Mashigo (ANC) asked how there could be accountability for HIV/AIDS donor funding, and whether this should be streamlined by the donor or by the manager of funding.

Prof Simbayi said that he had some difficulty in answering this question fully. There were
many organisations working in this field, and it was difficult to single out one particular intervention. Most of the changes had happened amongst young people and this was why there was a general belief that the LoveLife campaign had worked. This intervention had been made amongst all ages, and had even reached those who were in their fifties. There was no proof that only LoveLife campaigns worked; it might well be that life skills programmes in schools were also working. The question was about accountability. It was commendable that the State was able to fund these NGOs. He agreed that accountability was an issue with all. There were donors from special interest groups who came with large amounts of money. The donors also found that they could not operate on the outside of the government programme and now consultations were taking place with the government. LoveLife, in terms of its new local contribution, should be accountable to government.

Ms N Mkhulusi (ANC) wanted to know if HSRC made a presentation to the Minister before budget allocations were made, as she believed that this might have a direct bearing on whether sufficient was being budgeted to allow government to meet its objectives as set out in the ten-point plan.

Ms Mkhulusi also spoke of the challenges around medical male circumcision, pointing out that it should be made clear that the circumcision alone would not relieve them of the responsibility to use condoms.

Prof Simbayi agreed that it was a major challenge to explain to people what partial circumcision meant, but the bottom line, extracted from studies, showed that if circumcision was done properly, it was able to reduce up to half of the infections in men. However, the other half still needed to be considered. It must be stressed that everyone should use a condom. HSRC was stressing the promotion both of male circumcision and the use of condoms.

Ms B Ncgobo (ANC) noted that a study done by the University of KwaZulu Natal on truck drivers showed that three out of four truckers were HIV positive. She wanted to know if anyone was investigating the spouses of these drivers.

Professor Simbayi stressed that he was aware of the issue of the truckers and he did not know of any programmes that were being run at the moment, but realised that the challenge was how to involve the spouses. However, these programmes were being extended to look at all related areas. The largest challenge with the truckers was that they were mobile and spread infections.

Ms Ncgobo asked if there were any predictions on where Uganda stood with regard to HIV testing, and with regard to funding being streamlined. She added that in terms of providing ARVs South Africa could do more.

Professor Simbayi noted that Uganda had done a lot more testing over a long period of time but South Africa exceeded Uganda’s figures in relation to the proportions of those tested on ARVs.

Professor Simbayi said that in regard to the figures on treatment, these were statistics made available to the HSRC from the Department of Health. However, the researchers were not able to ascertain how many people stayed on treatment, since some might have died. The estimate was that there was currently 5.5 million people infected with the virus, and he added that another million people would need treatment. In terms of Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission (PMTCT) there had been challenges, and there were also success stories. Mother to child transmission had lessened and this was an area of more work, with the aim that this transmission should become non existent.

Mr L Ramatlakane (COPE) asked for more clarity on the breakdown of the narratives around HIV/AIDS research. Mr Ramatlakane wanted to understand how these statistics related to poverty and other social problems and also how this affected people’s economic participation.

The Chairperson noted that the issue of rural development and HIV/AIDS were related.

Public Service Commission (PSC) Presentation
Mr Ralph Mgijima, Chairperson, Public Service Commission, introduced the work of the Public Service Commission (PSC or the Commission) and said that his presentation would comment on the performance of the public sector during the past year, drawing some comparisons and assessing the state of readiness for the new budget. He noted that the independence of the PSC might be undermined by its budget being under the auspices of the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA).

He noted that his presentation would focus on the areas of education, health, justice and constitutional development, correctional services, the South African Police Service and rural development and land reform. These were identified because these areas were government’s five priorities.

Mashwahle Diphofa, Director General, Public Service Commission, noted that the five priorities of Government were cross cutting. When making its assessment, the PSC had used financial management, service delivery outputs, human resource management and ethics and anti-corruption as barometers to measure progress. To achieve this, the Public Service Commission used previous reports and audits done by the Auditor General.

Mr Diphofa started with the Department of Education (DoE). This had been divided into the Departments of Higher Education and Basic Education. He looked at financial management expenditure trends, noting that spending was at 99% for 2007/8 and 2008/9, and then dropped to 96% for 2009/10. The bench mark was at 91%, and this Department was above the bench mark. There were increased appropriations for basic and higher education granted in 2010. This Department had unqualified financial audits, although the output scores were not high, being at only 62%.

Reasons for this were lack of information from provinces, lack of human resource capacity high bids from service providers and delays occurring due to the shifts in priorities. The department had an 18.8% vacancy rate. He pointed out that PSC would track performance agreements religiously. All members of the senior management service had signed performance agreements, as had the Head of the Department. In terms of labour relations, the average number of people suspended was 13, which was low when compared to other departments.

In terms of ethics and anti corruption Mr Diphofa started with financial disclosure, looking at a level of professionalism. 83% of senior managers filed their financial disclosure forms. This was high but he pointed out that PSC in fact required 100% compliance. The number of national anti corruption cases received was also fairly low.

Mr Diphofa moved on to discuss the Department of Health (DOH), whose spending patterns were 97% in 2007/8 and 90% for 2009/10. There was a 16.7% increase in this year’s appropriation. This Department had received qualified audits; there were large amounts of money not accounted for and operational systems were not up to standard.

The Department of Health reached 12 of its 14 outputs and this constituted an 86% achievement of service delivery. The reasons for non achievement included financial constraints, lack of human resource management, delays in organising training at provincial level and the Department awaiting feedback from external stake holders.

The vacancy rate in DOH was 25.1%. This Department did not submit evaluations in certain years, and in particular the evaluation of the Director General had not taken place. The Department had had 28 grievances had related to the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) and salary matters.

Ethics and anti corruption figures had been fairly low. Nine cases of financial mismanagement had been recorded, and all the money was recovered.

Mr Diphofa then moved on to the South African Police Service (SAPS). He noted that its financial expenditure had been high, with 99% spending for 2007/8 and 2008/9, but dropping to 91% in 2009/10. SAPS received unqualified audits in the 2007/8 and 2008/9 periods. The Auditor General had, however, highlighted that the information systems and the control processes and procedures were not adequate to ensure accuracy in reporting performance management.

Only 22 of the 32 outputs were achieved and the reasons for this low achievement rate was due to overcrowding of police cells, the restructuring process, the need to clarify roles between national and provincial police, and the fact that the organised crime mandate extended to include the investigation of violent organised crime cases.

The vacancy rate at the SAPS was at 0.2% and there was no information available with regards to the signing of performance agreements. There were high numbers of disciplinary hearings in the Department, at 3 479 cases, resulting in 366 dismissals. The average number of days people were suspended at SAPS was 86. The cost of these suspensions totalled R 5 million. Mr Diphofa made it clear that the law stated that a hearing must be conducted within 60 days of a person being suspended. The period of suspension should not be extended.

The submission of financial disclosure forms was fairly high and the National Commissioner received a high number of calls.

Mr Diphofa then went on to outline the spending patterns for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ), noting that this Department had met the National Treasury’s spending bench mark up to 2009, but dropped in 2009/10. The Department received a qualified audit opinion from the Auditor-General, because of irregular expenditure amounting to R 57 million. There was also no tangible correlation in relation to assets that could be confirmed by the Auditor-General.

The report on this Department’s performance review compliance was “dismal”.

Mr Diphofa noted that the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform had not managed to spend all of its allocation in 2009/10. It also received a qualified audit opinion. Only 22 of the 45 outputs were achieved; the reasons for non compliance included delays in awarding tenders and the appointment of service providers. The vacancy rate in this new Department was 16.7%. In terms of ethics and anti corruption the department received a 59% compliance rate for 2009/10.

Ms Ngcobo found it problematic that the Department of Justice cited budgetary constraints when there was also fruitless expenditure. She wanted to ascertain whether the grievances reported were OSD specific. The issue of leave in the Department of Education also was something to be looked at by the Committee.

Mr Swart wanted to know how many departments received qualified audits.

Mr Mgijima noted that this information was available to the PSC and could be made available to the Committee later.

Mr Gelderblom enquired about the Senior Management Service of the provinces in the Department of Education. He also wanted to know what was being done with the Department of Correctional Services and their dismal performance, as well what was the vacancy rate in the Department of Rural Development and Land reform.

Mr Snell noted that the monitoring system was put in place to ensure excellence in departments, that it was linked to performance and should award excellence. There were other systems that National Treasury believed could monitor performance. Mr Snell wanted to know how much money had been paid in bonuses, and how this could be calculated if departments were not using any of the systems mentioned.

Mr Mgijima conceded that the systems were not sufficient and there was a gap in terms of what was desirable and what was sufficient, but there were resource constraints. There was data produced every year, on Head of Department (HOD) compliance. The PSC would write to all departments each year asking them to comply, but this was not happening. That was also why this Committee should be assisting the PSC to force departments to comply, particularly since this Committee had the power to hold them accountable. He said that he sometimes felt that Parliament was under-estimating its own power.

Mr Diphofa noted that there was some evidence that performance bonuses were paid without performance agreements being entered into. There had been instances where bonuses had been paid without the correct procedures had been followed. This was a small amount but it should not happen. Sometimes there were executive decisions to give blanket performance bonuses.

Mr Diphofa also commented on the management programmes, stating that each of these programmes had different functions. One focused on individual details and the other gave information about the organisations. The performance management system dealt with the performance areas as agreed by the line manager.

Ms Mashigo wanted to know if officials on suspension would be paid, and if so, for how long. She also noted that departments mentioned that they had unfunded posts, and she wanted some clarity on what exactly this was and how this situation would occur.

Mr Diphofa explained that a person could be suspended as a cautionary measure, when there was a suspicion that he or she might interfere with a disciplinary investigation. Because this was precautionary, the official could not be left without pay. Once the investigations had taken place and there was a hearing, a person could be suspended for three months without pay, but this was the only circumstance in which suspension without pay would occur. The challenge was that the hearing must be held as soon as possible. The Minister of Public Service and Administration had raised this as one of the issues to be taken forward.

In relation to the posts, Mr Diphofa stated that a department could create a post, but it could not be spoken of in these terms if it was not “funded”. However, departments tended to keep their “proposed” posts on record and this resulted in there seeming to be a higher vacancy rate than in fact was the case.

Mr Ramatlakane noted that this Committee should support that the PSC was independent. He also noted that almost all of the departments did not do an evaluation and he wanted to know what action the PSC had taken to deal with this. He also wanted the PSC to state what action had taken with regards to disclosure. He also noted that the vacancy rates could be higher in the provinces and said that reports from the provinces were lacking.

Mr Mgijima noted that the PSC would highlight the mandate of the PSC, and indicate the areas in which it could act. He also noted that the questions around vacancies in specific departments would be raised with these departments.

Mr Diphofa said that the PSC did not have a “norm” for a vacancy rate, but the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) talked of 8 % as a norm. The real issue related to the duration of the vacancy and at what level it occurred.
The Chairperson noted that departments were weak in monitoring performance. He believed that departments should be asking PSC to attend their budget presentations. He agreed that Parliamentary oversight needed to be improved. He said that the question of the PSC budget and where it lay must be followed up, citing Section 196 of the Constitution.

The meeting was adjourned.


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