Department of International Relations and Cooperation Annual Report 2009/2010

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International Relations

12 October 2010
Chairperson: Mr T Nxesi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) presented its Annual Report for 2009/10. Highlights were named as South Africa’s successful election to the United Nations (UN) Security Council, as well as the successful hosting of the FIFA World Soccer Cup. The Department had received, for the third consecutive year, an unqualified audit report with no matters of emphasis, and had utilised 98.55% of its budget. The African Renaissance Fund also received an unqualified audit. DIRCO had been rated as the second best employer of choice by tertiary students studying towards qualifications in Humanities. Key priorities for strengthening of international relations were set out, and the Department also noted that it had focused on improving its organisational strength and operational support services. 319 vacancies were filled, but there were still vacant unfunded positions. DIRCO was working to reach targets for female and disabled employment. Most of its turnover was attributed to retirement and promotions. It participated in careers fairs at school and university level, offered a cadet programme and attempted to channel cadets into the Department after training. The accredited Diplomatic Academy also addressed skills development needs, as well as conducting policy research. The numbers of people trained were set out. The achievements in relation to the African Charter for Democracy, the Pan African Women’s Organisation, and regional work were set out. The need for continuing relations and engagement with the European Union was also noted, particularly to address Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) concerns. South Africa was considering the implications of an invitation to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). South Africa had participated on climate change and was considering how best to participate in the G20, and use its influence to effect reforms of multilateral systems. The relationship with various countries was set out, and the major achievements were listed. DIRCO had coordinated 87 ceremonial events and managed 168 incoming and outgoing visits. There were now 297 accredited foreign offices in South Africa. The Department noted that many concerns raised in previous years had been addressed, including problems with financial management and assets, non-payment by other departments, and establishment of a quality assurance team to report on performance. Risk management was being strengthened and consular support would continue.

Members congratulated the Department on its audit results. However, they expressed criticism about the format and cost of the Annual Report, as well as highlighting some errors, and asked for a comparison of timeframes and achievement of objectives. Members asked about regional political, economic and infrastructural integration, and the White Paper on Foreign Policy. They questioned the overtime payments and the turnover of staff, and sought clarity on the different categories of missions. They enquired what South Africa’s stance was on managing migration, whether quotas of secondment of South African officials to regional and international organisations were filled, and what support was offered. Members noted that any visits abroad must serve the national interest. They questioned whether the Department was reaching out to rural students, asked about the Kimberley Process, asked how training of medical students in Cuba assisted the Department of Health, and urged that some outstanding issues must be addressed. Members were also interested in how the Department was targeting youth, how coordination between the spheres of government was being managed, and whether DIRCO would be following up on termination of the SABC Africa Service. Members also stressed the need for clear and focused communication, including the need to anticipate and formulate strategies on issues, and to explain decisions. In response to a request to highlight major budget concerns, DIRCO noted that the operational part of the budget was under pressure, that there was a need to look at the capital budget and the rising costs of rental, and to clarify the position on foreign exchange gains and losses.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson noted South Africa’s election to the United Nations (UN) Security Council (with 182 votes) as a major highlight for the Department, noting that this boosted South Africa’s potential to achieve its strategic goals. He applauded this demonstration of confidence by the UN. South Africa now had a major task to fulfil its mandate as a responsible member of the international community.

The Chairperson noted that the IBSA forum included South Africa, Brazil and India. The Committee would be releasing a media statement.

The Chairperson also commented with pride on the participation of South African company Murray and Roberts in the rescue of the Chilean miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days, and cited rescue efforts as a true example of international cooperation, saying the miners were seen as a symbol of hope. He would also convey the message of success in unity.

Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO): Annual Report 2009/10
Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba, Director General, Department of International Relations and Cooperation, announced the appointment of Ms M Joyini, currently the Deputy Director General, as the new High Commissioner Designate to Jamaica and virtually all the Caribbean Islands. She would be leaving in November.

Dr Ntsaluba then tabled and presented the Annual Report of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO or the Department). The key priorities in the 2009/2010 financial year had been the continued prioritisation of the African agenda, the strengthening of South-South relations, strengthening of relations with formations of the North, strengthening of all political and economic relations, and participation in the global system of governance. The Department also focused on organisational strengthening and provision of operational support services.

Dr Ntsaluba said the Department had received an unqualified audit report (with no matters of emphasis) for the third year in a row. The Department had utilised 98.55% of its budget, with the under-expenditure resulting from a delay in payment for the Capital Works Programme in Athens and Abuja, postponements in regard to the Pan African Parliament (which had previously been explained) and issues pertaining to the 2010 Shanghai Works Programme. The African Renaissance Fund also received an unqualified audit report.

He highlighted the organisational establishment. 319 vacancies had been filled, making a total of 2341 filled positions within the Department. The vacant unfunded positions were highlighted. Dr Ntsaluba pointed out that although ideally they should be filled, it was difficult to find funding in the current financial climate. He noted that 33.3% of employees were women (short of the target of 50%), and 1.5% were people with disabilities (short of the target of 2%).  The Department was making an active effort to reach gender and disability targets. The Department’s turnover rate was 9%, which was relatively high, but this was attributable mostly to promotions and retirements.

Dr Ntsaluba said that DIRCO was rated second-best employer of choice by tertiary students studying towards qualifications in Humanities, and this finding resulted from the human resources (HR) initiative to encourage young people to look at a future in diplomacy. The cadet programme was going well, provided a channel for human resources needs, and interventions had been made to enhance employees’ career focus and direction. DIRCO also participated in career fairs for Grade 10-12 students, and career exhibitions at colleges and universities.

Dr Ntsaluba outlined DIRCO’s full support for employees in Hardship Missions, and said that research by the HR division resulted in various recommendations. Firstly, rotation of Hardship Missions was to be reduced from four to two years, particularly since some employees would be separated from their immediate families during this time. Those who accepted Hardship Mission appointments were, immediately afterwards, able to opt for a four year Category 1 or Category 2 placement (so-called “Ice-Cream Mission”). The Department was also trying to establish a spousal support office to maintain better information for partners and address domestic issue complaints, as well as providing a 24 hour crisis and support service for those in Hardship Missions.

The HR strategic priorities for 2010/2011 included establishment and promotion of effective organisational processes, talent management, employee resourcing and utilisation and management capacity building.

Further to his remarks on capacity building, Dr Ntsaluba then touched on the accredited Diplomatic Academy, which conducted policy research, and addressed the skills development needs of DIRCO. Protocol training and a language programme were undertaken. DIRCO was now putting its second group of senior officials through a Masters in Diplomacy programme, and the Minister had approved plans to extend this as a regional programme. The cadet programme had offered opportunities to 52 unemployed graduates, 15 unemployed youth had completed the Human Resource Learnership Programme, and internships were provided for 20 graduates in Information Technology, and 4 in Internal Audit. 60 officials undertook Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) programmes. DIRCO had also partnered with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), who offered an e-learning course in Multilateral Conferencing and International Negotiations, and DIRCO was  sponsoring diplomatic training in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The African Charter on Democracy had been signed in February 2010. DIRCO was setting up the Pan African Women’s Organisation (PAWO) in South Africa. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Summit established the Planning and Co-ordinating Agency (NPCA) in South Africa, which would be discussed in the next Annual Report.  Regional integration work continued with Madagascar and Zimbabwe, although progress on economic integration had not been as fast as hoped. However, he highlighted the President’s visits to Nigeria, Ghana, Timbuktu, Sierra Leone and others, aimed at strengthening political relationships in the region. Relationships had been restored with Mauritania following democratic elections in July 2009. Developments in Somalia had been closely followed, and a visit was made to Uganda was conducted. Work must be done with Algeria in the near future. At the Non Aligned Summit (NAM) in July 2009, the international community passed a declaration on Nelson Mandela International Day.

Dr Ntsaluba mentioned the continuing need for South African relations with the European Union (EU) to be strengthened, besides the problems arising from the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). South Africa had been invited to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), but the profound implications for other formations of the South (including China, the non-aligned movement) must be considered. He also highlighted South Africa’s engagements on climate change, and its participation in the Copenhagen Summit and preparation for Cancun, as also the build up to the Conference of Parties (CoP17). He noted the challenges around how effectively to participate in the G20, in light of power shifts, and reconciliation with political and ideological principles. Inclusion of South Africa would enable reforms of the multilateral systems, particularly the  Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs).

Dr Ntsaluba also mentioned the importance of the Department’s evaluation of the UN system and entities, and their interaction with developing communities, in order to nuance South African involvement. A study tour would shortly be done. Talks on non-proliferation were held with America (USA) in 2009. South Africa participated in a review of the Durban Conference, the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.

Dr Ntsaluba also highlighted the relationships with various countries. He underscored the partnership with Republic of Korea in technology and nuclear power, and China’s increased investment in South Africa, as well as participation in the 4th Forum on China Africa Co-operation (FOCAC), to be hosted by South Africa in 2015. A mission was established in Wellington was highlighted. There had been a Bilateral Air Services Agreement made with Canada. South Africa and Australia were in competition to host the Square Kilometre Array telescopes. South Africa also continued its efforts to raise issues around Israeli and Palestine, and there had been thawing of relations with Syria and the reconnection with the USA, under Clinton’s influence, although South Africa had always enjoyed a positive trade balance there. There were good relations with Latin American countries, and efforts were being made in Central and Eastern Europe.

The Department had also coordinated 87 ceremonial events and managed 168 incoming and outgoing visits. The diplomatic community in South Africa now consisted of 297 accredited foreign offices.

The DIRCO Public Participation Programme (PPP) had allowed DIRCO to reach out to many students. The successful hosting of the World Soccer Cup was a highlight for South Africa, which was now preparing to bid for the Olympics.

Other major internal highlights were noted, including the relocation to the new Head Office building, the purchase of OR Tambo House in London and upgrades to foreign premises.

Dr Ntsaluba then referred to issues raised in previous years. The problems of financial management and assets had been examined. The problem of partner departments failing to pay debts was now addressed through Memorandums of Understanding with those departments. Performance information had been addressed through the establishment of a quality assurance team. Risk management processes were to be strengthened. Consular support would continue.

Dr G Koornhof (ANC) thanked Dr Ntsaluba for his thorough and detailed report, and commended the unqualified audit. However, he commented that the Annual Report did not employ a user-friendly format, contained blank spaces, could be neater, and also contained an error on unauthorised expenditure figures.

Dr Ntsaluba appreciated these constructive comments.

Dr Koornhof said that the report did not set out consistently and clearly the measurable outputs on performance, and that inclusion of timeframes which would have made it easier to measure achievements against objectives. He asked if this information was in fact available.

Dr Ntsaluba said that these details were available, although they were not included in the Annual Report.

Dr Koornhof referred to the Minister’s report, and asked about the progress with regional integration within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regarding political unity, economic integration, and infrastructure.

Dr Ntsaluba said that there was significant progress towards political cohesion, and highlighted the President’s efforts to engage with regional leaders. Much had taken place on trade integration, but there was much to be done with industrial integration, because of differing industrial strategies in the region. Progress was achieved on free movement, with visa waivers for SADC residents, except for DRC and Angola, and changes to transit visas. However, systems must be unified to address security concerns. Although there was progress, it was not as fast as the Department would like, and political intervention was required.

Mr K Mubu (DA) conveyed his congratulations on South Africa’s admission to the UN Security Council; hoping that whatever had not been achieved in the last round would be fulfilled. He asked how much the Annual Report cost to produce.

Mr Mubu questioned the three-fold escalation of overtime payments. He also asked if the high turnover among senior staff reflected dissatisfaction.

Dr Ntsaluba noted that there was now a system to control overtime. This issue, which had been taken to the Labour Court, had taken about nine months to resolve. It also involved issues of administration and protocol. Senior staff turnover was affected by redeployment as heads of missions, and was also affected by four-year term ends coinciding with elections.

Mr Mubu enquired as to the status of the White Paper on Foreign Policy.

Dr Ntsaluba said that the White Paper had been commissioned in the current financial year, with a deadline for discussion of 15 October. Meetings would be held with academic and business communities shortly and in November the Department would also call for participation from other departments. DIRCO hoped to bring a draft to Parliament by mid-November.

Ms R Magau (ANC) asked what was being done about managed migration, in the wake of xenophobic attacks against African foreign nationals. She also asked what South Africa’s input had been on managing migration, pursuant to finalising the African Union (AU) Convention on Protection and Assistance for Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.

Ms Magau asked whether the South African quota for secondment of South African officials to regional and international organisations had been fully allocated and whether they were given support.

Dr Ntsaluba said that the full quota was not filled yet, and although a systematic program of support had never been designed, the Department was willing to open its doors for necessary assistance that may be needed. This was especially true with regard to the Pan African Parliament, in which the Department had a vested interest.

Mr S Mokgalapa (DA) also congratulated the Department on the unqualified report. He asked how visits abroad were serving the national interest, and suggested that there was not sufficient emphasis on participation. He emphasised the need for meaningful diplomatic engagement and said the results should be set out. He asked why the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) were not mentioned.

A DIRCO representative said that DIRCO had a rigorous process that focused on how both political and specific sectoral issues were met. The engagement with Angola, which had the fastest growing economy in Sub Saharan Africa, had opened up many opportunities for South African investors, and the Gulf of Guinea could potentially offer crude oil to South Africa at better prices. No reference was made to the MDG, because the focus on this occurred in the 2010/2011 financial year.

Mr Mokgalapa said that he had recently heard from a school learner that career exhibitions rarely were held in the more rural areas.

Dr Ntsaluba responded that DIRCO tried to reach rural areas, and that University of Limpopo students had entered the Department’s programmes.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) referred to the Marange diamonds issues and asked who was monitoring that situation, and what the public role was. There were human rights issues involved, and she urged the need for full transparency.

Dr Ntsaluba recapped the situation around diamond rush, illegal aspects, and the human rights abuses. He noted that South Africa had participated in the creation of legal mining licenses and in the Kimberley Process, and helped to design the plan which Zimbabwe must comply before sale of the diamonds. Problems did occur with diamonds mined outside the designated area (especially on redistributed land). The Kimberley process, which the Department felt comfortable with, addressed issues around violence, but not ownership. An independent monitor investigated the issues, and reported to the Kimberley Process, and an official within the Department was also active in the Kimberley Process and kept the Department updated. The last World Diamond Council meeting felt that the stipulations were being complied with.

Ms Dudley asked about the use of Cuban-trained medical students, and wondered if they were contributing to the effectiveness of the Department of Health.

Dr Ntsaluba noted that many South African students from disadvantaged backgrounds would have been unable to attend medical school in South Africa, because they could meet neither the academic criteria nor the costs. Cuba was able to offer bridging courses in maths and physics to students who showed the potential to succeed in medical studies, and they then focused the medical training on Primary Health Care as opposed to curative aspects. He felt this programme was in the best interests of South Africa, and that there was consideration to increasing the quota, in order to address the many HR weaknesses in the medical field.

Mr T Magama (ANC) congratulated the Department on its many improvements. He thought that it was time to impose some deadlines and to see substantial progress in certain areas. He also asked for details on economic diplomacy training, since the current administration had placed more emphasis on it.

Dr Ntsaluba noted that there had been some internal delays but that the delayed matters would be fast-tracked. He said that a longer discussion was needed about economic diplomacy, although he could say that DIRCO was working with the Department of Trade and Industry (dti), and had revamped the curriculum and conducted workshops. There were difficulties in sustaining training after deployment, but dti officials might be able to offer regional support.

Mr M Manana (ANC) also expressed congratulations to the Department on its audit results. He thought that it could have saved some money on the Annual Report. He enquired about how many young people had been incorporated into the system.

Dr Ntsaluba said did not have figures with him on the youth, but said that the Department’s organisational culture had changed substantially. The cadet programme targeted young University graduates, and provided conduits to move up within the Department.

Ms Joyini added that although there was no guarantee that cadets would be absorbed into permanent employment, the programme set out clear criteria and theoretical and practical standards must be met. Last year, 52 candidates were absorbed and 6 declined, with all candidates in ICT, finance and HR being absorbed.

The Chairperson asked for further explanation on “Ice Cream Missions”.

The Chairperson asked about the management of the revenue of missions, particularly where it was not permissible to hold foreign currency accounts, which meant that huge cash transactions were done, which was not in line with international accounting standards.

A Departmental representative explained that there were four categories of missions. Categories 1 and 2 were termed “Ice Cream Missions” because they were mostly situated in the G20 countries, where a certain level of comfort was enjoyed. Categories 3 and 4 involved placement in countries which were “cash based” such as Algeria and Sudan, where, as a fact, most financial transactions had to be conducted in cash, as funding through banks and bank transactions could not be guaranteed. A fifth category would soon be added.

The Chairperson asked about strategies to curb political mismanagement or fraud.

Dr Ntsaluba noted that a system needed to be designed to limit risk.

The Chairperson asked about coordination between the three spheres of government.

Dr Ntsaluba conceded that coordination was a major problem. Although a framework had been adopted, there was lack of political will, administrative systems and understanding. Within the Information and Communication Technology Service (ICTS) cluster, communication must improve. DIRCO would be asking Cabinet to allocate a special slot for discussion of still further possible improvements.

The Chairperson said the termination of the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) Africa Service was unfortunate, and asked if there were plans for DIRCO and the Department of Communications to pursue the matter further.

Dr Ntsaluba agreed that this was disappointing, as it limited South Africa’s ability to make a positive impact on the African agenda. He had raised this, and would follow up on it, with the Chief Executive Officer of the SABC.

Mr Magama noted that communication about South Africa’s election to the UN Security Council was crucial to address criticisms of the previous term. He stressed that there was a need for clear communication on decisions taken, and that public diplomacy was vital.

The Chairperson agreed, noting the controversy reported during South Africa’s previous seat on the UN Security Council.

Dr Ntsaluba fully agreed with the points about communication and the spirit in which it must occur. There was a need to anticipate issues and prepare the correct strategy in advance. The Myanmar issue concerned a vote of principle, which was seized upon by media. In the past there was some sensitivity about commenting on issues still to be discussed on the UN Security Council and resistance to pre-empting, but he agreed that the basis for decisions must be made clear.

Dr Koornhof noted that Parliament would in this year, for the first time, be able to review budget reports and make recommendations, and asked if Dr Ntsaluba wished to highlight any key issues.

Dr Ntsaluba highlighted four key areas. He said that the operational part of the budget was under pressure. Rising costs of rental had resulted in the halting of acquisitions. There was a need to look again at the capital budget, to prevent losing Diaspora work. Furthermore, he noted that there was some difference of opinion with National Treasury in regard to foreign exchange gains and losses, which affected DIRCO, being foreign-currency driven. He thanked the Committee for its support, effective oversight and constructive criticism.

The meeting was adjourned.


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