The Office of the Public Protector (OPP) briefed the Portfolio Committee on its Strategic Plan and Budget for 2011, and also asked that the Committee consider the remuneration package of the Deputy Public Protector, which was not provided for in the Public Protector Act. The same vision, mission and core values had been retained in the new strategic plan. OPP had a two-pronged approach to handling queries, both by ensuring that transgressions by organs of State must be corrected, and by ensuring that a proper diagnosis and correction of any administrative inadequacies should also be conducted. It aimed to assist the State in good governance practice. The strategic objectives were based on principles such as the need to achieve accessibility and trustworthiness through quality, quantity, reach and penetration, and its service commitment in the previous year included establishing trust and being accessible to all communities, providing prompt remedial action and promoting good governance in the conduct of all State affairs. The key achievements were outlined, which included the increase to twenty national provincial offices, the launch of the Good Governance week, and a communications strategy and improved outreach through the Call Centre. A new unit called for Intake, Assessment and Customer Service had been created, which would, when fully running, be able to assess cases quickly. It was noted that the OPP handled about 15 000 cases a year, with about 40 resulting in reports. A major challenge was the lack of cooperation and either active or passive refusal by State departments, and even Ministers, to respond or to implement findings. The OPP suggested that perhaps Parliament should require Ministers to report, in the Annual Report, of any findings against their department. Another problem was the lack of investigators and capacity, partially attributed to Occupation Specific Dispensation not applying in OPP as it did in State departments. However, a forensically skilled investigator had been appointed, and guidelines to standardise investigations had been drawn.
OPP’s budget for the previous financial year was R120 million, much of which was spent repaying leases, and the new budget was R142 million for 2011/12 and R156 million for 2012/13. The budget splits were described. The three key programmes related to Strategic Direction and Executive Support, which had 12% of the budget, Core Operations, which had 24% of the budget, and Corporate Support Services, with 28% of the budget of R44 million. The provincial allocations were set out. The OPP raised concerns that its budget was incremental, rather than developmental.
The Committee was overall satisfied with the performance of the Public Protector and did not have any problems with matters relating to audits or vacancies. However, it was concerned about the lack of communication with the Committee, since the presentation was received late, and certain publications were only viewed for the first time at the meeting. Comments were also made about the size of the delegation and cost of the documents provided. Other issues of concern related to the location of the offices; some were criticized as too widely spread whilst others appeared to be far too close together. The Committee asked for serious consideration of this matter, especially in light of funding requests. The Committee suggested that the Public Protector should consider the model of Legal Aid South Africa as a benchmark for accessibility, and also consider using offices of traditional authorities as a base. Members asked whether consideration had been given to the report of the ad hoc Committee on the Chapter 9 institutions and whether any recommendations were being implemented. They asked if OPP would intervene if State institutions failed to abide by Court judgments. They asked about the additions to baseline funding and how this was used. They also asked to what extent the OPP took the initiative to speak on radio and address complaints. The Committee noted that it would consider the requests around the salary in the following week.
Office of the Public Protector: Strategic Plan and budget 2011: briefing
Adv Thuli Madonsela, Public Protector, said that the vision, mission and core values of the Office of the Public Protector (OPP) had been retained in the new strategic plan. The OPP was an entity that did not seek to displace the government, but to complement and encourage it. The OPP had a two-pronged approach to dealing with complaints. When a valid complaint was lodged, the wrongs that had been identified were corrected, but simultaneously measures would be taken that ensured a proper diagnosis and correction of any administrative inadequacies. OPP wanted to assist the State in good governance practice. Promoting good governance included trying to ensure that when mistakes were made, internal complaints mechanisms served to remedy a situation promptly. The OPP had used the symbol of a Makhadzi on the cover page of the strategic plan, because in the Venda culture this was a person who acted as a link between the people and a leader or king. It was said that a leader who disregarded the message from a Makhadzi was in danger of leading alone with no subjects.
Adv Madonsela said that the recent economic meltdown meant that access to redressing wrongs was even more important, since people did not have the money or time to go to court. The OPP provided an avenue for issues to be resolved free of charge, and with less of administrative bother. OPP’s strategic objectives were based on principles such as the need to achieve accessibility and trustworthiness through quality, quantity, reach and penetration. The OPP had to be responsive to all complainants through ensuring accountability of State organs, and prompt remedial action, and promoting good governance through systemic transformation of the state. The OPP had to have efficient business processes and operations.
A culture of optimal performance had to be developed within the OPP system. The work of the OPP was anchored in Section 195 of the Constitution. In the previous year the Public Protector had made a service commitment comprising objectives that included being trusted by and being accessible to all communities, providing prompt remedial action and promoting good governance in the conduct of all State affairs. The strategic corporate objectives of the OPP included that it should be an efficient and effective organisation and should ensure optimal performance.
Adv Madonsela outlined the key achievements, including increasing the number of OPP offices to 20, across the country, the launch of the Public Protector Good Governance week, the continuing operation of the mobile offices, and leveraging relationships with stakeholders. It had realised that there was a need to be accessible to all persons in every community. The OPP had just concluded a communications strategy that would ensure communication with different sectors of society. It was important to reach all communities through geographical locations and language. The OPP needed a fully fledged call centre, and its call volume had increased to such an extent that even investigators had to answer calls. OPP was looking at harnessing stakeholder relationships with institutions such as schools and post offices, with the latter perhaps being used to collect complaints.
Adv Madonsela noted the creation of a new unit, called Intake, Assessment and Customer Service. Although this was not yet fully-fledged, the idea was to have a separate intake component that would assess cases quickly. It was important to have customer feedback. The Early Resolution Unit was continuing to grow and had been properly rolled out. Annually, the OPP handled about 15 000 cases, with about 40 resulting in reports. The OPP continued with its system of prompt resolutions and systemic action. It was important to highlight that the OPP was still struggling to obtain cooperation from organs of state that it was investigating. In most cases the particular organs of State would not actively refuse to respond, but they would say that it was busy and could not respond. Two organs of state had recently been subpoenaed, who, typically, said that they were too busy to answer. She suggested that Parliament should consider making it a requirement for Ministers, in the annual reports, to report what finding were made by the OPP against their departments and what had been done by the Minister about that. A Minister who was not satisfied with the findings of the OPP should also be allowed to approach a Portfolio Committee to express dissatisfaction on an OPP finding. It was not in accordance with the Constitution for a Minister or department, once the OPP had spent months in investigating and reaching a finding, then to say that it was not prepared to implement a finding. It was also not in accordance with international best practice.
The OPP did not have adequate investigators, and it would like the Committee to assist in this regard. Case management had to be improved. The OPP was looking at capacity enhancement through enhancing forensic and investigation skills. A forensically skilled investigator had been appointed. Guidelines had been developed for the purposes of standardising approaches to investigations. The OPP was looking towards the transformation of the State in good governance and service delivery. Adv Madonsela stressed that one change to the strategic objectives was the establishment of a fully-fledged call centre and development of a framework of accessibility. A Compliance Unit had been established, which would look at internal and external compliance of government entities. A Governance and Integrity Committee had also been established, to provide guidelines on the OPP’s own governance system, and it would be chaired by the Deputy Public Protector (DPP). Investigators were being trained and their quality would be benchmarked with international best practice.
Ms Madonsela then tabled the budget. The budget for the 2010/11 financial year was R120 million, much of which was spent on the repayment of leases to the Department of Public Works (DPW). The 2011 budget was R142 million, rising to R156 million for 2012/13. The bulk of that budget went to human resources. The OPP was spending about R2 900 per case per annum, and yet it had to serve about 48 million individuals.
Ms Madonsela then described the budgetary split. R4 million was allocated to accessibility, R3.7 million had been allocated to prompt remedial action, R25 million was allocated to achieving an efficient and effective organisation, R3.4 million has been allocated to optimal performance and service focus culture, and R7.15 million had been allocated to promoting good governance. There were three key programmes. Strategic Direction and Executive Support had 12% of the budget, Core Operations had 24% of the budget and Corporate Support Services had 28% of the budget. The budget for these programmes was R44 million. She then described the provincial allocations as follows: Eastern Cape had R600 000, Free State had R649 000; KwaZulu Natal (KZN) had R600 000; Limpopo had R700 000; Mpumalanga had R650 000; North West had R984 000; Northern Cape had R550 000 and Western Cape had R550 000.
The last issue discussed related to the remuneration and conditions of service of the Deputy Public Protector (DPP). The DPP was a statutory appointment, but the Public Protector Act did not prescribe what was to apply to the DPP. The Public Protector was requesting that the salary of the DPP should be reviewed, and also the Committee should consider backdating any payments that may be deemed necessary.
Mr J Jeffery (ANC) said that he was concerned that he had received the strategic plan only on the previous day, which made it impossible for the Committee’s researchers to undertake an analysis of it. He pointed out that all strategic plans had to be tabled by 9 March 2011, but it was now well into April. The Committee has thus not been able to prepare fully, and the questions would therefore be limited in their scope. He asked for a response from the OPP.
The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to respond firstly to the matter.
Mr Vhonani Raamano, Committee Secretary, said that the strategic plan was tabled in the previous week, on Thursday or Friday. The copies were distributed to Members on 11 April Monday. The hard copies of the presentation had not been received.
Adv Madonsela apologised about the presentation, and explained that there was a computer glitch. She said that the strategic plan had been tabled at the end of March and her team was of the view that it had to be sent within seven days after tabling. However, such short notice would not be given again.
Mr Jeffery said that he was happy with the way that the OPP was working and it was doing well in terms of audits and vacancies. However, he reiterated that the Committee could not work properly if it received documentation late, and should receive it well in advance, so there was a need to establish a more effective relationship with the OPP.
Mr Jeffery noted that the OPP budget had risen by 28%. However, he was not sure if it was being entirely fair in asking for more money. Its presentation had been enclosed in a costly folder, and it had flown to Cape Town with a large contingent, instead of less staff, yet there was a gap in effective communication with Members of Parliament, as evidenced by the copies of the OPP’s publication being seen for the first time during this meeting.
Mr Jeffery noted that the location of the nationwide offices of the OPP was a concern. For example, there were three offices in the Kgalagadi region, whereas there was only one in the vast areas of the Free State and Limpopo. The OPP had taken over from the Ombudsman of the former Bophuthatswana, but it was not clear whether it was correct to spend so much money on the North West. KZN had fewer offices, yet it was one of the most populated provinces. He also questioned the correctness of opening an office in Phuthaditjhaba, when there was one in Newcastle close by. He suggested that it would make more sense for the OPP rather to use municipalities or mobile offices as a base, and travel once in a while, instead of paying rent for offices.
Mr Jeffery responded to the suggestion that the Ministers should be obliged to comment in annual reports on findings of the OPP, saying that the OPP itself should rather compile a report during the budget review process, noting what its reports on recommendations were, and which Ministers had failed to respond.
Adv Madonsela commented that there was a genuine misunderstanding with regards to the submission of the documents, and the OPP tendered its apologies. The folder in which the presentation was contained was intended so that Members could have their own OPP folder, where they could file documents, but the point raised was noted. The large contingent was a once-off initiative to try and afford the team an opportunity to experience first hand what Parliament required of the OPP at these interactions. The OPP was working on the split of regional offices and the spread of resources. The OPP was working on an accessibility framework document that would determine what kind of footprint was needed. The accessibility framework document would also look at the possible use of the post office’s facilities and the most cost effective way to comply with Section 182 of the Constitution. In regard to the reports, she noted that it would be very difficult for the already swamped research unit to compile a report on the recommendations of the OPP that were not complied with by Ministers, and there would be a need for a dedicated person to do that. The Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) of the OPP was not in line with other government entities, and this was one of the reasons it was losing investigators.
Ms D Schaefer (DA) asked if the additional allocations received from National Treasury were included in this presentation. She also asked if the allocations to the provinces included the salaries of staff members.
Adv Madonsela said that the allocations were included in the presentations, and the salaries were excluded from the allocations for the staff members in provincial offices.
Mr Themba Mthethwa, Chief Executive Officer, Office of the Public Protector, expanded on the budget. He noted that the “real” budget was R114 million last year, and that although the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) allocation had reflected that it was supposed to be R124 million, this was not received. The OPP received extra funding of R3 million to increase the capacity of its investigators, after the Portfolio Committee’s interventions, and this would be used to hire 9 additional investigators. The other additional allocations were another R2 million, which was used for remuneration, and another R3 million which was used to pay DPW for leases.
Mr Jevio Mculu, Chief Financial Officer, Office of the Public Protector, said that the budget had increased by 1.5% of the baseline allocation this year.
Adv Mamiki Shai, Deputy Public Protector, added that she was worried that the OPP had an incremental budget, whereas there was a need for a developmental budget. The OPP was not able to expand, and this inhibited growth and service delivery.
Adv S Holomisa (ANC) said that he was hoping that Mr Jeffery was not saying that some of the offices should close down, as there had to be accessibility to the OPP. He noted that the idea of getting access to justice, without a charge, was an ideal goal. He asked whether the OPP could intervene in instances where an organ of State did not comply with a court judgment. He also asked if there were no centres that the OPP could use, on a regular basis, in rural areas, and enquired if it had thought of using the offices of traditional authorities.
Adv Madonsela noted that the OPP did intervene where an organ of State failed to honour a court order.
Mr Jeffery said that his concern was that there were three regional offices on the N14, but this was unsustainable given that there were funding constraints. One of these offices had to close down. He asked what cost saving steps the OPP had taken.
Adv Madonsela said that the point was taken about having offices close to each other and this was why the OPP had an accessibility framework document. It was correct to say that there were not enough regional offices. However, it would be difficult to simply move a service where the community was already used to it. Another alternative to closing down offices was to establish a satellite office.
Ms Schaefer asked when the R3 million was received.
Mr Mthethwa replied that it was received in November 2010.
Mr Jeffery suggested that the OPP should look at what National Treasury had to say about the rentals and leases of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), to see how it could cut back, since these were similar bodies. He reiterated that it was a serious problem that some of the provincial offices of the OPP were so close to each other. Another option that could be considered was that complainants might be asked to have complainants lodge complaints at the offices of Legal Aid South Africa (LASA) for collection by OPP officials.
Mr Jeffery noted that the remuneration of the Deputy Public Protector (DPP) was referred to the Committee last year in June, and the Committee should consider it as soon as possible.
The Chairperson suggested that the salary of the DPP could be considered in the following week. The Chief Financial Officer should draw up a cost analysis, including back pay.
Mr J Sibanyoni (ANC) asked to what extent the OPP took the initiative to speak on radio and address complaints.
Ms Kgalalelo Masibi, Senior Manager: Outreach, Education and Communication, OPP, said that the OPP had pre-determined targets for community outreach through the radio in the annual plan. The OPP also held events in rural communities. The OPP made use of the radio even when she was invited during odd hours.
Mr Holomisa asked if the OPP has considered the report of the ad hoc Committee on the Chapter 9 institutions, and what its views were on this Committee’s report.
Adv Madonsela said that the OPP had considered the report. One of the recommendations in that report was that the institutions should collaborate more. OPP and other institutions were already doing so through shared forums. She thought that the Legal Aid South Africa would be a better model than SAHRC for benchmarking the OPP, as OPP was aiming for the same kind of access to justice. However, it would not be possible for complaints to be lodged at the offices of LASA, as this would compromise the independence of the OPP.
Mr Jeffery said that the OPP should then consider what it could draw from the LASA model.
Adv Madonsela concluded by thanking the Committee, especially for its support.
The meeting was adjourned.
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