Human Resources Landscape and suspensions in the Department of Arts and Culture: Departmental briefing; Committee Oversight Report

Arts and Culture

28 June 2011
Chairperson: Ms T Sunduza (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Arts and Culture briefed Members on the Department's current human resources landscape and its background and origins, the Organisational Development  Exercise (April 2008 to June 2009), the status of implementation of the results, the annual allocation of the compensation budget, and the status of the current establishment. The Department's budget for human resources had been growing but not in real terms. The moratorium on filling vacancies had given rise to problems, since unfilled vacancies resulted in under spending. Department then reviewed its staff suspensions and progress in the investigations, with reference to the initial outcome of the suspension cases, the number of disputes and their outcomes, and the current status of these cases. The Department was satisfied with its progress, but emphasised the need to rebuild the morale of the Department. Moreover, suspended staff still had to be paid while doing no work, and cases took long to resolve – this impacted service delivery adversely. As part of the way forward, the Department noted to fill critical funded vacancies, re-align the establishment of the Department with the current compensation budget, and motivate for additional funds to National Treasury. The Department did not wish to carry vacancies which it could not fill.

Members asked about reinstatements, suspensions and appeals whether staff members who were dismissed received packages, for clarity on the compensation budget, how many staff members with disabilities there were in the Department, about upward mobility, and advised the Department to review its organogram.  Members also asked why it appeared that only African males and African females were promoted, and there was any working relationship with the Department of Basic Education. People attempting to follow Adult Basic Education and Training programmes found it hard to access libraries. What could be done to improve the situation? The Chairperson asked about pending draft legislation. The Chairperson urged the Department to monitor procurement, called for job candidates to be able to undergo interviews in their own languages, and asked about pending legislation.

The Department informed Members that the South African Languages Bill would be in the Parliamentary programme for the next term, 2011. The South African Language Practitioners Bill and the Community Libraries Bill would be introduced into Parliament in the first term of 2012.

Meeting report

The Chairperson was disappointed that Members had arrived late to the meeting. This was not acceptable even if it was raining and the last week of the term. The Committee's work was important and punctuality was essential. She herself had arrived at 08h30.

Department of Arts and Culture. Human Resources Landscape and suspensions
Mr Sibusiso Xaba, Director- General, Department of Arts and Culture, reported that the Department had resolved most of its problems relating to human resources. It was starting a new page, and there was growing mobility of staff with efforts to retain skills.

Background, history and staff statistics
Mr Xaba gave a brief background of the situation. In August 2002 the then Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology was split into two separate departments–Arts and Culture, and Science and Technology, but for some time they remained under one Minister.

At that time the Department of Arts and Culture's activities were organised into four areas or programmes– Administration, Arts and Culture and Language in Society; Cultural Development and International Relations; and Heritage, National Archives and National Library Services. The Department's staff complement was then 530 posts, of which 370 were filled and 160 vacant.

Mr Xaba explained the employment and vacancy rate by programme, March 2004 (bar chart, slide 6). He also explained the distribution of staff by gender and race (African, coloured, Indian, and white), March 2004 (bar chart, slide 7).

During 2004/05 the Department moved from four to six programmes – Administration; Arts and Culture in Society; National Language Service; Cultural Development and International Cooperation; Heritage Promotion; and National Archives, Records, Meta-Information and Heraldic Services.

The Department did not immediately embark on an organisational and development investigation during its establishment as a separate Department in 2004; however, top management then started to re-align the functions, post-establishment and organisational structure: this was finalised in April 2006.

Mr Xaba explained employment and vacancies by programme, 2006 (bar chart, slide 10), and filled establishment (gender and race), 2006 (bar chart, slide 11).

Mr Xaba commented that Arts and Culture in Society had the highest number of vacancies.

The Organisational Development exercise
Mr Xaba explained the Organisational Development (OD) exercise, for which an external service provider was contracted. The 2006 establishment had never been fully implemented, since the Department realised that it did not completely meet the changed priorities of Government. The Department appointed an external consultant to conduct the OD investigation to achieve a better alignment of organisational structure to strategic objectives and Government's priorities. It began on 01 April 2008 and the final report was received in June 2009. The Ministry of Public Service and Administration concurred with the proposed revised establishment provided that National Treasury confirmed funds and that all positions were job evaluated. Mr Xaba explained the revised structure with analysis by senior management staff (SMS) and middle management staff (MMS), and with estimated costs (See bar charts, slides 13-14).

Mr Xaba commented that in determining budget allocations, National Treasury would take decisions informed by Cabinet on how the budget was to be split, and the Department always received an allocation that was less than that requested. The fiscus had shrunk because of the recession.

Implementation of the revised structure
The Department envisaged a phased implementation because of the limited budget for compensation. Only a number of critical positions were to be filled during the first phase. While the budget was initially sufficient, the annual allocation percentage decreased over the past three years (pie chart, slide 16; slide 17). Employment and vacancies per programme as on 31 May 2011 were shown (bar chart, slide 18). Slides showed the promotions, appointments, race and gender distribution as well as the vacancy rate, race and gender distribution per programme (bar charts, slides 20-33). 

Mr Xaba highlighted that the Department's budget for human resources had been growing but not in real terms. It was effectively a budget cut. However, all governmental departments had had to do with less. There was a moratorium on filling vacancies. This gave rise to problems, since unfilled vacancies resulted in under spending; and when National Treasury observed under spending, it made cuts in the next year's budget allocation.

Mr Xaba commented that African women were the most strongly represented category in the Department’s Administration staff. In Programme 2 it was possible again to see the dominance of Africans, with coloured men and women especially predominant in low level jobs. He commented on the vacancy rates in the National Language Service and in Cultural Development and International Relations.

The following slides illustrated the initial outcome of the suspension cases, the number of disputes and their outcomes, and finally the current status of these cases in the Department (bar charts, slides 35-37).

Mr Xaba commented that large numbers in the Department were affected, directly or indirectly. People were social beings and it was very hard to prevent staff morale from being adversely affected. The Department sought to rebuild the morale of the Department. There were difficulties with the process of suspensions since the Department had to suspend the staff members concerned on full pay, while at the same time these staff members were not working and therefore the delivery on budget was affected. Moreover, these processes took a long time, and while there was an appeals process the Department could not fill the positions. However, the Department was happy with progress to date. There was a different process for cases processed through the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and for cases which involved civil litigation and asset forfeiture.

The way forward
•Filling of critical funded vacancies.
•Re-align the post establishment of the Department with the current compensation budget.
•Motivate for additional funds to Treasury.

The Chairperson commended the Department on the prompt supply of documents. She noted that until the Director-General's post had been filled, no staff could be appointed.

Hosi T Nwamitwa-Shilubana (ANC) asked about the current placement of national library services.

Mr Xaba replied that the national library services were now in Programme 6 together with archives.

Hosi Nwamitwa-Shilubana asked about progress in the National Language Services.

This question was not answered.

Dr A Lotriet (DA) commended the Department for following a realistic path based on the money the Department had. She asked about allegations of a witch hunt?

Mr Xaba replied that it was difficult to comment on the suggestion that there was a witch hunt when staff members were suspended. There had been a number of allegations of corruption, which led to investigations internally as well as the engagement of other authorities such as the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). The decision to dismiss was taken by the Department but following an independent disciplinary process.

The Chairperson said that the Department was known for corruption and asked what measures it had taken to prevent its recurrence.

Mr Xaba replied that the Department had made a commitment to deal with corruption when it became aware of it. Certainly, if Members of the Committee became aware of allegations of corruption, the Department would be pleased to follow up on these. The Department had put measures in place to prevent corruption in future. It was finalising its audit plan currently. This looked at all the areas in which the Department had been seen to be vulnerable. This came from the Department's own risk assessment, from the recommendations of the Auditor-General, and from the recommendations of the Special Investigating Unit.

Mr Sandile Memela, Acting Chief Operating Officer, DAC, explained the perception of corruption in the Events Unit. This Unit had no budget. It relied on the other Units that hosted the events themselves. Its work was to handle the logistics. However, there were no facts to substantiate the perception. Companies were appointed, not by the Events Unit, but by Supply Chain Management. However, there was no doubt that it was necessary to inform staff and stakeholders of the Department's processes and structures. It was unfortunate that the in the society in which we lived people tended to think that perception was reality.

Dr Lotriet asked what the chances were for an employee to be reinstated on appeal.

Mr Xaba explained that, in cases where a staff member was reinstated, there was a due process. There might be a reinstatement if the appeals authority felt that there was an error of judgement during the disciplinary process or if there was a procedural problem. It was difficult to predict if there would be reinstatement in other cases.

Mr Anil Singh, Director: Legal Services, DAC, replied that the Department was bound to follow the rule of law and respect court processes. However, when people came back to the Department they carried much anger within them and the Department had to manage that. It was a challenge to reintegrate people. If the trust relationship was broken down, perhaps the Department would offer a settlement instead of reinstatement. The Department was eager to rid itself of the image that it was corrupt, but the steps that it took were guided by the law. It was a very difficult process to manage.

Dr Lotriet asked further about suspensions.

Mr Xaba explained why there was such a high rate of suspension at middle management level. There was a unit in the Department called investment in culture. There were many allegations of corruption in that unit. That unit had many people in middle management. Almost all those people, most of whom were based in the provinces, were suspended. 

The Chairperson acknowledged that the Labour Relations Act must be very frustrating in so far as a suspended employee had to be kept on full pay, and this affected service delivery.

Mr S Ntapane (UDM) asked if these appeals were in the labour courts.

Mr Xaba said that cases on appeal were those cases that were waiting for a hearing before the Chamber or the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) or the court.

Mr Xaba preferred to obtain final decisions that met the requirements of natural and administrative justice, were defensible, and caused the least damage to service delivery. If people were found not to be at fault, then the Department wanted to get them back to work as soon as possible. If people were found not to be at fault, but the relations between them and their employer had broken down, then the Department preferred to find a way of releasing them and in these cases there had been some settlements. If people were found to be at fault, and the process had gone through, the Department preferred to remove them and replace them to enable the Department to function.

Mr Xaba said that a suspension could be challenged by the staff member if he or she did not think that the Department had good reason to suspend him or her. There had been one case recently among the two senior management staff who had been suspended. The decision had been taken to the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), and elsewhere, but the Department had stood its ground.

Mr Singh added that in case of an allegation of corruption there would be a forensic investigation. The Department would receive the reports of the forensic investigations. If corrective measures were recommended, those measures were taken. In all cases the Department conducted, as a first step, internal disciplinary hearings. Then the chairperson of the independent hearing would give a ruling. If the decision went against the employee, he or she would take the decision to the General Services Central Bargaining Council, which was the bargaining council for disputes for public employees. The Department had turned the corner with these cases. Now the Department could move forward. There were no cases on appeal in the labour court. A previous case, a challenge to a suspension, had been taken to the labour court, but had been resolved. The Department subsequently proceeded with a disciplinary hearing.

Mr Singh said that the previous management had decided to issue a letter of demand against an individual who was a director in the investing in culture branch, but that person had left the Department shortly before the Department received the report of the forensic investigators on their conclusions. So the Department's lawyers issued a letter of demand. The forensic report had spoken of the failure to monitor and evaluate projects in the different provinces and that person was held accountable for the failure to account for the projects. This was an ongoing process.

Mr Singh explained the role of the SIU. A presidential proclamation gave it the powers to commence the work of investigation. The Department was awaiting some reports from the Unit, but, as Mr Xaba had said, this was a separate process. When the Unit recommended that some criminal action, or asset forfeiture or civil recovery, be taken, the SIU made the recommendation and dealt with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and this was a separate process in which the Department was not directly involved. Once the Department had concluded the disciplinary cases against the official, that was the end of the Department's involvement.

Mr P Ntshiqela (COPE) asked what the cost implications of appointing a consultant were.

Mr Xaba knew of only one consultant - in information technology (IT) - who had been with the Department for a long time. The Department outsourced consultancy services in only two cases: for services that it would not require in the long term; and for services that it could not possibly afford if it had to pay for full time staff. Consultants generally were found to cost much more than regular staff. There were positions for a human languages technologist which the Department had struggled for more than a year to fill, but fortunately the Department was now on the verge of filling one of them. OD processes were best outsourced because of the need to ensure the credibility of the process. It was difficult to carry out such a purpose internally because the human resources staff would be assumed to have a vested interest.

Hosi Nwamitwa-Shilubana asked whether staff members who were dismissed received packages.

Mr Xaba replied that when people were dismissed from the public service they received only their dues – their pension and leave pay.

Mr Singh's understanding was that the employee who was dismissed would forfeit the state's contribution to his or her pension. However, the leave benefit would be paid out.

Mr Ntapane asked for clarity on the compensation budget.

Mr Michael Rennie, Acting Chief Financial Officer, DAC, explained that the figures took account of allowances, such as acting allowances, salary increases and performance bonuses.

Mr D Mavunda (ANC) asked if reducing the number of posts did not affect the smooth running of the Department. He asked for a background on how the Department was managing.

Mr Xaba explained why reducing the number of posts would not hinder the smooth running of the Department. Given a choice between a high level of vacancies because the Department lacked money to fill the positions and the lower level of vacancies with a smaller structure, Mr Xaba preferred the latter, rather than having to repeatedly report to the Committee that the Department could not do what it set out to do for lack of staff on account of lack of budget. It was better to be realistic. 

The Chairperson asked how may staff members with disabilities were employed in the Department.

Ms Ada Venter, Acting Director: Human Resource Management, DAC, replied that at present the Department had seven persons with disabilities – a percentage of 1.53%.  She apologised for the omission (of this fact) in the presentation.  The previous year there had been a 2% disability rate. However, the Department had lost three of its employees with disabilities. Two were appointed to other departments. The disability of the third was now at such a stage that the Department could not longer provide a supportive environment in which the employee could work. He needed someone to feed him and take him to the bathroom. So the Department had had to end his services.

The Chairperson asked about upward mobility in the Department. From her own previous experience in the public service, she knew that junior staff members were from time to time called upon to teach their superiors how to do their jobs, yet they themselves were denied promotion. She called for internships for university students.

Mr Xaba replied that the public service regulations prescribed how different positions had to be filled. Promotion to the next level was no longer automatic. Senior positions could not be filled except by advertising them externally. Internal candidates had to compete with external candidates. In the public service one could not have a succession plan; however, one could plan to upscale staff members' skills to enable them to compete better. There was, however, no way to guarantee upward mobility.

Ms Venter replied that the Department had two successful groups of interns. The second group was appointed also to entities of the Department. A further group of interns would be appointed.

The Chairperson disagreed and challenged Mr Xaba, notwithstanding the public service regulations. There were people in a department who knew the work, but were turned down in favour of an outside candidate. She gave the example of a committee assistant in Parliament who could not secure promotion because she could not speak English fluently and therefore could not compete adequately in the interview process. Candidates should be able to undergo an interview in their own language. Among public servants there was an outcry about this issue of languages. She called for the Department to start a trend of accepting the use of other official languages, besides English, for interviews. 'English, unfortunately, is the language of oppression, I am sorry to say that, but it is a language that we were given.' Sometimes corruption occurred because staff were frustrated and would do anything to obstruct the Department.

Mr Xaba replied that the Department wanted Parliament to pass the National Languages Bill before the end of the year. This would force every state institution to prescribe official languages in which it did business. He explained how it would work.

Ms Moss said that in any organisation there should be a skills audit and workers should be empowered before looking outside for new employees.  It was important to build morale in the workplace.

The Chairperson asked the Department what its human resources plans were. If people could not move up, how could they be empowered? If staff were not empowered, the human resources specialists would then say that those staff were not competent to be promoted.

Mr Xaba agreed that it was important to give mobility to people. Staff would always give of their best to an organisation which believed in their interests.

The Chairperson questioned the wisdom of appointing a new graduate in preference to a candidate with ten years relevant experience. Many older candidates had had no opportunity to study for degrees.

Mr Xaba referred to a process between the former Department of Education and the Department of Public Service and Administration on the recognition of prior learning in the public service. He was not sure if that framework had been concluded. There should be guidelines for rating relevant experience.

Mr Ntapane was concerned about the trends that these issues were currently taking, because they were a reflection of inefficiency in the Department. If it reinstated, it settled, and it meant that really the Department's legal unit had not done enough. The Department needed to look at it again. It tarnished the Department's integrity. These issues were of concern.

Mr D Mavunda (ANC) said that senior staff in too many governmental departments failed to account for some of their duties. Often one heard that such a person was being investigated, only to learn that he or she had left the department and moved to another department or institution.

Mr Xaba replied that the issue of staff members who resigned while being investigated had always been an interesting one. If a person resigned while under investigation, the Department had to accept that resignation and let him or her go. However, that did not stop the Department investigating for other purposes, particularly in circumstances where criminal charges might be appropriate. However, the Department could not investigate for the purposes of discipline. 

Ms L Moss (ANC) thought that things had begun to go wrong when the Department split. She asked for the Department's organogram, which the Department should review, and present to the Committee, and emphasised the importance of Parliament's oversight role.

The Chairperson agreed with Ms Moss that the Department should review its organogram.

Mr Xaba replied that there were units serving the entire Department which were subsumed within other units. This affected their effectiveness. Examples of this were the International Cooperation and Monitoring and Evaluation departments.

Mr Ntshiqela asked more clarity on the limited budget for compensation of employees. He noted that this budget had, at first, been sufficient.

Mr Xaba replied that because of annual increments, what had been a sufficient budget had become insufficient.

Ms Lishivha asked why it appeared that only African males and African females were promoted.

Ms Venter replied that the Department did encourage other groups to apply. Possibly people were not willing to move to take up positions.

Hosi Nwamitwa-Shilubana asked if there was any working relationship with the Department of Basic Education. She said that people attempting to follow Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) programmes found it hard to access libraries. What could be done to improve the situation?

Mr Xaba replied that the Department had a working relationship with the Department of Basic Education to place art teachers in schools. The Department of Arts and Culture was helping provinces to build libraries. There was a conditional grant which was transferred to provinces to build libraries and that had helped greatly. However, there was a long way to go before there was a sufficiency of libraries. Provinces which invested in libraries had had an increase in their conditional grants.

Pending legislation
The Chairperson asked about pending draft legislation:
The South African Languages Bill
The South African Language Practitioners Bill
The Community Libraries Bill

The Chairperson believed that the Committee and the Department was on track. She hoped that the Bills would be drafted in time. The Committee could not overstep any requirements for the processing of bills.
The Bills were one of the most important issues for the Committee.

Mr Xaba replied that legislation which had not been approved by the Cabinet by the end of May 2011 would not be included in the Parliamentary programme for 2011. The South African Languages Bill had been approved by Cabinet and would be in the Parliamentary programme for the next term, 2011.

The South African Language Practitioners Bill and the Community Libraries Bill would be processed by the Cabinet this year, and introduced into Parliament in the first term of 2012.

Chairperson's concluding remarks
The Chairperson thanked the Department for enlightening Members on its progress in human resources.  Clearly actions and steps were being taken. It was important now for the Department to prepare a 'big submission to Treasury'. Creative arts were important to the economy, so there must be growth based on the Department itself. These were some of the motivations that the Department could use. Moreover, this was a year of job creation, and it had to be asked how the Department could create more jobs when there was no increase in its allocation. The Department was not yet seen by National Treasury as one of the most important departments.

The Chairperson would be very happy to see young people working in the Department including intern positions. It was also important to further encourage the entities that the Department was funding to do likewise.

The Chairperson noted that 'snippets' were usually written by people who were bitter or angry. Senior managers, especially those newly appointed, must visit the various branches and sections of the Department to meet the staff and discuss issues of concern. She had noticed in governmental departments a lack of consultation. The voice of even the low-level staff such as receptionists must be heard. The unions should be involved only when labour issues developed. On oversight visits the Chairperson had witnessed situations were junior staff ran away when the director-general appeared. 'I don't believe in that [kind of] relationship.' Also she deplored over-sensitivity on the use, or non-use, of titles when junior staff addressed their superiors.

The Chairperson was happy that action had been taken to rid the Department of the reputation for corruption that it had acquired.

The Chairperson urged the Department to monitor its procurement. This was where the problem started. Procedures might be followed; but there was always a 'power influence'–this would never change.

The Chairperson spoke further on languages. It was impossible for South Africa to continue with 11 languages recognised by the Constitution but, for practical purposes, recognise only one language. For this reason, the Chairperson admired the Afrikaners, who fought for the recognition and use of their language, even if they had to take the matter to court. However, Africans were finding that their small children, nephews, nieces and cousins could not speak their mother tongues. Afrikaners spoke Afrikaans with their children, while Africans spoke English. She acknowledged that writing documents [in African languages] would take time, but pleaded, at least, for the recognition of the oral use of African languages to begin with.

The Chairperson reminded Mr Xaba of pending issues that the Committee expected the Department to follow up, and of the concerns around the Pan South African Languages Board (PanSALB) and the National Heritage Council.

Report on Oversight visits to Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga from 29 to 31 March 2011
The Committee adopted the draft report.

Committee Minutes dated 25 May 2011
The Committee adopted the minutes. [Ms Moss moved; Dr Lotriet seconded.]

Committee's projected study tour, November 2011
The Committee's researcher had suggested the possibility of India and Australia as countries to be visited.

Ms Moss suggested that the Committee should consider visiting countries with which South Africa had agreements; another meeting should be held.

Mr Ntapane said that it was important to decide why the Committee wanted to visit a particular country.

Dr Lotriet agreed with Ms Moss that Members should hold another meeting to look at options.

The Chairperson thought that the Committee must visit one African country and one other; she invited Mr Xaba to make suggestions.

Other business
Dr Lotiet asked for a copy of the South African Languages Bill, which Cabinet had approved, so that she could study it during the recess. 

The Chairperson replied that it would be sent to Members when available.

Ms Moss said that Members needed to be informed of the programme as soon as they returned from the recess.

The Chairperson informed Members of the current situation regarding the position of Committee Secretary.
Mr Johnny van der Westhuizen was currently the Acting Committee Secretary.

The meeting was adjourned.


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