Robben Island Museum 2009/10 Annual Report

Arts and Culture

09 August 2011
Chairperson: Ms T Sunduza (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed again on the 2009/2010 Annual Report of the Robben Island Museum. A history of leadership turbulence and organisational instability was outlined, which had hampered the institution since its inception in 1997, years, including repeated replacement of the Chief Executive Officer, the resignation of the Council and the dissolution of the senior management structure. However, in March 2010 a new Council was appointed and the new Chief Executive Officer was appointed in November 2010. Many of the committees and subcommittees put in place by the new Council to run operations had been able to be dissolved as senior management staff were appointed to do this work. However, there were still some challenges, particularly in regard to unfunded mandates, including the running of the ferries, post office, fire service and clinic on Robben Island. There was also a need to have a different business model for the maintenance and management of ferry operations, which were recognised as vital to the accessibility of the Museum, although they tended to distract attention of the Museum away from actually running the Museum itself. The Committee was assured that despite the problems in the past financial reports, measures had now been put in place to address the weak controls and systems of the past, and the 2010/11 report would hopefully be unqualified, and many improvements would be seen. 

Members expressed their concern that the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the Council and several senior staff were not present, particularly in view of the history. There were several questions directed to the ongoing management of human resources. The Committee noted the fact that the Chief Executive Officer was still quite new in his post, but stressed that they would hold him accountable for the matters in the next Annual Report for 2010/11. Several Members questioned the running of the ferries, and asked if there was a need to outsource any of the other activities on the Island. They asked if the Museum was accessible enough to international visitors, and noted that it offered educational tours and outreach to local visitors. They noted the improved appearance of the Island, but asked whether there was a possibility of different tours. Members also asked if there had been any follow-up to the forensic audit report of a few years’ ago, and noted that no criminal prosecutions had been instituted, as recommended at the time. They asked about proposals for further development of Robben Island, but it was stressed that the Council had been reluctant to approve these, fearing they could adversely affect the heritage, history and environment of the Island. Members were critical of the late submission of this Report, and asked to receive another presentation when the 2010/11 Annual Report was submitted in August 2011, as well as a presentation on the turnaround strategy.

The Committee also noted that the Special Investigating Unit was busy drawing a report on the investigation into the South African Traditional Music Awards, but the Committee agreed that a letter should be written confirming that day-to-day business must continue. The Pan South African Language Board was also involved in a labour dispute and the Committee requested a full report, and that it be fast-tracked.

Meeting report

Robben Island Museum: Re-presentation of Annual Report 2009/10
Mr Sibongiseni  Mkhize, Chief Executive Officer, Robben Island Museum, tendered apologies on behalf of Ms Thandi Modise, Chairperson of the Robben Island Museum (RIM or the Museum) Council, as well as the Deputy Chairperson, Mr Ben Martins. He explained that his presentation on the 2009/10 Annual Report of the Museum was a repeat of the presentation given on 17 November 2010. He noted that this Report dated from a time prior to his own appointment as Chief Executive Officer.

Mr Mkhize tabled a number of slides showing the diversity and scope of the RIM. It was situated in a sensitive environment, and there were diverse responsibilities attached to the village and the five different former prisons housed on Robben Island. Mr Mkhize said that because of this scope, the challenges facing management were far broader than in other museums. He noted that certain aspects, such as the running of the Robben Island ferries and the village post office, fell outside the mandate of the museum.

Mr Mkhize gave a brief historical overview of the island’s establishment as a World Heritage Site in 1999. He also noted the inauguration of the Integrated Conservation Management Plan (ICMP) in 2007. Mr Mkhize then dealt with the museum’s administrative developments from its inception in 1997 to the present, mentioning the historical difficulties in governance, management and organisational structure. This included the suspension and subsequent resignation of the Chief Operations Officer in January 2008 and the simultaneous dismissal of the Chief Financial Officer .  An interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was appointed in July 2008, followed in quick succession by his and the entire Council's resignation in May 2009. Professor Bredekamp, Chief Executive Officer of Iziko museums, was then appointed interim CEO in June 2009, ending his term in March 2010. In March 2010 the new Council was inaugurated under the chair of Ms Thandi Modise, with Mr Ben Martins as her Deputy Chairperson. Working committees and subcommittees were formed to oversee operational management of the RIM. Mr Mkhize was appointed CEO in November 2010.

He emphasised the challenges associated with unfunded mandates and their financial sustainability, in particular the challenges connected with maintaining ferries. He touched on the past negative publicity associated with the mechanical breakdowns of the ferries, and reported that there had been improvement in this area, but still maintained that operating boats fell outside of the capacity of a museum and that privatisation was an option that should be considered. Other concerns included maintaining the balance of the natural environment, keeping up with growing numbers of visitors and demands placed on facilities, while the budgetary implications of the ICMP were also mentioned.

Mr Mkhize asserted that a great deal had been achieved since the appointment of the new Council, CEO and CFO. He mentioned that particular highlights included renewed control over the natural environment problems, the restoration of facilities and the successful holding of exhibitions, as well as approximately 80 events and conferences on the island. He stressed the value of educational tours in making the island accessible to South African visitors and the success of winter promotional specials. Approximately 300 000 people visited the island, and many visitors were successfully hosted during the World Cup celebrations. Since the arrival of the executive leadership the number of committees and subcommittees had been reduced, with their work taken over by senior managers.

Mr Mkhize touched briefly on challenges connected with the RIM financial reports. The RIM had received a qualified report, but he said that this was unavoidable, due to the restatement of corresponding figures for the previous year for Property, Plant and Equipment. He stated that progress had been made in addressing the issues for 2010/2011year. Mr Mkhize then outlined that the RIM had started with a review of the organisational structures and vacancies. The Strategic Plan for 2011 had been finalised and the 2012-2015 plan was in the course of preparation.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) expressed concern at the dismissals and suspensions mentioned in the organisation. She asked if this was the result of relationship issues and, if so, if these had been addressed.

Mr Mkhize responded that the presentation on the 2009/10 Annual Report reflected events taking place in that financial year. He had not been employed by the RIM at that time. He noted that the unhappiness and staff unrest prevalent at that time had now changed.

Ms Mushwana expressed concern that the audit report had been qualified. She asked when the 2010/11 Annual Report would be tabled.

Mr Mkhize responded that when he had been appointed as Chief Executive Officer, the Museum had been plagued by a history of weak controls and poor financial management, which had given rise to several audit reports having been qualified. However, he assured the Committee that this had been corrected. The 2010/11 Annual Report would be tabled on 31 August 2011, within the prescribed deadline.

Ms Mushwana commented on the efforts outlined in the presentation that were geared to making the Museum accessible to visitors. She wondered if it was yet accessible enough to international visitors, especially in view of the global interest in the site.

Mr Mkhize said that the majority of visitors were foreign visitors, as the costs put the Museum beyond the reach of many local visitors. The Museum was aware of this difficulty, and tried to counter it through educational outreach programmes and school tours.

Dr A Lotriet (DA) congratulated Mr Mkhize on the improved appearance of the island, which was evident when the Committee recently visited Robben Island.

Dr Lotriet expressed disappointment that the Human Resources Manager was not present, particularly given the problematic staff history, as well as more recent reports suggesting that the staff were unhappy about dismissals. She asked if there were policies in place to try to ensure staff satisfaction at the Museum.

Mr Mkhize said that the history of the organisation meant that there were still bound to be some challenges in regard to human resources. He said that these challenges should not be underestimated. Many current problems had resulted from past practices. The number of staff employed currently was in excess of the budget capacity. In some instances, dismissals resulting from misconduct were both justifiable and unavoidable. He assured the Committee, however, that the new Human Resources Manager was attending to the challenges, but, given the nature of the problems, it was likely that the situation would resolve itself fully only within six months to one year.

Dr Lotriet asked whether Mr Mkhize had studied a particularly controversial forensic audit report dating from some years previously, and whether any follow-up steps had been taken, particularly in regard to the recommendations that criminal action be pursued against some individuals.

Mr Mkhize reiterated that these events had occurred prior to his own appointment as CEO, and prior to the appointment of the current Council. No criminal prosecutions had been pursued. However, measures to correct the past weaknesses, as well as stronger controls, had been implemented.

Mr S Ntapane (UDM) noted that during the Committee’s most recent visit to the Museum, the Committee had been told of the possibility of offering a second and lengthier tour option. He hoped that further consideration had been given to this.

Mr Mkhize responded that work was being done to improve the narrative of the current tour. A Visitor Management Plan had been drawn up. Currently there was a two-and-a-half hour tour being offered, but the Museum hoped to offer more for visitors interested in aspects such as the natural environment, the military and World War II history. However, there were complex logistics involved and this was not likely to be implemented too soon.

Mr Ntapane asked how many ferries were currently in operation. He suggested that the Museum management should not distance itself from the management of the ferries. These were of crucial importance to the Museum, and to its mandate to protect Robben Island’s heritage and make it accessible to visitors.

Mr Mkhize noted that four ferries were currently in commission, of which three carried passengers and one carried cargo. They seated 280, 140 and 128 people respectively. Whenever routine maintenance was done on one vessel, the other three were in operation. He agreed that the ferries formed part of the heritage of Robben Island, and said that two of them were historic boats themselves. He clarified that there was a need to develop an effective business model. In 1997, when the Museum was established, the ferries were run by a separate management company. He emphasised the expense and complexity of maintaining and managing the ferries, and said that this would tend to distract the Museum from doing its core business.

Mr Mavunda emphasised that the Committee wished to see an unqualified 2010/11 audit report.

Mr P Ntshiqela (ANC) expressed his appreciation for the presentation. However, he was disappointed that the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the Council were not present. He requested clarity on the figures, asking over what period the 300 000 visitors had been to Robben Island, and also asked for further clarity on the figure of 10 000 school and educational visits.

Mr Mkhize clarified that there had been 300 000 visitors for the year 2009/2010. He explained that the 10 000 annual school tour visitors attended additional tours offered through the RIM’s programme for educators and learners.

The Chairperson commented that this Report had been submitted to the Committee late and also expressed her dissatisfaction at the absence of senior management from the meeting, particularly given the management crisis at the RIM. She also criticised the absence of the Chairperson of Council and asked whether there was a communication breakdown with that Council.

Ms L Moss (ANC) agreed with the Chairperson, noting that it was the senior management who were responsible for implementation within the organisation.

Mr Sibusiso Xaba, Director General, Department of Arts and Culture, apologised for the late submission of the report. He acknowledged that there may be a need for better communication with the Council in regard to attendance at meetings with the Portfolio Committee. However, since the Council was not usually required to attend meetings with the Committee, it would have been helpful for this Committee to specify whether they had expected their attendance. He reiterated that this presentation had, as requested by the Committee, concentrated on the 2009/10 Annual Report, and this was the reason why it covered only the situation in that financial year. The 2010/11 reports had been completed and the Annual Report would be tabled on 31 August 2011.

Mr Mkhize apologised for the absence of senior management but wished to assure the Committee that he was capable of answering all queries, despite the fact that he had been appointed quite recently, particularly since he had been involved on the operational side when the senior managers had not been appointed. He apologised for the late submission, and assured the Committee that future reports would be submitted more timeously.

Mr Mavunda asked that the Committee should receive another presentation once the 2010/11 Annual Report had been tabled. He then asked for further information about the unfunded mandates, and how other institutions on Robben Island were run.

Mr Mkhize explained that the RIM had held discussions with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in relation to security and the arrest of poachers around the island. With regard to the clinic, post office and fire fighting, the Museum had held discussions and consulted with the City of Cape Town, and various other relevant bodies, because it did not have the capacity to address these unfunded matters on its own.

Mr Mavunda noted that the presentation had highlighted the successful transportation of visitors throughout the FIFA 2010 World Cup. This implied that the Museum was capable of managing the ferries efficiently.

Mr Mkhize reiterated that a new business model for managing the boats was under consideration, and whilst some progress had been made, the issues were not fully solved. He emphasised again that running boats was a highly expensive operation, and it was difficult for the Museum to manage this task.

Dr Lotriet asked if there were any other aspects of Robben Island’s management that were currently outsourced, and, if not, whether they may need to be outsourced in future.

Mr Mkhize responded that the security and cleaning were currently both outsourced, and that the outsourcing option would need to be explored further in future.

Ms Mushwana asked about social justice measures for the political prisoners who had been put to work on Robben Island.

Mr Mkhize suggested that this was a matter to be addressed by Parliamentary committees, as it was beyond the mandate of the RIM.

Ms Mushwana asked if there were plans to develop a shopping complex on Robben Island.

Mr Mkhize explained that since the Museum’s establishment in 1997 there had been numerous proposals for development. The Council had remained reluctant to approve any of these, due to concerns that the heritage and history of the island might be compromised.
Mr Xaba emphasised the unique challenges facing the Museum, given its size, scope and global significance. The RIM’s delicate environment and status as a World Heritage Site restricted its management, and created demands far above those of other museums. He highlighted the need to provide support for management and to make tough decisions regarding the running of certain aspects of Robben Island, which would then allow management of the Museum to concentrate on its core responsibilities.
The Chairperson acknowledged the complexities and unique challenges facing the RIM. She referred to an issue raised in previous discussions around South African Heritage and Resources Agency regulations, and said that even though stones were being stolen from the quarry, it was necessary to handle this problem in such a way that visitors would still be allowed to walk around and take photographs. The Chairperson was critical of the lack of detail and specific information in the Report. For instance, there were no figures for the number of people employed on the island, including the number of employees with disabilities, nor were there financial figures, which were required to explain the irregularities. She noted that Mr Mkhize had been recently appointed, and for this reason he would not be held to account for this report, although the Committee hoped that there would be an improvement in the next report. She reiterated the Committee’s desire to meet with senior management and suggested also that the turnaround strategy be presented to the Committee.

Other Business
South African Traditional Music Awards investigation
The Chairperson noted that a letter had been sent to her stating that the South African Traditional Music Awards (SATMA) was under investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).This had resulted in the management of the SATMA awards being afraid to make any decisions, and the Chief Financial Officer had refused to sign off on anything. The Chairperson intended to write to SATMA stipulating that work should continue as normal, with full compliance with the Public Finance Management Act. She asked when the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) processes were likely to be completed.

Mr Xaba responded that he understood that the SIU was in the process of writing its report and that their findings would be publicised when that report was released. He agreed that the presence of investigators should not mean that day-to-day work should stop.

Members agreed that the Chairperson should send a letter to this effect.

The Chairperson asked the Director General if there was a possibility of any further funding for the SATMA awards.

Pan South African Language Board matters
The Chairperson then noted that there was a legal dispute arising from the allegedly unfair dismissal of employees from the Pan-South African Language Board (PANSALB). She was concerned about the costs involved, and also a possible abuse of power. All recommendations made pointed to the need to reinstate the two individuals.

Mr Xaba said that the case had several complexities, although he agreed that these matters but be fast-tracked, to avoid wasting resources on issues that were not crucial to the organisation.

The Chairperson asked how long it would take to finalise the matter.

Mr Xaba said that he would revert to the Committee, in writing, giving a date for finalisation.

Dr Lotriet emphasised that resources were being used for legal costs.

The Chairperson emphasised the need for immediate resolution and also asked that a breakdown of the legal fees be brought to the Committee.

Dr Lotriet asked for clarity on the position of PANSALB, since the Board maintained that it must report to Parliament, although it was not a Chapter 9, but Chapter 1 institution. It might be necessary for Parliament to look into the relevant legislation.

The Chairperson asked that this query be raised at the Office of the Speaker.

The meeting was adjourned.


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