The Committee met with representatives of the UNAIDS High Level Task Force. It also met with the Commission on Gender Equality for a briefing on its Annual Report for the 2011/12 financial year.
In their address to the Committee, members of the UNAIDS High Level Task Force said that the Task Force came into being in 2011 after it being found that there was a clear need for effective interventions around the high level of HIV/AIDS infections in Southern and Eastern Africa. Although a lot of effective work in this regard had been undertaken, there were still many areas which needed addressing, including the high rate of teenage pregnancy and gender- and sexual orientation-based violence. The important role that could be played by the Committee in dealing effectively with these issues was of particular significance given that HIV/AIDS was found to affect women the hardest. The judiciary needed to be equipped with laws that could lead to an increase in prosecutions around corrective rape cases. The Task Force would like to urge the Committee to help ensure that legislation seeking more protection for this vulnerable group was fast-tracked. It also urged the Committee to fast-track proposed legislation around gender-based violence and teenage pregnancy.
In her presentation to the Committee, the Commission for Gender Equality representative said that challenges had arisen as a result of the Commission having only had three Commissioners for most of the financial year. It had, around Strategic Objective One, made 14 submissions and/or inputs towards legislative change which included areas such as confronting youth unemployment, the Traditional Courts Bill, the Further Education and Training Colleges Bill and National Health Insurance Policy. It had also held Employment Equity hearings in order to assess the implementation of, and compliance with, the provisions of the Employment Equity Act. It had also successfully hosted a dialogue on 50/50 representation in political parties. The Commission had also monitored the implementation of the 365 Days of Action Plan to assess progress made on commitments made here. The draft Communications strategy would be completed in the coming financial year while vacancies for key management positions and Commissioners would also be filled. The Commission had received an unqualified audit opinion from the Auditor-General with matters of emphasis. Management was currently implementing corrective actions to ensure that the root causes of these issues were dealt with.
Members asked why a full report of Commissioner’s responsibilities was not included, whether the Commission received any donor funding, which political parties had it engaged as part of its 50/50 dialogue and what were the inputs made by them, what relationship, if any, the Commission enjoyed with the Department, what the reasons were for vacancies in key management positions not being filled, whether cross-subsidisation of funds could not have been looked into as a way of utilising funds where they were needed, whether performance bonuses were linked to a performance management system, whether the seemingly top-heavy management structure was sustainable and why no disciplinary action had been taken in relation to the noted irregular expenditure.
Address by the UNAIDS High Level Task Force
In her address to the Committee, Ms Naomi Shaban, the Kenyan Minister of Gender, Children and Social Development and leader of the High Level Task Force, said that the Task Force was in South Africa upon invitation from the minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. The Task Force came into being in 2011 after it being found that there was a clear need for effective interventions around the high level of HIV/AIDS infections in Southern and Eastern Africa. Members of the Task Force were made up of government officials and civil society members and aimed to address governments in a manner that was frank and sought to address challenges around this pandemic. Although a lot of effective work in this regard had been undertaken, there were still many areas which needed addressing. These areas included the high rate of teenage pregnancy, gender- and sexual orientation-based violence (particularly the significant increase in the amount of lesbian women who were falling victim to ‘corrective rape’). The important role that could be played by the Committee in dealing effectively with these issues was of particular significance given that HIV/AIDS was found to affect women the hardest. The judiciary also needed to be equipped with laws that sought to lead to an increase in prosecutions around corrective rape cases. It was the role of the Task Force to assist government in making it easier to deal with these challenges.
Ms Lois Chingandu, Executive Director – Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service and a member of the Task Force, added that the Task Force was there to support the work done in South Africa around these challenges but also to raise issues that were of concern. Most notable here was the issue of hate crimes perpetuated against lesbian women. After listening to first-hand accounts of lesbian township inhabitants around their fears of hate crimes being perpetuated against them, the Task Force would like to urge the Committee to help ensure that legislation seeking more protection for this vulnerable group was fast-tracked. It also urged the Committee to fast-track proposed legislation around gender-based violence and teenage pregnancy. Although all these issues were critically in need of being addressed, if the Committee could move on even one of them, the Task Force’s current visit to South Africa would have been worthwhile.
The Chairperson responded that gender-related issues were a universal concern and that South Africa has made significant strides in this area. Legislation recently passed would also go towards the establishment of a framework for more effective punishment. The country was also currently working on ways to assist lesbians in their struggle. What was of importance here was the changing of people’s perceptions of this group as lesbianism was a new thing. This changing of the present culture would not be done in the short term, but was of a more long-term nature. The Committee also looked at international best practices around gender equality in an effort to boost its efforts on that front locally.
Presentation by the Commission for Gender Equality
In her presentation, Ms Keketso Maema, Chief Executive Officer: Commission for Gender Equality said that there had been challenges which arose from the fact that, for most of the financial year under review, the Commission only had three Commissioners. In addition, this number had, in May 2012, decreased to one. New Commissioners had been appointed in June 2012. Although all targets had not been met, most of the work was done at the time of reporting and the publishing thereof was was merely outstanding at the time of the audit.
In relation to its Strategic Objectives, it had, around Strategic Objective One, made 14 submissions and/or inputs towards legislative change. These included areas such as confronting youth unemployment, the Traditional Courts Bill, the Further Education and Training Colleges Bill and National Health Insurance Policy. It had also held Employment Equity hearings in order to assess the implementation of, and compliance with, the provisions of the Employment Equity Act. For the reporting period, the Report on this was still in draft phase and had not as yet been published as originally envisaged.
It had also successfully hosted a dialogue on 50/50 representation in political parties. A number of organisations at the forefront of this campaign were invited to participate with a view to mapping a way forward to embed this principle in legislation.
The Commission had also monitored the implementation of the 365 Days of Action Plan to assess progress made on commitments made here.
A number of awareness and advocacy initiatives involving various stakeholders such as the House of Traditional Leaders were also undertaken.
The draft Communications strategy would be completed in the coming financial year while vacancies for key management positions and Commissioners would also be filled. The Commission had received an unqualified audit opinion from the Auditor-General with matters of emphasis. Management was currently implementing corrective actions to ensure that the root causes of these issues were dealt with.
Ms P Petersen-Maduna (ANC) asked what precautionary measures had been taken to ensure continuity of programmes as it moved from a thematic approach to a more objective-focussed one. What measures were in placer to ensure greater synergy between its strategic plan, annual performance plan and annual report? What were ‘Other Costs’ made up of and why the number of cases dealt with here was so high, particularly in the Northern Cape?
Ms Maema added that costs here had increased, particularly in the Northern Cape, as there was a significant increase in the number of divorce settlements that disadvantaged women. These costs also included costs related to advising around the drafting of wills.
Ms C Diemu (COPE) asked why a full report of Commissioner’s responsibilities was not included.
Mr Mfanozelwe Shozi, Board Chairperson – Commission for Gender Equality answered that a full report on this would be included in future submissions.
Mr Moshabi Puto, Chief Financial Officer – Commission for Gender Equality, answered that these bonuses related to performance in the previous financial year. No money had been spent in this regard in 2011 as there was in that period no credible performance management system. The amount set aside here was merely a provision with no funds here paid out as yet. Payments made in this regard would henceforth be linked to performance assessments.
Ms H Lamoela (DA) asked whether the Commission received any donor funding. Was there a Communications strategy in place initially, given that it had sought services externally for the completion of this strategy? The shortening of the Commissioners’ terms of office should not affect the work they do.
Ms Maema answered that the Commission did not have any permanent donor funding but rather sought funding from institutions on a project-specific basis.
Mr Shozi answered that, as the Commissioners had put together a plan to attain the goals set, the shortening of their terms of office could result in a lack of continuity. By raising concerns around this it was by no means implying that the Commissioners were not committed to carrying out their duties.
Ms E More (DA) asked what had resulted in the delay of the Employment Equity hearings report. Which political parties had it engaged as part of its 50/50 dialogue and what were the inputs made by them. What comments were made in relation to the 365Days of Action plan and what were timeframe for its implementation?
Ms Maema answered that the initial report done had been found to be lacking in analysis. In order to address this, its research team had been called on to provide more input here. All six of the major political parties had been engaged here. A report on this had been lodged with Parliament. The Commission would appreciate the opportunity to engage the Committee at a later stage on the successes of its interventions with regards to this programme.
Mr Thabo Rapu, Head of Research Department – Commission for Gender Equality, added that this programme had been found to suffer from poor coordination and budgetary issues. In addition, there had been a lack of interest in this programme from Government department, with greater buy-in coming from NGOs.
Ms G Tseke (ANC) asked what relationship, if any, the Commission enjoyed with the Department. What were the reasons for vacancies in key management positions not being filled? Could the information it disseminates be translated into of the other official languages? Visibility and accessibility of the Commission’s services need to have greater reach, particularly in rural areas.
Mr Shozi answered that the Commission enjoyed both an administrative and legal relationship with the Department. It had also met with the Minister in an attempt to clarify the roles to be played by these different bodies.
Ms Maema added that these positions were advertised. A challenge here was in finding suitable people to fill these positions, particularly given that the Commission would prefer to fill these positions with women. It had started work in this regard, with a recently printed pamphlet being the first phase. It would also ensure that all the information it disseminated in future would be translated into other relevant languages.
The desire to have greater reach particularly in rural areas was hampered by constrained budgets. It did however collaborate with NGOs in different areas, though even this approach did not allow for a sustained presence in these areas.
Mr Kekana asked whether cross-subsidisation of funds could not have been looked into as a way of utilising funds where they were needed. Could the Commission assist in any way with the recent breakthrough findings around HIV/AIDS?
Mr Puto answered that the surplus came about as a result of savings on salaries, with the vacant positions being something beyond the Commission’s control. These funds could not be diverted, particularly as the PFMA set a limit on virements. Although it was not desirable to report a surplus, this was beyond the Commission’s control.
Mr Shozi added that a programme that dealt with HIV/AIDS had been initiated and was one of the Commission’s important initiatives.
Ms L van de Merwe (IFP) asked why it currently only employed one person with disabilities. Had those who received performance bonuses achieved 100% of their targets? Were performance bonuses linked to a performance management system? What was being done around outreach programmes? Was the seemingly top-heavy management structure sustainable? What were the actual outcomes of its interventions? Had performance management contract been signed yet? Why had no disciplinary action been taken in relation to the noted irregular expenditure?
Mr Shozi answered that this number was correct, though its Employment Equity plan was being revised and implemented. The Auditor-General’s office tended to look at issues in a binary fashion and did not make allowances for the fact that the Commission could not focus solely on targets set out in its strategic plan as new issues cropped up continually.
Ms Maema answered that the Commission would value an opportunity to brief the Committee on the progresses it had made with its various interventions. There was a large layer of deputy-directors as well as a lack of capacity at management level. A skills audit had been conducted which would assist in looking at interventions that would address this challenge.
Mr Shozi continued that outreach programmes had been developed with the intention of extending its reach.
Ms Maema added that performance management contracts had been signed. Although the performance management system ad initially had teething problems, these were being addressed. Disciplinary processes had been undertaken in the different provinces and had also been completed.
Mr Kekana asked whether performance bonuses could not be separated from 13th cheques.
Mr Shozi answered that this was a welcome suggestion, which the Commission would look into.
The Chairperson said that notable improvements had been made in relation to the Commission’s systems. Its turnaround strategy had been effective. The Auditor-General’s matters of emphasis would, however, need to be addressed. Members should take to heart the Commission’s concerns around the shortening of its Commissioners’ terms of office, particularly given that the need for continuity in work delivered was an essential.
The Committee decided to focus on the recommendations and observations in the report.
A Member expressed referred to page 27 and expressed concern about the investigation and lack of leadership. The Member was also unhappy that that over expenditure had doubled and that the CFO post was vacant. It appeared that the Department’s staff was top heavy. Other problems included the high staff turn over in the Department, more money was spent on campaigns than actual programmes and that the Department took part in activities outside of its mandate. There had to be progress in national initiatives.
A Member asked if the Department had appealed to the CCMA and if they still get their salaries? In addition, the same Member asked if people were taken from other departments and if they were qualified for those jobs? If this was based on a turn around strategy were all stakeholders consulted. She wanted the Department to present its marketing and strategic plan. The Department did not meet its goals, which was a concern.
A Member highlighted that there was an issue of timeframes.
The Committee commended the Department for developing its turn around strategy but also encouraged it to expedite the implementation of this. The Committee encouraged the Department to develop the needs of its core mandate. The Department must work collaboratively with other Departments. It should promptly implement recommendations. The Department should address concerns raised by the Committee. It should map out its short, medium and long-term goals. The Department should send financial statements to the Committee on a monthly basis. The Department must submit reports pertaining to conferences. The internal auditing Committee had to provide quarterly reports about meetings held. The Department had to provide the Committee with reasons for the exorbitant leave pay out. They also wanted a detail plan about what the additional funding would be used for. The Department should finalise a human resource plan.
There was a move for the adoption of the report.
The Committee wanted clarity on the budget.
The meeting was adjourned.
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