South African Heritage Resources Agency on its 2012 Annual Report

Arts and Culture

31 October 2012
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Meeting Summary

The Chairperson introduced the meeting by noting that the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) had been named as the worst-performing entity in the Department. The SAHRA Chairperson gave a detailed explanation on the background, saying that for a long time SAHRA had operated without a Council, and the former Chief Executive Officer had essentially had free reign to make decisions. However, when a new Council was appointed, it had discovered that the CEO was not in fact under contract, and it had taken steps to formerly inform her of the termination of her employment, had instigated a forensic investigation, had sought help from the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), who had seconded four staff to assist it, as well as museums, and was taking consistent steps to address the audit findings.

The SAHRC had a broad mandate, and had suffered from serious human capacity problems, with the past CEO and staff being unable to handle their work properly. There was non-adherence to policies, especially in the financial sphere, poor institutional work culture and poorly managed devolution of functions to provinces, which eventually resulted in 17 retrenchments and breakdowns in communication. The intervention strategy included the setting up of a Turn-Around Task Team, reporting to the DAC, appointment of staff in key areas, whilst the Acting CEO would also lead the implementation of the turnaround strategy. Whilst consultants would be used if absolutely necessary, most of the help was to be sourced from within the Department and its other entities. A study was being done into the optimum levels of staffing. An audit firm was being approached to assist with the internal audit, an Audit Committee of the Board had been set up and was functioning well, and there was an open relationship between financial manager and audit committee. Asset registration and the drawing of a comprehensive heritage database, which would be provided to the Department of Home Affairs, so it could monitor the movement of heritage resources, was being prioritised. The performance management system, business models, and disciplinary investigations would also be improved, and the new Council assured the Committee that anyone found to have participated in fraud or misconduct would be held to account. The question of the Council remuneration, which had caused the resignation of past members, had been rectified, and the appointment process for the Chief Executive Officer would be regularised by the Cultural Laws Amendment Bill.

The core business programmes were outlined. These included the launch of Centre for Training, Research and Education in Grahamstown and the partnership with Rhodes University. The first ever Afrikaaner heritage icon, Voortrekker Monument, had been declared a national heritage site, and more declarations would follow. Provincial Heritage Authorities had been assessed, and some were granted the right to conduct some functions. The Information System was being established, on which the database would be loaded, and graves had been graded and declared, whilst some concentration camp burial sites and graves were also graded, whilst maritime heritage activities were undertaken in partnership with the Centre for International Heritage Activities, based in the Netherlands.

Members asked whether the SAHRA and the DAC had the ability to engage in a proper turnaround, particularly given some problems with the financial capacity at the DAC itself, and if there was the will and staff support to do so. They asked for more information on the situation that led to the former CEO’s mismanagement, the cost of terminating her employment, why she had been the only candidate short-listed when she was appointed, why she had not signed a contract, and the filling of the other posts. A Member asked that those who had been retrenched in the provinces should be considered for appointment to SAHRA posts. Members also enquired about the audit plan, what was being done to address the Auditor-General’s concerns, and whether the current internal audit function was operating. The link between the national and provincial bodies was examined further, and questions were asked around the possible duplication of roles between SAHRA and the National Arts Council. Questions of clarity were asked about the grading of sites. In conclusion, both SAHRA and the DAC gave their commitment to improving the Agency.

Meeting report

South African Heritage Resources Agency 2011/12 Annual Report
The Chairperson said that South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) was the worst performing entity in the Department, according to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, and she would have been inclined, had it been up to her, to close it down.

Dr Somadoda Fikeni, Chairperson, SAHRA, said that he welcomed robust engagement with the Committee and Parliament, and noted that SAHRA took full responsibility and accountability for its current state of affairs. The key focus was on making interventions to ensure that the current challenges would be resolved by the following year.

He outlined the history of the SAHRA challenges. These included SAHRA’s broad and compelling mandate, a serious shortage of financial and human resources, the non-adherence to policies especially in the area of financial controls and procurements, non-remuneration of council members, poor institutional work culture/ethos and poorly managed devolution of functions to provinces.

The audit findings had highlighted the need for interventions around budgetary control and management of expenditure, and this had been done, resulting in tight control over expenditure, reworking of budgets so that they were compiled on a sounder footing, principles of necessity, austerity and relevance in terms of SAHRA’s core statutory mandate, and a special focus on the Department ‘capital projects’ and donor–funded projects. The finance and supply chain management resources were to be strengthened, with the support of the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC or the Department). A forensic enquiry was to be conducted, with a combination of internal resources and independent assistance.

The intervention and turnaround plans in SAHRA included setting up of a Turn-Around Task Team, involving the Department and sister institutions that had a good record of performance in identified areas. Staff were being appointed to fill key vacancies. An acting Chief Executive Officer was appointed, who would lead the implementation of the turnaround. A comprehensive Audit Plan was to be developed, working closely with the Auditor General. The DAC had commissioned work on a proper costing of the SAHRA mandate, to determine the proper levels of resourcing. An audit firm had been appointed to assist with the internal audit, and there was prioritisation of asset registration, including involvement of a specialist service provider for a quicker turn-around. The performance management system was to be revamped for greater effectiveness, and an effective business model developed for greater effectiveness and agility of SAHRA, in partnership with provinces and other heritage practitioners. The forensic audit, as mentioned earlier, was to start shortly. If any fraud or financial or other misconduct was discovered, then the responsible persons would be held accountable. The Minister of Arts and Culture had written to National Treasury to expedite the issue of council remuneration, but an interim measure was also being considered.

Dr Fikeni noted that the current Council, having applied its mind to the issues and read all available documentation, had concluded that there was no valid decision taken, in the past, to extend Ms Sibongile van Damme’s contract from three years to five years. Council therefore had written to Ms van Damme, communicating its finding that since her three-year contract had expired, she was no longer employed.

Dr Fikeni outlined the progress on the filling of vacancies. The core business programmes were outlined, setting out the current programmes and past achievements. These included the launch of Centre for Training, Research and Education in Grahamstown, and the partnership with Rhodes University. The first cohort of 39 trainees from across the country had graduated on 19 October 2012. There had been plans to upscale the programme. The first ever Afrikaaner heritage icon, Voortrekker Monument, had been declared a national heritage site, and more declarations of national heritage sites would follow.

SAHRA had assessed Provincial Heritage Authorities (PHRAs) and had granted the right to conduct some functions in heritage resources management, according to competencies, to Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Free State. SAHRA had successfully prevented the sale of “The Arab Priest” painting by Irma Stern and entered a temporary export permit with Qatar Museum. The SAHRA Information System had just been established and would be populated with the most comprehensive data of South African resources, and made available to the government, the public and researchers. 

Several graves had been graded, and some declared, including those of John Langalibalele Dube, Rev Mahabane, J T Gumede, AB Xuma, Nkosi Albert Luthuli, Pixley ka Seme, S M Makgatho, Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe and Rahima Moosa. Burger’s Concentration Camp burial sites and prisoners of war sites were being graded. Underwater and maritime heritage activities had taken place, in partnership with Netherlands-based Centre for International Heritage Activities.

Mr Sibusiso Xaba, Director General, Department of Arts and Culture, confirmed that during the discussions with SAHRA several challenges had been highlighted, the major one with human resources. The DAC had therefore made its HR Managers and a legal advisor available, to assist with resolving the problems. Since another challenge related to financial management and budgeting, the Head of Financial Management at DAC had also been made available to SAHRA to help with those issues. The third problematic area was the area of governance, and Dr Sakiwo Tyiso of the DAC’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Governance Unit had assisted SAHRA in working through those challenges. A turnaround specialist had been commissioned by SAHRA, and he believed that considerable resources were in place to help the organisation resolve its difficulties.

Mr N Van Den Berg (DA) said that he was always concerned when he heard of the DAC or its entities mentioned in SCOPA reports, for it seemed that this Committee was failing in its oversight, and it did not help to keep re-hashing the same problems, year after year, with “turnaround” as a constant refrain. He stressed that the DAC was one of the most important departments, since it had the potential to bring the country together.

Dr Fikeni replied that he had already told the Council that if SAHRA had not improved by this time next year, not only would he personally step down, but also would write to the Minister and asked that the Council be dissolved. Despite his experience in chairing other institutions, this was the first time he had been confronted with this situation, and he took it personally.

Mr Van Den Berg asked how much it would cost to turn everything around and ‘start at zero again’, especially given that consultants were being used. He thought the money could have been used to greater purpose elsewhere, in the preservation of heritage.

Dr Fikeni replied that the idea was to use the Department as much as possible and SAHRA had also approached the Artscape and Iziko to help, at almost no cost. Only if there was no other source of assistance would SAHRA employ outsiders. It had costed everything. Some problems in existence since the inception of SAHRA had caused various losses, and a turnaround should see some of the losses recovered. He assured Members that there would no longer be any money unaccounted for.

Ms Sandy Baker, Interim Chief Financial Officer, SAHRA, added that the budget had been reworked and a great number of intended travel and workshops were cut, as well as budgets for positions not filled. The projected figure was R2 million, which would also cover the forensic investigation and a lot of balance sheet reconstruction, as there had been a great deal of misstatement of financial figures. In addition, the fruitless and wasteful expenditure of the past years needed to be investigated. The Auditor General’s report outlined a whole host of outcomes, which had also been taken into account. She reiterated that largely internal resources would be called upon.

Mr Van Den Berg asked if it cost the entity extra money to get rid of the CEO.

Dr Fikeni replied said nothing had been paid and no ‘golden handshake’ had been given. There had been no contract since February 2009, therefore no settlement was required. The Council had chanced upon this when it had tried to get Ms van Damme to sign the performance agreement and had asked for the contract. There was a letter of offer, but no evidence that she had accepted. For eighteen months, SAHRA had operated without any Council, and she had therefore had the final word on everything. The present Council would ensure that this situation would never recur.

Mr D Mavunda (ANC) asked if Ms van Damme was likely to challenge the matter.

Dr Fikeni replied that he did not feel that she would be successful, given the lack of contract. During the time that Council tried to obtain the contract, there had been various appeals to the Ministry, and the Council had even been reported to the Public Protector with a request that it stop investigating the issue of the contract. This Council had been trying to remedy the matter since October 2011, and had told Ms van Damme that if she could present a Council decision, the current Council would honour it. This was not a personal vendetta, as the Council had to protect SAHRA’s legal obligations. All the ‘tricks and theatrics’ presented by Ms van Damme had not changed the fact that there was no valid contract of employment.

The Chairperson asked how only one person could have been interviewed for the position, and agreed that without a contract, there was no employment, and SAHRA was not in possession of any extension of the old contract.

Dr Fikeni explained that nine prominent people, including currently-serving CEOs of other institutions, had applied for the position at the time, but only Ms van Damme had been short listed, and even she, according to the consultants who had been asked to assist with the process, was found lacking against SAHRA’s own scoring. She was found to be weak in the area of finances. The consultants suggested the need to continue searching, and urged SAHRA not to make the appointment, but that advice was ignored. The reason for only one short-listing was that the other candidates were not prepared to accept the unattractive salary, but when Dr Fikeni later approached them and asked if they had been asked if they would accept this salary, they said they had not. Ms van Damme had stated that she had personal reasons for not signing a contract, but this was becoming a dangerous precedent.

Mr Xaba added that this appointment was abnormal, as normally the CEO appointment was made by the Board of the entity, in consultation with the Minister. Because this was not included in legislation for SAHRA, the SAHRA board appointed on its own. This was a matter to be corrected in the Cultural Laws Amendment Bill as the relationship between Board and Minister was important. The Ministry and Department did not normally sit in the interviews, because a dissatisfied applicant could appeal to the Minister. However, the Department must ensure that due process was followed.

Mr Van Den Berg asked when the pending placements for other vacancies would be done.

The Chairperson stressed that those who were currently in acting positions should not assume that they would automatically be appointed. She hoped the right processes had been followed, and that those appointed would be skilled and qualified.

Dr Fikeni replied that all pending HR matters were at interview stage.

Ms Siyasanga Tetyana, Acting Human Resources Executive, SAHRA, noted that the position of Heritage Officer for the Burial Grounds and Graves Unit had been vacant for quite some time. This was a core function. Although SAHRA had struggled to fill the post, the new incumbent had accepted the offer on 29 October and would start on 1 December. Interviews for the Corporate Affairs Executive had been held on the 26 October 2012, in line with internal processes for senior management positions. The two best candidates had been sent for psychometric assessments, and an offer would be made once the results were released. The interview for the post of Chief Financial Officer would be held on 5November 2012, and that for IT technician on 2 November 2012. The Human Resources subcommittee would sit on the weekend of 10 November and short listing would be done for the Company Secretary position. Three more positions, for the Built Environment Heritage Officer, Heritage Objects Heritage Officer and the APM - Palaeontology Heritage Officer would be added, to address capacity issues. The advertisements for these three posts, which had not formerly been filled, went out on 28 October 2012.

Ms T Nwamitwa- Shilubana (ANC) said it seemed that no interviews had been done for the Audit Committee. She asked if this and other vacancies could receive attention.

Advocate Dave Mitchell, Chairperson of Audit Committee, SAHRA, replied that the Audit Committee would comprise five people, three drawn from Council and two independent members. It had been constituted in this way in July, but one of the members who sat on both the Council and the Audit Committee had resigned. Council had remedied that. There were two vacancies for the independent members in August, and an advertisement had drawn 92 responses, from a variety of chartered accountants, lawyers and experts. SAHRA was working through the due process at the moment, and had produced a short list of 10 candidates, who appeared to be strong, with good experience in audit committees and governance.

Mr Van Den Berg asked what the link was, and the problem, between SAHRA at national level and in the provinces.

Dr Fikeni replied that the link between the national and provincial offices of SAHRA was set out in the SAHRA Act. SAHRA was responsible for the entire heritage management of the country, and the setting of standards and norms. In reality, however, this had not happened due to capacity and other constraints. When the present Council had taken office, it was told not to do anything until inaugurated by the Minister, and four months had elapsed, during which time there was no oversight by Council. The relationship between SAHRA and the provincial Heritage Resource Agencies (PHRAs) should have been one where the latter complemented what SAHRA was doing, and handled matters of provincial competence. However, a devolution process had, in the past, been done in a haphazard way that resulted in retrenchment of 17 people and much tension with the provinces, including people being threatened with dismissal if they would not relocate. When the new Council came in, it had tried to sort out the problems, but was told it was a Ministerial decision in which it could not intervene, although no proof of this was given. Managers had seemingly abandoned the provinces, but SAHRA’s present Council was trying to rebuild relationships of trust.

Mr Dumisani Siboyi, Acting Chief Executive Officer, SAHRA, said that SAHRA was now busy re-assessing the PHRAs, and had discovered that in some provinces they effectively did not exist, particularly in North West, where there was no agency or Council, and in Limpopo, where no list of names was drawn. Gauteng was being re-assessed at the moment. KwaZulu Natal was found to be competent.

Mr Van Den Berg asked what the current audit plan was, hoping it was not the same that had put SAHRA into its current woeful state.

Ms H Van Schalkwyk (DA) asked who had not adhered to policies and if there were consequences for such non-compliance.

Mr Mavunda noted the mention of non-compliance and asked how SAHRA was planning to drive the initiative so that people found themselves complying to the requirements for their job.

Dr Fikeni replied that SAHRA had said it was going to do an investigation into conduct, because the Council had been given misleading information, such as that resignations were at no cost to SAHRA, when this was not true. This had frustrated the oversight function. The Auditor-General had reported that he could not trust the integrity of information provided. Money would be recovered, in the case of loss through misconduct, and despite the claims that the former CEO was on indefinite sick-leave, SAHRA would not hesitate to take action against any misconduct that was found.

Ms Van Schalkwyk wanted to congratulate and thank whoever was responsible for the declaration of the Voortrekker Monument, and asked where the others were likely to take place.

Dr Fikeni replied that SAHRA was in discussions with the Voortrekker Monument leadership, who would be researching some graves, concentration camps and similar sites. SAHRA fully understood that culture played a prime role in social cohesion, which was informing its multi cultural consciousness. The criteria for future sites was set out in the National Heritage Resources Act.

Mr Siboyi added there were three processes for grading. The site was nominated and identified, after which it was graded as national, provincial or local. Research was then done to establish if it met the criteria as of national significance. SAHRA had a list of over 3 000 sites that had been nominated, graded and declared, but, because of capacity, had only declared limited sites at the moment. He would send the list of the sites to all Members.

Ms Van Schalkwyk asked for the difference between the role SAHRA had to play and the role that the National Heritage Council (NHC) played.

Dr Fikeni replied that he had been part of the NHC when it had been established. The National Heritage Resources Act was broad and there were areas of overlap, as well as those that were quite distinct. The work done by SAHRA, in which NHC did not become involved at all, would include declared and graded sites, issuing of permits for archaeology, and work on paleontological artefacts. NHC raised public awareness and engaged in education and funded some of the heritage projects. NHC did research, but SAHRA engaged in the actual declaration of sites. It was sometimes perceived that SAHRA was in charge of “heritage objects” whereas the NAC was in charge of “intangible objects”, but this was a superficial distinction that did not take account of the fact that intangible objects also had some intangible aspects. The DAC would, in the legislative review, distinguish the roles more clearly.

Ms D Msweli (IFP) asked what had been done with staff who had been away from work for extended periods of time but had received payment.

Dr Fikeni replied that there were various reasons behind absence from office. Some were at home as part of a retrenchment process within the provinces. Some claimed various medical and psychological conditions, including depression. Some had been paid for long periods, and the decision was taken now that they must return to work, or their contracts terminated. About 80% of documentation promised in support of the claims had not yet been sent to the Council.

Mr Siboyi added that some people had been forced to leave work when the offices were closed in Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga, and had been told to stay home until the issues were resolved. Provincial agencies had requested that those retrenched should work in the SAHRA offices, as they needed the capacity, but SAHRA had refused.

Dr Fikeni added that by the time the new Council was put in place, some people had been at home for over a year, being paid.

Mr Xaba said that this had happened before his appointment, but agreed that the issues had been discussed with the MECs, and some provincial agencies were now functioning quite well, and all were being assessed for capacity.

Ms L Moss (ANC) asked if SAHRA had considered the people who had been retrenched to fill some of the current vacancies, especially if they had the skills. She said that those skills should not be ignored.

 The Chairperson asked who, in the DAC, would be helping with the Human Resources turnaround strategy, and called for a full report.

Mr Mavunda was happy that the Dr Fikeni had been so open, but asked that SAHRA share more information with the Committee. He wanted to know what assets of SAHRA had been registered.

Ms L Moss (ANC) agreed that the issue of asset management needed to be addressed.

Dr Fikeni agreed that it was important for an entity like SAHRA to register heritage objects, and it needed to interface with the Department of Home Affairs, to ensure that it would be aware of any heritage resources leaving or entering the country. The asset registration therefore went beyond the SAHRA building and its contents. SAHRA relied heavily on sister museums such as the Iziko Museum, where there was a great deal done already on the registry of objects.

Mr Mavunda asked for more clarification on the past achievements especially in terms of the licenses given (some of which had been partial).

Ms L Moss (ANC) said the Committee had proposed a forensic investigation, and wanted to know the progress on this.

The Chairperson stressed that the forensic investigation had to proceed.

Dr Fikeni replied that whoever was found to have committed misconduct would have action taken against them. SAHRA had had to fund its own forensic investigation, but fortunately SAHRA had achieved some savings through the non-filling of posts in the past, and this money would be used to pay for the investigation.

Ms Moss asked if the DAC had the capacity to help SAHRA, particularly given its own problems with supply chain management in the DAC itself, or if SAHRA would be using consultants or specialists from other departments.

Mr Xaba said that four rather senior officials were availed already to SAHRA, including the Deputy Director General.

Advocate Dave Mitchell said that he was very impressed with the level of help that was being given by DAC officials, who were indeed able provide useful assistance to SAHRA. The Audit Committee had interacted with the Auditor-General, for help with the auditing, but this had not been forthcoming. He called for the support of the Committee, as SAHRA would be meeting with the Auditor General, to ask him to expedite the appointment of the external auditor for the 2012/13 financial year. SAHRA had been in touch with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, who had provided internal audit services.

Mr Mavunda was pleased that the Auditor-General seemed to understand the cause of the problems.

Ms Moss asked if there was a willingness to implement the turn around strategy, and if a timeframe had been set.

Dr Fikeni replied that Council had engaged with all staff members. There was now the will to work on this. There were many new people being recruited. There was still a need to change the overall culture.

Mr Xaba replied that the willingness from the DAC was shown by the fact that it had availed staff to help SAHRA, despite the fact that DAC itself was over-stretched. The Department was jointly accountable in this turnaround strategy and there was a team who would keep him briefed. SAHRA needed to continue working, whilst the turnaround was being implemented, for the public.

The Chairperson said she had a problem with the phrase ‘turnaround strategy’ as well as the constant use of consultants. She asked why there was a need to look for skills from outside.

Mr Xaba reminded Members that the DAC and SAHRA were trying to ensure that as much as possible was kept as an internal process. He also did not like the word ‘turnaround’ but said that in this case it was justified, as there was a need to turn the leadership, governance and finances in a new direction. He was confident that this would happen.

The Chairperson commented that the Committee must keep an eye on the operations of Councils.

Dr Fikeni said that in the past Council, it had been difficult to comply with the code of ethics, as some of the Council members had been working in cahoots with the former CEO and were trying to prevent investigations of her matters.

The Chairperson said that if any Council member was defeated by a vote (and she said that person knew who she was referring to) there was no need to play political games and run to the Minister.

Mr Van Den Berg said that in SAHRA it seemed that there were many managers, but too few people on the ground.

Dr Fikeni replied that not all the vacancies were for senior managers, but also for core function staff, but the problem in the past had been that people’s skills were not matched to the areas where there were working.

The Chairperson raised the issue of lack of remuneration of Council members.

Dr Fikeni replied that the issue of remuneration of Council members had now been rectified, with the DAC having received a letter on 29 October 2012. Most of the provincial chairpersons who sat in the SAHRA council got remuneration at the provinces but nothing at national level, and were not even reimbursed their out-of-pocket expenses. For this reason, some council members had resigned.

Mr S Ntapane (UDM) wanted to commend Dr Fikeni and the current Council on the initiatives shown and urged support from this Committee.

Dr Fikeni was encouraged by the commitment to assist and advise. He assured the Committee that during the turnaround, SAHRA would continue with its core business, and the Committee would be invited to see the results. He was confident that SAHRA would be a great entity.

Mr Van Den Berg asked the Department to submit a written summary of the changes that were to be made under the Cultural Laws Amendment Bill, to indicate the direction in which DAC was moving.

Closing remarks
Dr Fikeni said the new Council had encouraged staff members to be more open and professional, and to feel free to interact with the Council. There was a need for more transparency in SAHRA and Council did not want to mystify its authority. SAHRA appreciated this meeting, which was productive, and the Council noted the comments and queries. It was committed to moving to an unqualified, then a clean audit, and to remedying the problems of the past. He agreed that there was a necessity to probe into and uncover any irregularities. 

Mr Xaba added that the DAC was committed with working in SAHRA, and was strengthening its monitoring and evaluation in order to pick up future problems before they became serious. It would share the monitoring tools with the Committee.

The Chairperson thanked the Department and SAHRA for the work they were doing, and acknowledged that theirs was not an easy task. She applauded the Council for having worked without remuneration to try to remedy the situation. She remained concerned to try to avoid a recurrence of the issues with the previous CEO, and urged the present Council to repair relationships with retrenched staff, and if necessary relate with the unions.

The meeting was adjourned.


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