Minister and Department of Communications briefing on 2012/13 Turn-Around Strategy

Standing Committee on Appropriations

13 November 2012
Chairperson: Mr E Sogoni (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by the Department of Communications (the Department) on its Turn Around Strategy, which was implemented after the current Minister took office and realised that the Department was still battling with issues that had been troublesome since 2010. The strategy was focused on improving organisational performance overall, though some specific initiatives and their intended outcomes were outlined. The implementation of this Turnaround should be largely concluded by the end of the 2012/13 financial year, although some aspects would run over. The main challenges were cited as the launch of the 112 Call Centres to help with queries on Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) migration, which had been delayed, the need still to deal with broadband improvements, which was intended to increase the internet speed and ensure that more people had access to cheap broadband. This would allow South Africa to be on equal footing with other developing countries, and was likely to cost R9 billion. Finally, many of the entities of the Department did not have Chief Financial Officers. The focus of the various programmes was outlined.

Members questioned the reason for the Call Centre, asked for clarity on the proposed organisational structure, and how this differed from the current structure, and the changes in the organisational culture. They asked what steps the Department was taking to create jobs, and how it would ensure that rural areas had internet connectivity. More clarity was sought on the transfer of funding to the African Cup of Nations, the source of the savings identified, whether there had been compliance with the Public Finance Management Act. Members suggested that deadlines and timeframes were needed, and questioned why the Chief Financial Officer for the Department had not been appointed despite the lapse of six months.  The Minister promised that the vacancy of CFO would be filled by the end of the year. The Committee also commented that spending was low, and suggested that implementation plans must be drawn to address key performance areas.

Meeting report

Department of Communications (DoC) briefing on 2012/13 Turn-Around Strategy
Ms Dina Pule, Minister of Communications, stated that given both the programme and financial performance of the Department of Communications (DoC or the Department) in the last financial year, it had identified a need to develop and implement a Turn-Around Strategy, which was focused at improving Organisational Performance as a whole. The Turn-Around Strategy was aimed at improving programme and financial performance, by focusing on issues such as strategic management, leadership, culture, governance and systems and processes. All the elements would be directed to improving overall performance. The implementation of the Turn-Around Strategy had already commenced, and was expected to be concluded by the end of the 2012/2013 financial year. However, some of the interventions would continue in other years, due the nature of the initiatives.

The Minister indicated that the DoC faced two particular challenges. The first was the launch of the 112 call centres that would help citizens with their questions on the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) migration process. There were delays in the implementation of this project. The second was related to the launch of the broadband strategy, which was intended to increase the internet speed and ensure that more people had access to cheap broadband. This was a matter of vital importance to the economy, as it would allow South Africa to be on equal footing with other developing countries. It would cost the government up to R9 billion implement that project.

Another key challenge for the DoC was that most of the entities within the Department did not have a Chief Financial Officer in place.

Ms Rosey Seseke, Director-General, DoC, mentioned that in relation to strategic management the focus would be on integrated strategic management, operational planning and budgeting. The Management Performance Assessment Tool (MPAT) was an important element in this. In relation to organisational culture, the focus would be on a culture change programme. In the Service Delivery field, there would be a focus on the Service Delivery Improvement Plan and Business Process Re-engineering. In relation to leadership and management development, there would be an organisational leadership analysis and the individual and performance agreements would be aligned to the Annual Performance Plans. In relation to governance, the focus would be compliance policy and strategy, capacitating the Audit Committee, risk management and the budget Committee.

Discussion
Ms A Mfulo (ANC) said that it was not clear why the Department would have to set up a call centre.

Mr Rebolang Soldaat, Director: Finance, DoC, explained that the Department was in the process of appointing a service provider to implement the 112 Call Centre Project. The 112 Project would only work when DTT Migration was in process, and this call centre would be fielding questions related to any queries from the public on the working of the Set Top Boxes.

Ms L Yengeni (ANC) asked for clarity on the proposed organisational structure.

Ms Seseke explained that the management structure would comprise of the Minister, Director General and all the deputy Director Generals.

Ms Yengeni then asked how this differed from the current structure.

Ms Seseke explained that the change in the organisational culture would not be an overnight success, but must be seen as a process. Some people currently would not even work on Friday afternoons, and did not take their jobs seriously at all.

Ms R Mashigo (ANC) asked about the steps that the Department would take to address job creation. The Department had promised to create 17 000 jobs, and she asked also how it intended to ensure that rural areas were connected to the internet.

The Minister explained that the 112 Call Centre would create jobs by training and employing young people to explain the complications around the DTT Migration. She said that most jobs would result from the broadband rollout, from trench digging, maintenance and the management of the broadband. In addition, people would be employed by the companies who were to manufacture and connect the Set Top Boxes required for digital migration. The Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) was going to connect schools, clinics, hospitals and police stations in rural areas.

Mr M Swart (DA) asked for clarity on why the Department would transfer money that was allocated for other programmes to channel them to funding the African Cup of Nations. He asked about the total cost of the turn around strategy. He urged the Department to appoint the CFO immediately or the Department would encounter problems.

Mr Soldaat explained that after the Libyan uprisings, South Africa was asked to host the African Cup of Nations Soccer Tournament, which was previously intended to be hosted in Libya. All government departments were required to do whatever they could to assist and ensure that this happened. The DoC would be funding the actual broadcasting of the Afcon through the SABC.  Funds were then taken from other programmes because the Afcon was not budgeted for, as it was not originally anticipated.

Mr L Ramatlakane (COPE) enquired about the source of the savings, and whether the Department had complied with the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

The Chairperson noted that no deadlines were listed for the Turn Around Strategy, and therefore asked when it would be implemented.

The Chairperson asked when the Chief Financial Officer would be appointed. Vacant positions were supposed to be filled within a space of six months, and he therefore enquired why some vacancies had not been filled for such a long time. 

The Minister responded that when she was appointed, in 2012, she had soon realised that the DoC was still grappling with issues that had faced it in 2010, and they remained unresolved. The staff morale was very low in the Department. She said that she would be taking the senior management staff through a team building session. The post of the CFO had been advertised and the interviews were conducted, but the DoC had been unable to find a suitable person for the job, particularly since it had gender equity requirements to meet. However, she promised that the vacancy of CFO would be filled by the end of the year.

Ms Yengeni was not satisfied with the spending patterns of the Department. She commented that it was now November, and yet most of the funds were not spent. It seemed that this Department budgeted for programmes that would not be implemented. She was very concerned with the poor organisational culture within the Department, and the fact that there was no deadline to remedy the situation.

Ms Mfule suggested that the Department should have an implementation plan that was linked to the key performance areas, to ensure that programmes were really implemented.

Mr Ramatlakane enquired about the yearly targets for the Broadband rollout, and how much it would cost the department to roll it out.

Mr Themba Phiri, Deputy Director General: IT Infrastructure Policy, DoC, replied that the roll out would be done by the private sector players like Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom, because they were more likely to benefit from it. The Department would measure the internet uptake. He noted that studies in other countries had shown that the uptake could be around 10% in both mobile and fixed lines.

The Minister added that the Department was involved in a forum with private sector stakeholders. The Department had not done any scientific studies to determine the required amount per year for the roll out, but the conservative estimates were around R9 billion.

The Chairperson said that the briefing and the answers would help the Committee formulate a comprehensive report, and had helped the Members to understand the complications within the entities. He thanked the Minister for attending the meeting.

The Minister asked that anything needing further clarification should be forwarded to the DoC. She had not answered fully, because of time constraints. The DoC would use these questions to guide it in its work.

The meeting was adjourned


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