Minister and Department of Women, Children & People with Disabilities refused audience: documentation not presented on time

Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities

27 February 2013
Chairperson: Ms D Ramodibe (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCPD) was due to present the progress of its Turnaround Strategy to the Committee. However, the Chairperson immediately raised her concern that although some documentation had been submitted timeously, some had been corrected the previous day, when errors were pointed out by the Committee, and a revised Turnaround Strategy document was given to Members that morning. Not only had this Department been sternly advised, on several previous occasions, that documents must be submitted on time, the documentation was voluminous and it was unfair to expect Members to engage with the issues, without having been given the opportunity to study and absorb the information. The Chairperson was inclined to send the officials away again, but called for input from other Members. The opposition party Members were all inclined to refuse to hear the Department. One DA Member said that she had pleaded on previous occasions that leniency be shown to the Department, but was extremely disappointed to see that their attitude had not changed and felt that if the Committee did not take a stern approach, they would never improve. When other Members indicated that they had sympathy with the department, she said that she was not prepared to stay and left the meeting. The IFP Member and others commented that far too much information was included for the time allotted, and that much was poorly presented, making it even more difficult to study. However, some  did feel that the Strategic Monitoring and Evaluation Strategy was well prepared and wanted the person compiling this to lead a workshop. Two ANC Members thought the presentation should be allowed. Although the Department and Minister pleaded for a chance to present at least some of the documents, even if this was regarded as a preliminary briefing, and noted that the Department had done a substantial amount of work since the last meeting, including suspending some officials, and conducting interviews for permanent posts, the Chairperson finally ruled that the presentation not be allowed, and fixed the date of 18 March for a full briefing.

Members adopted minutes of 30 January and 20 February, the latter with minor corrections.

Meeting report

Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities: Documentation concerns
The Chairperson welcomed Members of Committee and the Minister and officials from the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCPD or the Department). She reminded them that the meeting had been called to debate the progress of the Turnaround Strategy of this Department. However, before even getting to this point she had a serious concern – around the submission of documents.

She mentioned that since November 2012 the Committee had made it clear that there was a serious need for more information. It had been difficult to find a suitable date for the Department to do a presentation. It had been agreed by the Committee and Department that the presentation should take place at the end of February 2013. However, the Committee had specifically made a request to the Department that the documents must be received as early as possible, but this was not done. She commented that Members had been presented now with numerous documents and she questioned when they were not given ample opportunity to revise and study the documents in advance of the meeting. She warned that the Department might well find, after Members had commented, that the officials were turned away and not allowed to present. She called for comments from the other Members.

Ms H Lamoela (DA) stated that this Department appeared still to be in turmoil. She had asked, in December 2012, that the Department be given a chance to get its house in order and then come back to present properly on the progress of the Turnaround strategy. From that time to the present, the officials were therefore well aware that the Committee needed to see the relevant documents. However, today the Committee sat with the problem, yet again, of late submission of documents. This time, she felt that the Department should be sent away, that the documents must be presented on time before another date, and that the Departmental officials must return, at their own expense, to and present to the Committee. She felt strongly that would be of no use to let this Department to continue as it was currently. Although this Committee wanted the Department to become successful, and was doing everything it could to help, she was not sure that the efforts were coming to anything, and that the Department was not functional if it could not even meet deadlines.

Ms Lamoela felt that the Strategic Monitoring and Evaluation Strategy document was good, and would benefit from being workshopped by the Committee and Department together, so that the Department could be told how the Committee expected it to proceed. However, it would be impossible to get through it in the time allotted.

Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) felt strongly that the meeting should not be allowed to proceed, in view of the late submission of documents. Members did not have sufficient time to be taken through them today.

The Chairperson agreed with Members that it would be incorrect to proceed with the meeting. She noted that during the last meeting the importance of early submission of documentation had been specifically and repeatedly emphasised. She again reiterated that documents had to be submitted as early as possible. Some of the documents were not complete, and Members had to point this out, and then these were only sent on 26 February, the day before the meeting. This morning, a revised Turnaround Strategy was handed out. She agreed that the Department’s officials should return, and that after Members had a reasonable time to revise the documents, they should be allowed to return for effective engagement.

Ms Thandeka Mxenge, Acting Director-General, Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities responded that she had asked for few additions, taking into account some of the issues raised in Parliament. She requested that her Department be given the opportunity to present at least on those documents that were tabled in time. She agreed that Members did need sufficient time to go through the bulky documents, but reiterated her request to be allowed to proceed on those submitted two weeks prior to the meeting.

Ms E More (DA) said that the Committee appreciated the information provided by the Department, but agreed that there could not possibly be fruitful interaction as the Members could only debate those documents that they had a chance to study, not all.

Ms van der Merwe thanked Ms Mxenge but stressed that the Department and Committee needed to work as a team. There was far too much information to process in one meeting. She was not happy with the way the documents were presented, and thought the information could have been better arranged, perhaps by using annexures. She also found some quite unclear.

Ms Lamoela agreed and said that although she did not often get confused on documents, she actually had to ask the researcher to help her to correlate the documentation provided. She said again that the Strategic Monitoring and Evaluation Strategy document was excellent, and showed what the Department needed, and whoever prepared it must present it to the Committee, to give more clarity on where the Department was headed.

Ms C Diemu (ANC) agreed with the comments made by her colleagues.

Mr D Kekana (ANC) thought that there was some value to a presentation being given so that preliminary points could be raised, to be more fully discussed in another meeting.

Ms P Maduna (ANC) thought that the Department should be afforded the opportunity to make a preliminary presentation, and then return for a final presentation.

The Chairperson commented that meetings would not run simply for the sake of it, as Members must be given a full insight and understanding. After hearing the explanation and apology, she thought that perhaps the Department should be given an opportunity to talk about the Turnaround Strategy document only. However, this would be the very last time that the Department would be allowed to proceed if it had not sent documents on time.

Ms C Mosimane (COPE) firstly apologised for being late, but was very disappointed that this Committee was still discussing document issues. She thought the Department should be sent away and return on another date to give a presentation.

Ms Lulu Xingwana, Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, apologised for the late submission of the documents and acknowledged that this was unacceptable . She confirmed that the Department should have done what was requested by the Committee. However, she did want to assure Members that the Department had done a lot of work since the last meeting. She noted that, as part of the Turnaround Strategy, several officials had been suspended. The Department was still without a permanent Director General. Only recently had the interview process been finalised and names submitted to the Cabinet for consideration. The Department also did not have a Chief Financial Officer, although it had interviewed, and was in the process of appointment.

The Minister noted that the country was in the midst of a serious spate of gender based violence, and the Department had been fully involved, despite its limited human and financial resources. She urged that the Department at least be able to present its Turnaround Strategy, to let Members know where the Department was currently, and what it had achieved since the last meeting. She noted a document from the Auditor-General, indicating that improvements were apparent within the Department.

She reiterated her apologies and pleaded that the Department be allowed to present its work with the Committee.

Ms Lamoela reiterated that at the last meeting she had been a prime mover in pleading that the Committee show leniency to this Department. This Committee was seriously trying to address the challenges in the Department but it would not help if the Department was allowed to continue failing the Committee. She would refuse to sit in, should the meeting proceed. Members also needed to do research, as they were attending meetings for a very specific purpose. She was adamant that the serious problems must be corrected. She then left the meeting.

Ms I Ditshetelo (UCDP) fully appreciated the concerns of all Members, and agreed that there was something seriously wrong with this Department, as evidenced by the fact that officials in the past had not been dedicated, were being investigated and suspended. The public in her constituency were all complaining about this Department, and she agreed that it must be sent back.

Mr Kekana and Ms Maduna still felt that the Department should be allowed to present.  

Ms van der Merwe reiterated that the documents could not possibly be covered and suggested that a full day workshop was needed.

The Minister said that she had gone out of her way to be present at this meeting, because of the difficulties in the Department. She had been careful to keep the Committee informed of all the outcomes of the Auditor-General’s reports, the investigations, and action taken against officials. Commenting on Ms Ditshitelo’s statement, she asked if this implied that it was wrong to investigate and suspend those who had acted corruptly. She felt that Members would benefit from hearing what had been done. She was not suggesting that everything be discussed, but at least some could be presented. She was sorry that Ms Lamoela had left the meeting because she would no doubt, on the following day, ask the Minister questions in Parliament that could have been asked and answered today in a presentation. She again apologised for the department, but said that she was not making any apologies for corrupt officials.

The Chairperson ruled that, with due respect to Ms Xingwana, the Committee would not hear the presentations.

The Committee agreed that the new date on which the Department must present would be fixed as 18 March 2013.

Ms More asked that the documents given by Department should be revised and studied.

Ms Lamoela asked that the Acting Chief Financial Officer must be present on that date.

Other business: Adoption of Committee minutes
Minutes of 30 January 2013
The Committee considered the minutes of 30 January 2013. A Member asked if the Committee was aware of the outcomes of the summits on women. The minutes were approved.

Minutes of 20 February 2013
The Chairperson requested Members to check the names of those present.

Ms Lamoela referred to page 3, clause 2.2 and suggested that the DWCPD must make use of sister departments to achieve its goals.

She also questioned whether the figure for those receiving disability grants was correct, as she thought that it must surely exceed one million.

Ms van der Merwe asked for a spelling error to be revised.

The minutes were adopted, subject to this correction.

The meeting was adjourned.

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