The Department of Arts and Culture briefed the Committee on the current state of the Pan South African Language Board, focusing on the seven court cases that were pending between a former employee, Advocate Feni, and the PanSALB. The reason for the multiplicity of cases was that every time a ruling was made one or other of the parties would challenge it. Eventually, in view of the escalation of costs, the matter was moved to the State Attorney, and another firm of attorneys had been called in to try to mediate. It had been agreed in principle that Adv Feni would be reinstated, but the question of the extra six months pay that he was demanding, and the costs, had yet to be settled. In the meantime, Adv Feni had brought yet another case against the Minister challenging his authority to appoint a new head of legal services in the Department of Arts and Culture. It was suggested that a full report on the background to all the cases could be given when time allowed. Members questioned if it would be possible to ask Adv Feni, as part of the settlement agreement, not to bring further cases but rather to try to settle through mediation, and they also asked when the matters would be resolved, as it was desirable this be done before Parliament rose, to allow the next Committee to begin with a clean slate.
The South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA) answered a number of questions that had been asked in the previous week about its turnaround strategy and current activities. The Chairperson of SAHRA summarised what had been discussed the week before and updated the Committee on the position of former employees who were retrenched, and the appointment of new managers, some by promotion from within the ranks. The Committee’s concerns that SAHRA did not have representatives from all provinces were noted, but it was explained that they must be appointed by the MECs, and, in KwaZulu Natal, by the Premier, and SAHRA was trying to persuade the relevant bodies to nominate. A list of assets had been compiled, and SAHRA now had new policies in place to make the rentals market-related. It was admitted that the low rentals charged previously had been as a result of corruption. It was noted that SAHRA was trying to sell some properties and put the proceeds to other projects. A property management strategy was in place. Members had asked about the banking accounts and SAHRA indicated that it was trying to close the individual project accounts and use the money remaining for various projects. SAHRA had taken a conscious decision to hire contract workers and interns until its re-engineering was sorted out, and experts had been brought in to clean up the books for the preceding four to five years, and they would be asked to transfer their skills. Retrenched employees had been absorbed into other satellite officers. In answer to a question from Members as to what had gone wrong at SAHRA, it was explained that units were understaffed, policies were outdated, there was not sufficient skills assessment, with the wrong people being placed in jobs, and unhappiness by employees had also led to them sabotaging some operations. There was a culture of non-delivery and no consequences for those who failed to perform. The policies had not insisted upon three quotations, for instance, with the result that irregular and wasteful expenditure took place. Those who were found, during the investigations, to have breached policies or acted incorrectly would be disciplined. should be held accountable. She assured the Committee that all cases would investigated and the necessary action taken. Performance contracts were to be put in place for all employees. It was also noted that the Council had failed to function properly or to meet regularly. Members asked more questions about the funeral policy, which had now been scrapped, the reason for hiring interns, what criteria were now used for rentals, whether properties were being maintained, whether the properties were being valued, whether there was now a supply chain policy in place, and for a report on the forensic investigations.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
Ms L Moss (ANC) said that she had asked to act as Chairperson as Ms T Sunduza (ANC) was not well.
She tabled the apologies also of the Minister and the Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, who were attending the BRICS Summit in Durban.
Report on PanSALB: Department of Arts and Culture briefings
Before the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC or the Department) began the briefing, the Acting Chairperson asked for copies of the report.
Mr Sibusiso Xaba, Director General, Department of Arts and Culture, apologised that he had not made copies available but promised to e-mail the report later to the Committee Secretary.
Mr Xaba started his report with the turnaround strategy and current state of affairs at the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) and said that this report would focus mainly on Advocate Feni, who was challenging his dismissal from PanSALB. There were seven cases pending, with two in the Labour Court, two in the High Court and three matters at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The reason that there were so many matters was that each time a ruling had been made, one of the parties would challenge it and take it to a higher court.
Mr Xaba told the Committee that since the Department’s last meeting with PanSALB, PanSALB had decided to withdraw its cases against Advocate Feni and leave it to the Auditor-General to resolve the contested issues. The Department had also requested that the services of an advocate be brought in, to try to mediate and resolve the issues. He explained that the DAC considered it important to have a mediator with a legal background because if Advocate Feni was to be reinstated, one of the conditions would be that the court cases would be withdrawn and an agreement would have to be reached as to how the costs of the cases would be paid for. Although negotiations had begun, Advocate Feni had refused the first meetings because it had thought that this was a delaying tactic by the Department. He was insisting on returning to work as soon as possible.
The DAC had then agreed to reinstate Advocate Feni and pay him his salary from the day he was dismissed. However, the outstanding issues remained the pending court cases and the extra six months of pay that Adv Feni was requesting. Once these were resolved, Adv Feni would be returning to work.
In the meantime, there was another court case also pending because when the Minister had appointed a new Head of Legal Services, Adv Feni had challenged this because he believed this person was to replace him and take over his work. However, this was not the case. Adv Feni would return to his previous position if reinstated.
The Chairperson asked for information on what happened in regard to the first firm of attorneys that was hired by PanSALB, and whether they would be paid for their work.
Mr Xaba explained that this firm of attorneys initially hired had been inflating the costs, which was revealed during an investigation. The contract for these attorneys was terminated. PanSALB was now using the services of the State Attorney, and the legal firm had been reported to the police to investigate a charge of fraud.
Mr N Van den Berg (DA) asked Mr Xaba to provide the Committee with the total cost of all the court cases, as well as the settlement amount being paid to Adv Feni. He was very worried that Adv Feni and PanSALB were suing each other and said that there should rather be a culture of trying to settle matters without going to court. He was worried that, after reaching settlement, Adv Feni may again start suing the Department for any matter that upset him. He wondered if the DAC could insist that he must sign an undertaking not to sue the Minister or Department in the future.
Mr Xaba informed Mr Van den Berg that he did not have the exact figures for the cost of the cases, but he thought that it was about R6 million for the 2011/2012 year. He told the Committee that it would be important to put in place a proper process for reinstatement, including the terms of the settlement and court case costs.
Ms D Msweli (IFP) agreed with Mr Van den Berg about the need to get an assurance from Advocate Feni that he would not be suing the Department in the future. She also wanted to know if the Committee had ever sought advice from the Parliamentary legal advisers, pointing out that she believed that Adv Feni, as a lawyer himself, may have taken advantage of loopholes and bring cases against the Department.
Ms H Van Schalkwyk (DA) requested that the Committee be positive on these steps as a new PanSALB Board was about to be appointed. She suggested that the Committee should, in future, elect a board with a very strong background in financial management, in order to avoid recurrence of these issues in the future.
Mr D Mavunda (ANC) questioned the reasons why Advocate Feni was dismissed, and whether the DAC’s offer to reinstate him was because it believed it would lose the cases, or simply to try to bring matters to conclusion. He thought that that the Committee and the Department may have made premature conclusions on the matter without getting a clear picture of what was going on.
The Acting Chairperson expressed concern that the PanSALB issue had been dragging on for the last two or three years, and would like to see the issues resolved as soon as possible.
Ms Msweli asked how much longer it was likely to take to resolve the issues.
The Acting Chairperson made the point that it was important that this issue must be resolved before Parliament rose for the election period, so that the new committee could start from a clean slate.
Mr Xaba responded that it would be difficult for him to give an exact time frame, but he hoped this could be within the next three months.
He then said that the Department would try to give a full report, if time allowed, on the cases at a later stage, but briefly, Adv Feni challenged whether the Minister had the power to appoint Adv Zwane as the caretaker Chief Executive Officer of PanSALB and to appoint a number of new managers. Mr Xaba said that the Department believed the Minister acted within his powers.
Turnaround strategy for SA Heritage Resources Agency: SAHRA Council briefing
Dr Somadoda Fikeni, Chairperson, South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) Council, summarised what he had outlined the previous week and reminded Members that a report had been presented on the turnaround strategy for SAHRA. The issues that led to the negative audit findings had been outlined, and the Chief Financial Officer had informed the Committee about the measures that had been put in place, as also the fact that the Auditor-General (AG) had been called in to assist SAHRA during the turnaround process. The former Chief Executive Officer was not actually fired but the contract was not renewed once it had ended. In the previous week, the Committee had also been informed that the matter of retrenchment of former employees had been resolved and they had been given employment in other positions.
The Committee had asked questions about upward mobility within SAHRA, and he noted that this had been addressed by new managers being appointed, some of whom were promoted from within SAHRA.
In response to Ms Van Schalkwyk’s question about the lack of representation in all provinces, Dr Fikeni now informed the Committee that SAHRA had taken the Committee’s suggestions into consideration and would be presenting a report on how it was planning on dealing with the issue. SAHRA had also taken other suggestions to heart and would be working hard to rectify the matters.
Dr Fikeni informed the Committee that a list of assets that were owned by SAHRA had now been made available. SAHRA came to own these assets when the Monument Council became the new SAHRA. He also reminded the Committee that there was a problem that individuals were paying very little to live on the various properties owned by SAHRA.
Ms Mmabatho Ramagoshi, Acting Chief Executive Officer, SAHRA, told the Committee that SAHRA had a property management strategy in place, in which the properties that were inherited were being re-engineered, and that these would later be transferred to the provinces.
During the last meeting, a question had been asked as to why SAHRA had several bank accounts. Ms Ramagoshi informed the Committee that it had three functioning bank accounts. The other accounts were for individual project funds, which came with conditions. SAHRA wanted to close these bank accounts and use the money for various projects, or return it to the donors.
On the question of why SAHRA was choosing to use contract workers, Ms Ramagoshi said that SAHRA was still at the re-engineering stage of its strategy, and felt that contract workers would be a better option until matters were sorted out. The contract workers had been hired to assist with tasks such as filing, and finance, so that the books could be thoroughly investigated over the preceding four or five years. Experts had been brought in to audit the books and clean them up. It was expected to take about ten months. After this, the experts would be expected to transfer skills to other staff.
Questions were raised in a previous meeting about the irregular and wasteful expenditure, and Ms Ramagoshi explained that this was mainly due to SAHRA’s policies. For example, instead of getting three quotations, it would obtain only one, in line with its policy, although this did not comply with accepted practice in government. Strictly speaking, the employees had not acted irregularly in terms of the SAHRA policies on this point, although there were other instances where policies were breached, and those that broke the law should be held accountable. She assured the Committee that all cases would investigated and the necessary action taken.
With regard to the employees who had been retrenched, Ms Ramagoshi now informed the Committee that these people had been given jobs by being absorbed in satellite offices.
The Committee had questioned where SAHRA went wrong. Ms Ramagoshi believed that this was mainly to do with the way SAHRA was structured, with insufficient numbers of staff in the units. For example, there were only three officers and managers in the finance department, with no middle managers. This made it difficult to effect skills transfer. This was made evident when the Chief Financial Officer left SAHRA and left behind a huge skills gap.
In addition, there was also a culture of non-delivery and no consequences for non-performing officials. Also, the policies being used by SAHRA were out of date.
Ms Ramagoshi further believed that SAHRA had gone wrong in the hiring process. People might apply for one position, but end up being placed in another, although they did not have the right qualifications or skills. There had been significant discontent amongst the employees, and some had sabotaged SAHRA by misplacing files and trying to get it into trouble during the audit.
Dr Fikeni added that he did not believe that there was ever a time when SAHRA’s Council functioned normally. For example, the finance managers might go for a year with meeting, with their excuse being that they were out in the field, and there were significant gaps in the running of the office.
Dr Fikeni then spoke to the concerns that some provinces had had no representatives – namely, Limpopo, Northern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape. SAHRA was currently rectifying the issue. It was up to the MECs of the provinces to appoint representatives, but they were not making this a priority. They had been requested by SAHRA to provide the names of the representatives for presentation to the Minister.
Ms Ramagoshi noted that a question had been asked as to why 2012/13 was mentioned in the performance contract, and she explained that this was because SAHRA wanted all employees, including the newest ones, to know what was expected of them in terms of performance.
Ms Ramagoshi also updated the Committee about the transfer of property to provinces, in answer to other questions, informing Members that this was yet to be done because SAHRA had to wait for the Minister to approve of the transfer first.
Mr Van den Berg was appreciative of the responses, which had given the Committee a better understanding of the problems that SAHRA had been facing. He encouraged the SAHRA Council and staff to move forward and get SAHRA functioning well in the future.
Mr S Ntapane (UDM) wanted to find out more information about the hiring of interns by SAHRA, and the criteria used, and suggested that perhaps they could be hired as full-time employees.
Ms Ramagoshi responded that some interns had been hired to close the current skills gap in SAHRA. Others were being used to assist in different areas around the country and to help with grave restoration and similar tasks.
Mr Ntapane asked if the asset register had been completed, as this had not been done by the last meeting.
Mr Ntapane wanted more information on the R7 000 funeral assistance for SAHRA employees, and whether it would be sustainable.
Ms Ramagoshi informed him that the funeral policy had been scrapped because it was inconsistent. Not all employees were getting assistance and the amounts being given were also different.
Mr Ntapane also wanted to find out what criteria were used to determine how much tenants were paying for the various properties owned by SAHRA, noting that different amounts were being paid. In addition, he wanted to know who was responsible for renting out the properties at such low prices and whether that person was still employed by SAHRA.
Ms Ramagoshi stated that, at the moment, the properties were now being rented out at amounts determined by the Councils and by the market.
The Acting Chairperson asked the SAHRA delegation for a constructive report on the forensic investigations that have been done.
The Acting Chairperson asked if there was a supply chain policy in place, since this would prevent people from taking advantage of loopholes in the system.
Dr Fikeni informed her that a new policy had been put in place
Ms Msweli posed a question on why there was no representative from KZN.
Dr Fikeni informed her that it was up generally up to the MEC to appoint the representatives, but in the province of KZN, heritage fell not under the MEC but under the Premier. This was where the first problem arose. Secondly, the Amafa AkwaZulu organisation was responsible for heritage sites in that province and had informed SAHRA that it not need assistance from SAHRA. However, SAHRA would be meeting with that organisation to explain the importance of having a representative, and to map a way forward.
Mr Van den Berg requested information on whether the tenants were responsible for the restoration and upkeep of the properties being rented. He also wanted to know what condition the properties were in, and if they had been well looked after. In addition, he asked Dr Fikeni what the long-term plans were for the properties.
The Chairperson also added on to this question by asking that SAHRA find out the true value of the properties, and to assess how much potential rental had been lost during the previous years, when the rents were too low.
Ms Ramagoshi responded that SAHRA intended to find out the values of the properties and then to sell them. The money raised from these sales would be used for various heritage projects in the organisation. In addition SAHRA would also identify heritage sites and then hand them over to the provinces. Most of the properties were in very good condition and had been well taken care of by the tenants over the years.
Dr Fikeni informed the Committee that, on the issue of the property and leases, a report was requested in March 2011, and was finally given in 2013. He acknowledged that it was corruption that had led to the properties being rented out for such low amount. He stated that the previous government had set up the structure, but SAHRA has approached National Treasury in order to rectify the issue.
Ms Catherine Motsisi, Chief Financial Officer, SAHRA, informed the Committee that a synopsis of the irregular expenditure going back two years had been compiled, in the form of a spreadsheet, and this would provide more detail on the dates, time and amounts isolated during the forensic investigation.
The meeting was adjourned.
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