The Chairperson, in her introductory remarks, gave an overview of the relationship that the new Committee had established with the new Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), highlighting that both were new, and that several issues had needed to be addressed from scratch. The Committee had been on an oversight visit and experienced numerous problems within the Board first-hand, communicating with staff. One of the main issues criticised by another Member was the failure of the Board members to arrive for a meeting, which had to be cancelled. He urged that better respect should be shown to the Committee, which was fulfilling a vital oversight role.
The Chairperson of the PanSALB Board outlined the mandate and the legislation governing the Board's activities. There were indeed many problems within the Board, not least of which were the vacant positions of Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer, major legal costs incurred through previous disputes with previous leadership and staff, high levels of targets not met, bloated and un-mandated organisational structure, financial issues, under-performance and continuing legal issues around staff. The Board had sought legal opinions on the finances and the organisational structure and new proposals had been made that pointed out, firstly, that many of the staff were hired under contracts that were not valid, and secondly that the whole structure needed drastic reorganisation, not least to achieve a better balance in the amounts put to administration for staff costs, and the amounts put to fulfilling the core mandate. The Board had been unable to fill the post of CEO, had now sought assistance from the Minister, had an interim CEO in place which was not ideal, and had to finalise that appointment before moving on to involve the new CEO in the process of then appointing a CFO.
The questions centred around the structure of the organisation, where the Board had sourced its information about the functioning, staff morale and structures, whether it had gone down to grass-roots level to communicate with all staff, and why it was announced that there were still vacancies, despite a bloated structure. They asked for more detail on the prioritisation of the CEO vacancy. Members wanted to know the current status of the cases and were not satisfied with the answer that more detail could not be given because the matters were sub judice. They asked for more information on the vacancies, the performance of the Board thus far, the prioritising of the Chief Financial Officer post, the current legal status of the pending cases, the time scale for finalisation, and the legal opinion, which one Member criticised heavily for its lack of clarity, manner of address of the former Minister, and content. They also wanted details about the Auditor-General's Report and the committees that sought to support the Board. One Member expressed the view that the Board must be given the benefit of the doubt but another believed there was not yet enough evidence of turning around performance. Many of the questions could not be fully answered as time was short, and the Committee impressed upon the Board that it must supply all information requested timeously to the Committee.
Pan South African Language Board: reports on current status
Chairperson's opening remarks
The Chairperson said that the Committee had come back "traumatised" after its first oversight visit to the Pan South African Languages Board (PanSALB or the Board). During that meeting there had been a great number of issues that were encountered. She pointed out that the members of the Board and the Committee were both new in their portfolios, and had been forced to sit and discuss the issues at PanSALB from scratch. The Committee felt that the Board would be able to take the organisation forward and conduct itself without siding with any entity. They had also felt that the Board would be able to change the minds of the people working within the organisation as well as those outside.
When the Committee had sought information on the inner workings of PanSALB they had wanted to hear from all levels of the organisation, ‘all the way down to the people making tea’. It was important, as leaders, to understand the working climate and know how all people within the organisation felt. There was also a need for the Board to influence how people acted and created a culture. This would influence how people within served people without, which was their ultimate goal.
The Chairperson said that there was a need to remedy the issues faced or else ‘everyone was doomed’.
Mr J Mahlangu (ANC) stated that meetings with the Committee needed to be prioritised by PanSALB. He cited the the meeting with the Board in Pretoria, to which nobody had shown up. This had been a blow to the Committee and the process of oversight, and was quite unacceptable. However, in this case, the apologies of the missing Board members could be accepted.
The Chairperson stated that the role of Parliament was to conduct oversight and it was important to remember that interaction with the Committee was extremely important in this endeavour. She reminded those present that the Committee was an extension of the House and should thus be treated with exactly the same respect as the full Parliament.
Professor Mbulugeni Madiba, Chairperson, PanSALB, apologised for what had transpired in Pretoria when the planned meeting had not taken place. He understood that the issue of language was a national issue and thus he appreciated the interaction between the Committee and the Board. He emphasised that since the initial meeting the Board had managed to be more active within the workings of the organisation and had identified some issues that needed to be tackled. He explained that initially the Board had more of a passive role.
He outlined the PanSALB mandate according to the Constitution, as well as the fact of the establishment of this body by an Act of Parliament (Act 59 of 1995).
He also outlined the role of the Board members, saying they all played a part time role as many had other full time jobs which meant it was sometimes difficult to convene. PanSALB was the only entity that had part time members as other Boards in the sector had full time members. This was an issue that had been flagged with the Speaker.
The Board had been inaugurated on the 17 and 18 June and had only been able to have their initial meeting in July.
Professor Madiba said there had been various challenges. These had included the challenge of a vacant executive leadership, in the posts of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO). During this time the organisation had been under the mandate of a caretaker CEO. There had been no budget to fill the position of CEO. There was still a struggle to fill the position, and he had now requested assistance from the Minister. An internal acting CEO had been appointed, which the Board did not feel was ideal, and it really hoped that by June 2015 the post would have been filled. The position of permanent CFO had also not been filled, despite the fact that the appointment to the CFO position.
The other challenge had been under-performance. There had been high levels of targets not achieved. He cited the example of Financial Services, where there had been 63% targets not achieved. For Language Services, 43% of targets were not achieved, and this was worrying as this was a core part of the mandate and operations.
He stated that the ‘turn around period’ had not allowed for enough time and effort for a true turnaround which meant the Board had found the organisation functioning at a low level. There was an additional problem of bloated and un-mandated organisational structure. There was a great deal of financial weight given to the structure.
He also stated that organisation had also been a financially compromised organisation and there had been no funding to run the Board. The organisation had been spending 75% of its money on employees, which would compromise its ability to meet its core mandate. He stressed this was an overview of the financial situation and that there was more information in the financial statements if the Committee wanted it.
Legal battles were a further ‘wound’ in the organisation. PanSALB, in the past five years, had spent R21 million in fighting legal battles. The forensic audit had found some of the fees charged by lawyers had been far above the standard.
Professor Madiba said that the steps taken to move forward included advertising to fill the position of CEO. He emphasised that the advertisement had been finalised. The CFO would then be appointed after the position of CEO was filled. The issue of under performance would be tackled by putting an acting CEO in place and establishing committees to assist the Board with skills. He was proud that the current Board had a wide range of skills within the realm of language, but they could not engage in an operational way, which meant that they needed other support. In order to address the bloated structure, a legal opinion had been sought, as the structure was teetering towards being unsustainable. He confirmed that a legal opinion had been circulated to the Committee. The legal opinion stated the structure was illegal and the contracts were not valid. Subsequent to that, the Board had disregarded the contracts of the employees who had been put in place under that structure. The affected members had then taken the Board to the Labour Court to demand reinstatement. This accounted for the amount of approximately R1 million that the Board had added to the current sum of legal fees. The case brought by the disgruntled employees had been dismissed, as another case concerning the same matter was already being heard. However, he could not say very much more about the case at this point, as it was currently ongoing.
The decision resulted in 44 members’ contracts being set aside, which had saved R24 million in total. He said that the Board was now pushing for more of the money to be put to realising the mandate,a and believed that 52% should go to business and development, and 19% to administration.
Professor Madiba said the strategic plan had been based on the turnaround strategy for the last two years and at the moment a more permanent strategy was being developed.
The Chairperson asked what the Board was doing with the structure, and whether it was still being scrutinised.
Professor Madiba replied that the structure, as it stood, was not sustainable and was not in line with the core mandate of the organisation. A draft structure produced by PriceWaterhouseCoopers was far leaner. There was a request to see how the structure could speak to the function, so the question was ‘what was the function that was to be achieved? What structure was then to be utilised?’At the moment there was a temporary structure being utilised.
The Chairperson requested the old structure in order to compare it to the new structure. She suggested that full information needed to be given up front to explain in advance the issues that the Committee was likely to question.
The Chairperson asked where the information on the organisation had been sourced. She wanted to know whether lower level employees had been engaged, or whether only management level personnel had been interviewed.
Mr G Grootboom (DA) asked how there could be vacancies when the structure was already bloated? Did the Board anticipate the removal of members?
Ms N Bilankulu (ANC) asked why filling the post of the CFO was not a priority? It seemed that this was being side-lined in favour of first finding a CEO.
Professor Madiba replied that it was important to have the CEO in place, to be a part of the process of choosing the CFO, which was why the position of the CEO was indeed given priority.
Performance of the Board
Ms Bilankulu said the performance of PanSALB was poor and the Committee needed to see what the Board was doing. So far there had been little evidence of what the Board had done.
Dr P Mulder (FF+) thought that the new Board was ‘bona fide’ and he wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. He warned that the Board needed to stay objective and remain outside of any fights.
Legal issues: dismissals
Ms S Tsoleli (ANC) asked if more information could be provided about legal matters pertaining to the dismissal of staff.
Mr T Makondo (ANC) said that the Committee was not asking for the details of the case but there was a need to provide some information on the broad background and claims in the case, whether the Board was comfortable talking about the matter or not. In particular, Mr Makondo said he wanted confirmation from the Board as to whether the decision to disregard the contracts of the 49 employees was the decision of the Board, and what informed it to arrive at that particular decision.
Professor Madiba replied that there had been court action brought against the Board once they had disregarded the contracts. He emphasised that the matter was in court currently, and was sub judice, which was the reason the Board was precluded from actively discussing the matters.
Mr Makondo replied that he felt this was not an adequate answer.
Dr Mulder asked if there was a time scale to which these legal problems could be solved. He stated that this was necessary in order for the organisation to go forward and for funds to be freed to make sure the core mandate was fulfilled.
Ms Bilankulu stated that the opinion was too personal and agreed that it showed no respect to the previous Minister.
Professor Madiba replied that the main intention of the legal opinion was that it provide the Board with a good starting point from which to move forward. He said he could not comment on the content of the opinion. The advocate had been asked to present the document at a Board meeting, when questions had been raised and some corrections were made. At the end, the Board had had to deliberate on the substance of the document, namely issues such as unfunded structures, approval of structures and the like.
Committees and functioning
Ms VP Mogotsi (ANC) asked how many committees were aiding the Board.
She also wanted to know more about how the mandate was being carried out, and how the core activities were being addressed. She stated that she wanted to know what was happening in terms of the finance and audit committee as well.
Ms Mogotosi asked what the recommendations were as set out by the Auditor-General (AG).
The Chairperson noted that it had been impossible, in the time available, to tackle many of the points, and she asked the PanSALB to note that whenever the Committee asked for documents they needed to be given to the Committee. She introduced the Committee support staff, and emphasised that any documents that were requested by them should be supplied by entities, as well as the Department.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Opinion in RE: Pan South African Language Board
- PanSALB report to the portfolio committee on Arts and Culture by Adv. Z. Feni
- PanSALB Financial Status 2014/15 & Budget Allocation 2015/16 presentation
- PanSALB Report to Parliamentary Portfolio Committee: Arts and Culture
- Relations between DAC & PanSouth African Language Board presentation
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