The Portfolio Committee on Telecommunication received a briefing by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) on the pending disciplinary actions in the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) and its entities. There was also a briefing by National Electronic Media and Institute of South Africa (NEMISA) on the integration of an entity and a branch of the Department. The SIU indicated that the investigation in the South African Post Office (SAPO) had been finalised and the report was ready and in its last stages of review, meaning it only needed the signature of the Head of SIU. The SIU was in a process of arranging the logistics for handing the report to the Presidency. The SIU had also been mandated to investigate a tender that had been awarded to the Media Corner by the Department of Communications (DoC) with a value of R760 million and it was anticipated that the entire investigation would be completed by 31 July 2015.
The investigation on the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) had three proclamations that had mandated the SIU to investigate the entity. The investigation related to the first proclamation had been completed and the presidential report only required a final signature and logistics of handing the report to the President. The other two proclamations were still on-going with following outcomes to date: 22 matters had been referred to SITA for non-disclosure of business interest, the SIU had assisted SITA in recovering R230 million in outstanding by organs of state and R24 million had been directly paid to the SIU as a result of this from the account of SITA. The SIU was still in process of finalising the investigation on Information Communication ad Technology (ICT) Indaba and the target date for the completion of this investigation was July 2015. The investigation on Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) was related to the irregularities related to the appointment of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of USAASA, Mr Zami Nkosi, and the allegation that USAASA had concluded a R500 million contract with a service provider in respect of the construction and expansion of the electronic communications network for the Emalahleni local municipality and this was still under investigation. It was anticipated that both of the investigations would be finalised by the end of July 2015.
Members wanted to know whether there was a way of checking the progress that had been made on once investigations were handed over to the entities. It was important to know whether there was a way of following the case as some dockets had been lodged in police stations and then eventually got lost. Was the SIU ever summoned in courts or procedures of disciplinary action? Who would pay for the application of Mr Nkosi to oppose the court order? They wanted to know if there would be any disciplinary action taken against the people who had appointed Mr Nkosi, if it was found that his appointment had been irregular. One Member wanted to know if the SIU had perused the report of the Public Protector on ICT Indaba and Parliament’s Ethics Committee which had indicated that there was Deputy Director-Generals (DDGs) who had been involved in the Indaba and had interfered in defence of the previous Minister of Communication.
Most Members requested to be provided with the timeframes for the conclusion of the pending cases and the referrals that had been made or still to be made to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). What happens in the cases where the cost of the investigation had exceeded the amount that still needed to be recovered? They also wanted to know if there was a specific reason why the name of the CEO of USAASA, Mr Nkosi had been mentioned in the presentation while those of others had been kept as a secret.
The Minister and the Deputy Minister, Dr Siyabonga Cwele and Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize respectively, attended the meeting and emphasised that the integration of skills development related entities NEMISA, e-Skills Institute (e-SI) and the Institute for Space and Software Applications (ISSA) was to ensure a more effective use of existing resources across government, business, education and civil society to impact against the National Development Plan (NDP), Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF), South Africa Connect, and the White Paper. Both of the Departments had commented and agreed on the formation of the new entity. The Institute was expecting to impact approximately 10 million South Africans and it was expected that this would be achieved over period of five years. The National Treasury (NT) and DPSA had both proposed the Department to follow all the necessary steps for the establishment of a new entity. The Department wanted to ensure that Ikamva National eSkills Institute (iNeSI) became a national catalytic collaborator and facilitator and change agent for developing e-skills capacity in the country. It was also highlighted that all the 2015/16 activities would be undertaken by NEMISA and iNeSI would only be operational in 2016/17 financial year.
Members wanted to know how those provinces that did not have CoLabs would benefit from the programmes to promote e-skills in the country and the time-frame for spreading these programmes to other provinces. They commented that it would have been preferable to setup CoLabs or e-literacy programmes in all our schools as this was where the emphasis needed to be. How to incorporate the previously disadvantaged individuals in different programmes of adult literacy, so as ensure that they have the opportunity to access education and e-literacy? There was also a mention of putting modules and certificates on the websites, and they wondered whether there were other ways in which illiterate people could access these modules and certificates.
Some Members doubted the need for the establishment of this new entity as it failed to address the two reasons why a number of South Africans were illiterate – the shocking state of basic education and the lack of infrastructure in the country. Who would be funding the entity beside the government? Was there a possibility of inviting the private sector to fund the entity? Who would be paying for the courses to be made available? What happened to the 6 000 trainees that were enrolled in the programme in 2013/14 financial year? When would the CoLabs be established in Mpumalanga and Free State? What methods that would be used to activate and create awareness at the entity’s services especially in rural areas?
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson said that due to the sensitivity of the presentation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) it would be helpful that none of the affected parties were present in the meeting especially the officials in the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS). She highlighted that it would have been better to have a closed meeting as the information to be provided by the SIU was sensitive and cautioned that the discussion should be constrained.
Ms L Maseko (ANC) said that the media was excused the last time the Committee had received a briefing by the SIU and it would be preferable if the same could be done today as the issues that were to be discussed were indeed very sensitive. It would also be undesirable for the issues to be discussed to fly out to the media before they were settled.
The Chairperson indicated that procedurally the Committee needed to announce a closed meeting prior the commencement of the meeting but the House Chairperson was reluctant to have the meeting closed.
Briefing by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU)
Adv Gerhard Visagie, Acting Head, SIU, indicated that due to the sensitivity of the matter that would be discussed, it would be proper that the presentation refrained from mentioning the name of the individuals that were implicated in the investigations. The Committee would be briefed on the investigations that had been conducted by the SIU in respect of all entities. The presentation would shed some light on why some the investigations tended to take longer than was desired. The SIU had four major outcomes when conducting an investigation and the investigations were referred to the SIU by way of proclamation and the President mandated the SIU to conduct and investigate and report back on the outcomes of those investigations. The Presidency ultimately had a prerogative to release the particular report for public consumption. The other outcomes involved legal outcomes and the primary focus of the SIU was the institution of civil proceedings and this in an outcome that was pursued irrespective of whether the investigation as a whole has been completed.
The presentation would also touch on matters where civil litigation had already been instituted even though final reports had not been submitted to the President. The civil litigation did not wait for the finalisation of the investigation as a whole and when it was ready to proceed it was then initiated. The second major outcome that was pursued by SIU was the referral of the criminal matters to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the SIU as a civil investigation entity did not have the power of arrest or to institute criminal proceedings. However, the SIU was compelled to refer evidence pointing to the commission of criminal offence to the NPA in order to proceed with the investigations.
The last outcome that was pursued by the SIU was disciplinary matters and the SIU fully investigated these disciplinary matters and compiled evidence files. These evidence files together with the recommendations were submitted to the employer who was the only person who was entitled to proceed with the disciplinary matters or the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) might be involved in that process. In essence, even if the SIU said the investigation had not been completed and had not yet submitted the report to the President, it did not mean that it had not dealt with these matters where civil proceedings had been instituted or referred criminal or disciplinary matters to the necessary authorities.
Adv Visagie highlighted that the SIU was at liberty to report to the Committee on those referrals that had been made and the civil proceedings that had been instituted. The rest of the task was done by the NPA and it was not the competency of the SIU to report on on-going investigations and providing full details as to that. The investigation in the South African Post Office (SAPO) was mandated by proclamation R5 of 2014 and subsequently amended by proclamation R56 of 2014. This investigation dealt with a number of focused areas, 16 in total, that were identified during earlier forensic investigation by an external forensic entity and the SIU had followed these matters up. The SIU was not looking to make findings or defame anybody or make superficial findings but rather to pursue the legal outcomes that were referred to. The investigation in the SAPO had been finalised and the report was ready and in its last stages of review, meaning it only needed the signature of the Head of SIU. The SIU was in a process of arranging the logistics for handing the report to the Presidency and this was a difficult process. It was now the prerogative of the President to make the report public.
The referrals that had been made so far had been related to the access control systems where the evidence had been referred to the NPA for criminal prosecution and for action by the Access Forfeiture Unit (AFU) and these were the entities that the SIU worked very closely with. This matter also required a referral to the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority which dealt with administrative processes related to licensing of people operating in the private security industry. The SIU would still make eleven referrals in respect of employees of SAPO related to misconduct in the near future. The SIU had found basis for civil litigation relating to the SAPO head office lease and the SIU was in a process of drawing papers and the proceedings would be instituted shortly. An application was to be made shortly to the High Court for the lease to be set aside.
The next matter to be discussed was the Media Corner, this investigation was mandated by the presidential proclamation R10 of 2014 and this proclamation required the SIU to investigate a tender that was awarded to the Media Corner by the Department of Communications (DoC). The investigation relating to the actual tender had been completed for some time but there were certain related aspects of the investigation that have not yet been completed and this specifically related to the value for money part of the investigation. It was anticipated that the entire investigation would be completed by 31 July 2015. The SIU was not waiting for the finalisation of this particular investigation before making the referrals and instituting a proceeding and the SIU had referred seven matters to the DTPS for purposes of disciplinary actions and this process has started. The full value of the tender was R760 million and it was a rather significant matter that was currently pending in Gauteng High Court and the SIU was confident of success in this matter. There were two corruption matters related to the Media Corner that would be referred to the NPA very shortly.
The next matter to be discussed was the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and there were three proclamations that had mandated the SIU to investigate the entity. The investigation was primarily focused on the procurement of goods and services by SITA and the focus was on compliance with Section 217 (1) of the Constitution which demanded that the procurement of goods and services for the State must in terms of a system that was fair, transparent, and equitable. The investigation related to the first proclamation had been completed and the presidential report only required a final signature and the logistics of handing over to the President. The other two proclamations were still on-going with the following outcomes to date: 22 matters had been referred to SITA for non-disclosure of business interest, the SIU had assisted SITA in recovering R230 million in outstanding funds by organs of state and R24 million was directly paid to the SIU as a result of this form the account of SITA. A major contract to the value of R111 million was terminated following the investigation and it showed that the contract was not in line with the provisions of Section 217 (1). The SIU had made four criminal referrals and one matter was currently referred to the AFU and was still pending.
The next matter was related to the investigation by the DoC which was mandated by proclamation R62 of 2014 and the proclamation required the SIU to investigate the donations by the Department towards the hosting of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Indaba, including traveling and accommodation expenses which were paid by the Department in respect to a person who was not qualified. The referrals that were still to be made including the civil recovery of losses in conjunction with the AFU and referrals to the NPA and disciplinary actions were to be recommended. The investigations in this particular case were still on-going and therefore the SIU was not in position to report on tangible outcomes. The target date for the finalisation of this particular investigation was July 2015 and the SIU was doing its utmost to ensure that this matter was finalised as soon as possible.
The next matter was related to the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) and this investigation was mandated by proclamation R20 of 2014. The SIU was authorised to investigate the irregularities related to the appointment of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of USAASA, Mr Zami Nkosi, and the allegation that USAASA concluded a R500 million contract with a service provider in respect of the construction and expansion of the electronic communications network for the Emalahleni local municipality. This was still under investigation.
The focus here had been on the appointment of Mr Nkosi and the allegations were still being dealt with and there were still on-going investigations. It was anticipated that both of the investigations would be finalised by the end of July 2015. The SIU investigation was convinced that Mr Nkosi was appointed in a manner that was irregular and unlawful and the SIU had approached the court to have the appointment set aside, an application which was opposed by Mr Nkosi and, disappointingly, also by USAASA. The matter was still pending.
The Chairperson noted that almost all the entities of the Department were being investigated by the SIU and this raised doubt about the Department’s ability to provide services to the people. There was concern around the ability of the Department and its entities to achieve their mandates as most of the officials were more worried about their preparation to appear in court than anything else.
Mr C Mackenzie (DA) indicated that he was aware that the SIU did not have powers of prosecution or to take disciplinary actions or arrest the person who had been implicated in investigations but wondered whether there was a way of checking the progress that had been made on the three outcomes when they were handed over to the entities. It was important to know whether there was a way of following the case when dockets had been known to be lodged in police stations and then eventually lost. Was there a way of maintaining evidence in a secured location, so as to be replaced when stolen or damaged? Was the SIU ever summoned in courts or procedures of disciplinary action? He described it as disappointing and strange that USAASA had opposed the application for the removal its CEO, Mr Nkosi. Who would pay for the application of Mr Nkosi to oppose the court order? Was there a process of recovering the costs involved if the application by USAASA became unsuccessful, so that the state and taxpayers could not pick up the tariff for taxation litigation?
Adv Visagie wanted to put it on record that the SIU was not involved in all the investigations, as they were conducted by a multidisciplinary team which was assigned to that particular project. However, the Unit tried to stay abreast of what was happening and was involved on a project management basis. The SIU did not arrest or physically conduct the disciplinary hearings but there had been delays in following up with the referrals. There was a concerted effort to stay on track with the outcomes of the referrals and have a record of all those referrals that had been made. The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services also urged the SIU to follow up on the referrals that had been made. The SIU ensured that there was an inclusion of the outcome of the proceedings in all the referrals that had been made, whether to the NPA or an employer, and this assisted in ensuring that there was continuation of the cases and the Unit was kept informed. There was a way of tracking the progress of pending cases in the Project Management Office (PMO).
He responded that the SIU adviced the Presidency after receiving an outcome and submitted the presidential report. The SIU keep the copies of the files that were regarded as evidence and they were stored in a proper and secured storage base in case of a situation where the police dockets went missing or disappeared. It was important to emphasise that the SIU was doing the referrals to the NPA and not to the South African Police Services (SAPS) and this was to reduce the incidences where docket cases could go missing. The members of the SIU were always available to testify in court proceedings, whether they were of a criminal or disciplinary nature. It was indeed disappointing that USAASA had actively defended the court decision to reverse the appointment of Mr Nkosi as the SIU had been investigating the case in the interest of the public. The costs involved in the opposition of the court decision were contractually regulated between the employer and the employee and the SIU did not have control of that. He was not aware of the person who was paying Mr Nkosi to oppose the court order and the State Attorney had been on record as steading with the matter. The Committee could direct the matter to USAASA.
Ms M Shinn (DA) wanted to know whether there would be any disciplinary action taken against the people who had appointed Mr Nkosi, if it was found that his appointment had been irregular. She commented that it would be understandable that USAASA would be opposed to the application for the removal of Mr Nkosi, as it alleged that Mr Nkosi had a previous working relationship with the current Chairperson of USAASA. It was concerning that some of the individuals who had been driving the disciplinary proceedings were also alleged to be involved in various misconducts. Was there a way of ensuring that those who were likely to be conducting disciplinary proceedings were not purging the staff they had instructed to do the dirty deeds? It was important to know if SIU had any strategy in place to ensure that there were no conflict of interests between the Department’s lawyer who was handling the disciplinary hearings and the lawyers of the Media Corner.
She wanted to know whether the SIU had managed to peruse the report of the Public Protector on Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Indaba and Parliament’s Ethics Committee which indicated that the Deputy Director-Generals (DDGs) who were involved in the Indaba had interfered in defence of the previous Minister of Communication. The Public Protector’s report had also found out that the staff of the Department had lied to Parliament, the Attorney General and the Office of the Public Protector. What action was likely to be taken against those individuals? She wanted to know whether the reports of the Public Protector and Ethics Committee had been referred to and included in the investigations of the SIU.
Adv Visagie replied that there would be a disciplinary action taken if it was found that the appointment of Mr Nkosi was irregular, but the SIU had not made any recommendations to the matter as yet. The action against board members followed a different route from disciplinary actions and this was not something that the SIU was directly involved in. There was also a different route that was followed if the appointment of a board member had been influenced by a politicians or people in political positions as the SIU did not have control over this. The SIU had not found misconduct that had been committed by the accounting officer and therefore had not recommended disciplinary action to be taken, although there might be a belief by some people that there was evidence to prosecute her. He was not aware of any possible conflict of interest as the disciplinary proceedings would continue once the referral had been made to the Department’s lawyers or accounting officers and this question could be directed to the Department. In relation to ICT Indaba, it was the duty of the SIU to check for all the relevant evidence when the matter had been referred to by the President and therefore it was not relevant whether the reports of the Public Protector and the Ethics Committee had been referred to the Unit. The reports did form part of the evidential material and they were often considered.
Ms J Kilian (ANC) asked about the exact date for the referral of the criminal proceeding in the access control system at SAPO to the NPA so as to know where the matter was currently being delayed. She asked for the estimate date for the 11 referrals that were still to be made and those of the civil proceedings. The presentation also made mention that the SIU had referred the 7 matters to the DTPS and the disciplinary actions had been initiated. How long ago was this done, this was to check the time it took before disciplinary actions were concluded? The delays in the conclusion of disciplinary actions had a paralysing impact on the effective functioning of the Department. The presentation also mentioned that the corruption matters in the Department would be referred to the NPA for criminal prosecution. When would this be done? She wanted to know the amount of money that had been investigated for irregular procurement of goods and services and also authorised expenditures at SITA. How long would it take before the final signature was concluded? SITA had a huge impact as one of the key institutions in the country and the sooner the Committee could get a progress report on its matter the better.
Adv Visagie asked for the indulgence of the Members in the provision of the timeframes for the conclusion of the pending cases. There was agency to resolve and conclude all the pending investigations in the interest of the public and everyone. Regarding the question of civil proceedings, the SIU had briefed the external Council to prepare for those papers and the institution of the proceedings was wholly dependent on the Council who had to finish the papers. There had been consultation with the senior Council and papers were being drafted and the Committee would be provided with the time-frame as it should be within the next 2-3 weeks. The disciplinary referrals were made some time ago and the Committee could be provided with the exact date. As far as Media Corner was concerned, the referrals were made some time ago and once again the Committee could be provided with the exact time in writing. The two corruption matters were linked to the civil proceedings of the Media Corner and the Committee would be provided with the exact date as soon as possible.
He highlighted that the SIU was reluctant to provide more details on the SITA issue as it was improper at the moment to provide detailed information on the matter and this was to prevent sensitive matters flying out to the media. The briefing was about the matters that were already out there in the public domain and when civil proceedings were being instituted then those papers become public documents and could be consumed by everyone. It was sensitive to talk in detail about the investigations that were still on-going as it could compromise the investigation.
Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) wanted to know whether there was a process of appeal if the action that had been taken by the NPA was deemed to be lenient. What happened in the cases where the cost of the investigation had exceeded the amount that still needed to be recovered? She wanted to know if there was a specific reason why the name of the CEO of USAASA, Mr Nkosi had been mentioned in the presentation while those of others had been kept as a secret.
Adv Visagie responded that the SIU provided the NPA with all the relevant evidence and there was usually a consultation from time to time to discuss matters of mutual concern. The SIU had been asked not to make the recommendations when referring the cases to the NPA. This was partly because the NPA Act stated that the NPA was the only Authority in the country that could decide on criminal prosecutions. That was their prerogative and the ultimate decision to prosecute or not rested with the NPA. The best that the SIU could do was to appeal to the Presidency to ask the NPA to provide reasons for giving what could be deemed as a lenient sentence. The SIU sought to ensure that the case was as convincing as possible so that adequate measures could be taken to the individual who were found to have committed misconduct.
The SIU was working very closely with the Anti-Corruption Task Team (ACTT) as it was a non-statutory entity that worked in the fight against corruption. The NPA and the Hawks were the key players and there was always a way to influence each other in an informal way. The SIU had a duty to investigate the cases despite the fact that the cost of investigation had exceeded the amount that still needed to be recovered and there were cases where it was pointless to proceed with the matter. It was often helpful to continue with the investigation to the point of finality so as to make proper recommendations and prevent recurrence of certain types of misconducts. The presentation made mention of the name of Mr Nkosi because the matter was already in the public domain and the proceedings for the institution of the application to declare his appointment unlawful was already a public document and had been reported widely in the media.
Ms Maseko asked if there was a way of doing a follow up in cases that had been referred to the NPA. She was also curious to know if there was a reason for mentioning the name of Mr Nkosi, as the presenter promised to omit the name of those who were alleged to be involved in wrongdoing. It was alleged that Mr Nkosi had resigned from his position as a Chairperson at USAASA but it was important to know the procedure that was likely to be taken to an individual that had resigned while the investigations were still pending.
Adv Visagie replied that the employee was entitled to resign at any time and it often happened that the employees would terminate the contract of the accused as it was seen as the easy way out. However, this was not what was recommended by the SIU as it was still entitled to continue with the disciplinary proceedings even in the absence of the affected party. The best route to follow in the event of resignation was to complete the disciplinary hearing before his/her last day at the office.
The Chairperson asked what the procedure for doing the referrals was, and whether it was a document and allowed the person who had been charged to access information on the referrals in order to defend himself/herself. She asked if it was possible for the officials who had been charged to approach the SIU as she had been asked this question by a number of officials who had been charged. Was the accounting officer a witness on the pending cases?
Adv Visagie responded that in the past no one was allowed to access the case docket and not even the attorneys involved but this had changed in many ways as any accused in a criminal matter was entitled to the full content of the police docket. This was to see if the witnesses were contradicting what had been said before. The disciplinary hearings were more informal than the court hearings but still had to comply with the requirements of administrative justice and this implied that the accused was not there to be ambushed and still evidence-based. The SIU prepared a file with a covering letter and then attached all the necessary evidence that would be sent to the Department and the affected party was entitled to that information in order to prepare properly for the hearing. However, in some cases the affected parties would go overboard and ask the SIU to provide a full report of the investigated cases which went much further than what was required for a disciplinary hearing. He was not aware whether an accounting officer was being used as a witness and requested to provide such information in writing.
Ms Shinn wanted to thank Adv Visagie for providing information on the investigations that had been conducted in respect of all entities. The previous presentations by the SIU had been a waste of time as it gave no information more than what was in the Presidential Proclamation. The Members at least today had more information regarding the progress that had been made in most cases. She wanted to know the progress that been made on the investigations on South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC).
The Chairperson interjected and stated that Ms Shinn had overstepped, as the issue of SABC was the responsibility of the Portfolio Committee on Communications.
Mr Mackenzie appreciated that the SIU was able to carry on with investigation to finality despite the resignation of the affected party as it was clear in previous cases that a person would resign from one entity and re-emerge in another without facing any disciplinary charges.
The Chairperson indicated that the SIU would provide the Committee with the timeframes for the conclusion of the pending cases. There was still a need to consult with the project teams as it was based on how long they would be investigating.
The Minister stated that he had noted the progress report and he jokingly said that he hoped Ms Shinn would now not be asking him questions regarding the pending cases of financial misconducts in the Department and its entities.
The Chairperson also thanked the SIU for its presentation as it was enlightening.
Opening remarks by the Minister
Dr Siyabonga Cwele, Minister, DTPS, mentioned that his responsibility would be to briefly touch on the matter of integrating the three skills development related entities into one entity. The matter had been referred to the Committee because in terms of National Treasury (NT) regulations, the matter must be brought before the Committee before it was submitted to the Cabinet. The Department would be able to bring the necessary legislative reforms later on.
The Ikamva National eSkills Institute (iNeSI) was launched in February 2014 but then the new Department discovered that there was difficulty in institutionalising the new entity. The institution worked very hard to develop the Business Case as this was one of the requirements of the Treasury and DPSA. It was good to observe that both Departments had commented and agreed on the formation of the new entity. The Department was forming this new entity in order to respond to the NDP which called for an information society and there was a need to build specialised mechanisms to build this envisaged society as it would not happen on its own or happen through the general education.
Briefing by National Electronic Media and Institute of South Africa (NEMISA)
Dr Ndivhoniswani Tshidzumba, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), NEMISA, stated that the previous DoC embarked on a process in 2012 to integrate its three skills development related entities: NEMISA, e-Skills Institute (e-SI) and the Institute for Space and Software Applications (ISSA). This was to ensure more effective use of existing resources across government, business, education and civil society to impact against the National Development Plan (NDP), Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF), SA Connect, the White Paper and so forth. The plan went into greater detail on the background and context for the further operationalisation of the national e-skills entity. In addition, it outlined the role and purpose of the entity, its key programmatic areas, corporate form, legislative regime, organisational structure, human resources, risk analysis and mitigation, operational and service delivery indicators, financial plan, corporate governance principles and implementation plan and interim arrangements. The Department wanted to ensure that Ikamva National eSkills Institute (iNeSI) became a national catalytic collaborator and facilitator and change agent for developing e-skills capacity in the country.
Ms Rosy Sekese, Director-General (DG), DTPS, stated that the Department was advancing iNeSI into a fully-fledged public entity with its own enabling legislation and without delaying its present functioning. The Treasury and DPSA had both proposed the Department follow all the necessary steps for the establishment of a new entity and these included the amendment of the entity’s establishment document in terms of the Companies Act and requests to the Minister of Finance to amend NEMISA to iNESI and list it in Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). There would also be a request to the Minister of DPSA to make a determination in terms of Public Service Act (PSA) to transfer functions and staff from DTPS to iNESI. The Department was still experiencing a challenge to jointly strengthen the role and capacity (human resources, business processes, and financial resources) of the institution and there had been an establishment of a Joint Task Team to manage the creation of iNeSI. It was important to highlight that the 2015/16 activities that had been undertaken by NEMISA would continue to be aligned to the business case and iNeSI would only be operational in 2016/17 financial year. The proposed actions of the new entity would be to position e-Skills as the grand challenge, support the approval of the Business Case and the development of the enabling legislation. There would also be a concerted effort to promote the model and work of the institute and participate in the finalisation of the aggregation framework for national impact against Outcome 5, SA Connect and the NDP.
Dr Tshidzumba said that the institute intended to impact approximately 10 million South Africans and it was expected that this would be achieved over a period of five years. This would be done by assisting post-graduate students, senior decision makers, e-skills researchers and various other people who would be in desperate need of capacitation in e-skills. There was a projected budget to be allocated to iNeSI within the three years of operation and R 140,507,700 would be allocated for key Human Capacity Development Programmes/ Projects in year 1 and increased to R158, 048,397 in the next three years. There would be R103, 000,000 to be allocated for Infrastructure Restructuring Development Programme in year 1 and this would stay the same in the next three years. The operating budget would be R72, 617,023 and expected to increase to R75, 617,023 in the next three years. The total allocated budget would be R316, 124,723 and expected to increase to R336, 665,420 in the next three years.
Mr E Siwela (ANC) firstly observed that the provinces that did not have CoLabs were not benefiting from the programmes to promote e-skills in the country and wanted to know whether there was a time-frame to spread these programmes to other provinces.
Mr Mackenzie commented that the best place to start any e-literacy programme was in a school and the earlier the better and the uptake for electronic devices amongst young people was much greater than when you were older. It would be better to setup CoLabs or e-literacy programmes in all schools as this was where the emphasis needed to be. It was commendable that there seemed to be great cooperation with various tertiary institutions as there was a mention of the University of Pretoria (UP) and University of South Africa (UNISA). However, he wanted to know if there was any strategy in place to ensure that the programmes were spread to other universities like the University of Forth Hare (UFH) with the budget that had been allocated. How would previously disadvantaged individuals be included in different programmes of adult literacy, so as ensure that they have the opportunity to access education and e-literacy? There was also a mention of putting modules and certificates on the websites, and he wondered whether there were other ways in which illiterate people could access these modules and certificates. He expressed a concern that the operating budget was R72 million and suggested that perhaps the entity needed to trim this allocated budget so as to dedicate more resources to development programmes.
Ms Shinn stated that establishment of the new entity scared her as the focus should be on cutting the public service and not growing it. It looked like NEMISA and its predecessors had been around since Apartheid, when government money was used to finance propaganda projects for the National Party (NP) and it had evolved from that. She doubted the need for the establishment of this new entity as it failed to deal with the two reasons why a number of South Africans were illiterate – the shocking state of basic education and the lack of infrastructure in the country. The training of teachers should be the main target and making sure that the infrastructure was up and running and it was impossible to create an “information society” without these two basics. It was better to have a model where there was a coordinated council of sector people and government education so as to shape the kind of skills training that was out there and incentivising Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and people who were specialists in education to actually rollout the training across the country.
She remarked that there was no need to establish a structure that had a full-time board as the organogram was quite onerous and creating further government bureaucracy. Who would be funding the entity besides the government? Was there a possibility of inviting the private sector to fund the entity? Who would be paying for the courses to be made available? What happened to the 6 000 trainees that were enrolled in the programme in the 2013/14 financial year? She expressed concern that the establishment of the new entity would just be a mechanism through which taxpayers poured their money for the enrichment of public servants.
Ms Tsotetsi asked about the timeframe for the finalisation of the concurrent steps in the establishment of this new entity. She wanted to know about the role that would be played by iNeSI in ensuring that the 10 million South Africans to be trained in the next five years would be integrated into the labour market. The organogram of the entity failed to reflect on whether there had been transformation as it only stated the positions that were being held by individuals and it would be important for the Committee to get the full organogram of the entity to ensure that it was gender balanced.
Ms Maseko asked if there was a relationship or Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the private sector to ensure that the trainees could be absorbed in the labour market especially around the areas of optic fibre. When would the CoLabs be established in Mpumalanga and Free State? What methods that would be used to activate and create awareness at the entity’s services especially in rural areas? She wanted to know if there was a particular reason that the entity moved from the allocated budget of R40.6 million in the previous financial year to R336 million within a period of less than a year.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC) indicated that it was confusing that the Department had already presented the 2015/16 Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan (APP) of iNeSI but it was mentioned in the presentation that the entity would only be operational in the 2016/17 financial year. What would be the proposed number of people to be enrolled in various programmes for each financial year, given the fact that the entity wanted to impact about 10 million South Africans? She wanted to know whether there was any plan in place to utilise community halls for the training of people on e-skills.
The Chairperson highlighted that the sentiment that had been echoed by the Members and the Department was that there was a need for e-skilling in the country and maybe there was a need to consider the type of the target market that was being targeted. Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) had released statistic that showed that the majority of young people who had left school were already unskilled, unemployable and unemployed and this was clearly a ticking time bomb for the country. This new institution would have this responsibility to ensure that young people were adequately capacitated and skilled enough to be able to be employable and prepared to enter the labour market. The entity was not just focused on offering computer literacy but to ensure that there was a proper strategy to achieve the desired outcomes.
She made an example of a trip she took to Russia where young children from primary and high school were exposed to technology and there was a focus on the development of technical colleges. South Africa needed to emulate this model in order to address the problem of youth unemployment. The Committee needed to support this initiative and then come up with suggestions on how this initiative could be rolled out in order to address the problems facing the country. It was perhaps premature to have the structure and the budget allocation of the entity as yet as there were still a number of issues that needed to be solved and these included the legislative mandate. The Department should ensure that the new entity did not have a bloated structure as the priority should be to have a structure that was enough to go on with the operation. The issue of languages was still an on-going challenge in the country especially when targeting the illiterate part of the society. There was a need to incorporate the lessons that had been learned in the Further Education Training (FET) colleges in order to ensure that the same mistakes were not being repeated.
Mr Mackenzie commented that not many people were aware that the South Africans were pioneers in numerous technological inventions and these included the invention of a rocket field for NASA, performance of the first heart transplant and invention of the secured transaction methods for online credit card transactions. This pointed to the fact that there were many innovators and young South Africans who were creative and bright and the focus should be to identify, nurture and create more of these young people. He suggested that the budget of the new entity should rather focus on sponsoring tertiary institutions so as to develop programmes that would encourage innovation and creativity.
Ms Shinn opined that in post-Apartheid South Africa there was a real understating amongst educationists, scientists and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) about the critical state of education and how the country needed to leapfrog the people who had been disadvantaged by the past. There were many innovative education projects out there including skilling projects and computer-based literacy that had been developed by the NGOs and small businesses. However, these projects had been slowly dying on the vine because of a lack of funding and support from government. She suggested that instead of establishing a new entity, the Department needed to go at grassroots level in the rural areas and townships and fund the NGOs and establish this coordinated council that actually funded and incentivised people to take those courses on the basic level.
Ms Kilian wanted to know whether there was a country that was in a similar position which the Department could take some lessons from, especially where they also had a large rural population with no skills and the overconcentration of communication networks and access to opportunities in urban cities. She supported the aim to ensure that the Department played a leading role in driving the e-skilling of the nation in order to address the problem of youth unemployment and adult illiteracy. Although she also expressed a concern about the budget allocation and the structure of the new entity as it showed that there was a possibility of reinventing the wheel instead of tapping other existing institutions so as to find an affordable opportunity to achieve what was intended.
Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize, Deputy Minister, DTPS, responded that it was important for the Members to be aware of the context for the establishment of the new entity, as the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, presented a policy on post-school education in South Africa and spoke about the group that needed to be up-skilled, which was neither in employment or education. The Department also observed the percentage of youth unemployment in the country and realised that ICT as a sector could make a huge difference as the World Bank study has shown the focus on ICT could be revolutionary for a country like South Africa. The country needed this kind of intervention as even countries like Germany were able to create opportunities for government, private and institutions of education to provide skills for young people as a preparation for the workplace or further education training.
The Deputy Minister assured the Members that there would be a close link between the new institutions to be established and the private sector to ensure that the curriculum to be provided would be approved by the specific accredited institutions. She agreed that the Department needed to look seriously at the issue of infrastructure and this initiative should be seen in the context of the rollout of broadband and the focus again was on those who were neither at school nor employed. In relation to the question of how people would know about these institutions to be established, there was no foreseen fragmented approach to broadband rollout as it was closely linked to packages at community levels as broadband rollout comes with uptakes, intakes and e-government services.
The Minister appreciated the general consensus on the need for the institution that would be dedicated on e-skilling although there might be reservations from some Members and it was true that the nitty-gritty of the entity should follow after the establishment of a legislative framework. However, it was important to highlight that the Department had to provide some initial thinking whenever presenting information to government and it was quite clear that the programme would need a lot of funding and the Department would need to find other innovative funding models to increase from the current funding. The NDP made it very clear that the country needed to produce a society with wide skills, especially the ICT skills and this put that responsibility squarely on government. The private sector had been doing a lot of training of young people in the ICT although the NGOs had been playing their role on a limited extent. The Department recently had an ICT forum and all the entities were highlighting the fact that government needed to take the lead in producing a society with wide skills of knowledge. The education system was critically important to start introducing these programmes but to deal with this threat of digital divide, it was critical that the Department must take extra measures on top of what basic and tertiary education had been doing. The digital divide was likely to affect those who were already marginalised, mainly the unskilled, unemployable and unemployed who had left school already and the adults without any skills.
The Minister agreed that the issue of language was of essence especially when targeting the illiterate and the country had not really dealt with this issue and tertiary institutions like University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZ) were really taking the issue of language very seriously, especially the integration of indigenous languages in the learning environment. South African was unique in a way that there was no other country where the system of discrimination particularly in terms of knowledge acquisition was so institutionalised. Some developing countries were also facing similar challenges but not to the scale of South Africa and this large group of illiterate generation had been inherited from the past and the Department needed to play its role in correcting that. The bulk of the people who were supposed to benefit from these programmes do not have any high skills and often grappling with an official language like English. Everyone should be concerned if English was going to be used as a medium of teaching in these various programmes as this would be a creation of another barrier. As Members correctly pointed out, it would indeed create a huger barrier to those without internet if modules and certificates would be offered on the websites or online.
In conclusion, there was a need to look at the impact that would be made by the Department as guided by the NDP on what to be created and the targets had to be realised in a short space of time and it would be helpful if each family could assist people with basic ICT skills as this would go a long way. The level of unemployment amongst young people who were outside the school system was shockingly high and it was correct that it was as high as 70-80% in some areas and the introduction of these kind of programmes would integrate them back to the labour market. The Department had noted all the concerns that had been raised by Members and there was a need to be prudent about the resources as the intention was not to create bureaucratic structures but appropriate structures which enabled the Department to execute the task at hand efficiently and effectively. The Department and the institution still needed to fill the organogram and could perhaps meet with the Committee so as to take into account the issues of transformation and gender balance.
Dr Tshidzumba responded that the aim of the programmes was to start at primary schools and Kagiso Active wanted R14 million for their programme of e-skills to be deployed and the entity wanted to ensure that these programmes were deployed at all community centres. The iNeSI wanted to design a framework that would belong to the entity in terms of the content of computer literacy that could be deployed on the website and made available for free to everyone around the country. The target included the primary schools so that there would be a content that would have been deployed already when ministers or government officials offer computer labs to various schools. The entity was meeting with the officials from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and they also seemed interested on this kind of model of deploying this programme. All the short certificates that would be designed from CoLabs would also be made available online so that they could be accessible everywhere whether from the library, community centres and internet cafes. The Kagiso Active programme was also available in IsiZulu and Sotho and this was an interactive design programme.
He responded that the entity was in discussion with the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) to establish a Chair that would be teaching teachers in the Faculty of Education so as to use the ICT on influencing learners in classrooms. The focus at the moment was on teaching maths and science using ICT and the establishment of a framework could ensure that this was duplicated in other subjects as well. There was work that was being done already to those provinces that did not have CoLabs, for example, the MITC Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) has already offered a learnership programme in Mpumalanga to train 30 young people. The Premier in Mpumalanga had assigned the DG of DTPS to be in charge of ICT in the province and this was another supporting that was required by the entity in terms of funding for the operation of these programmes. The Free State was the only province where there was no direct up and running programme.
Dr Tshidzumba responded that the introduction of interactive programme would be particularly helpful in adult literacy as this programme would be available in various indigenous languages. Once these short courses were deployed online then it meant they would also be available in an App on any smartphone and this programme would be deployed for free but the entity would require the assistance of the premiers. The focus at the moment was on a few universities but the plan in the future was to expand the programme to all the universities in the country and ensure that there was a representation in each province through a university. The deployment of the programme online meant the programme could be accessible to learners from primary school and even the senior personnel. The University of the Western Cape (UWC) was part of the deliverables to design the train the trainer module and this could assist each and every community centre to have the youth who would be training adults. The problem at the moment was trying to design content for the community centres. There was an opportunity for everyone in the country, in terms of accessing the digital and the aim was to deploy the short online courses for free.
All those that had been enrolled in a learnership programme had been absorbed in the radio learnership programme in KZN, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Gauteng and most of those were young people. Some of those who were in the Television (TV) learnership programme in Gauteng and Eastern Cape had been absorbed in the community TVs. The people to be enrolled in the various learnership programmes were already connected to an institution and that institution identified these youth to be enrolled and assist them in starting their own businesses.
Ms Moira Malakalaka, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), NEMISA, responded that the Business Case was just the wishes that the institution wished to have in the rollout of e-literacy programme. The e-literacy programme started with the Business Case and the entity was directed by the NDP which spoke about having an e-literacy society by 2030. The iNeSI was cognisant of the fact that it was impossible to teach computers in theory and it was critically important to have the tools and infrastructure in place. There was a provision of infrastructure for the community centres in around the country and for the people to be able to access the courses online. She agreed that there was a need to reduce the bureaucratic structure in order to ensure that the service was able to be delivered effectively and efficiently.
The Chairperson thanked everyone who presented in the Committee and expressed concern that there were some issues that still needed to be discussed around the programme of the Committee as the issue of digital migration was not reflected on the third term programme. She had written a letter to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Communication in order to have a joint meeting on Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) but there had not been any feedback as yet. The Committee needed to get into the issue of broadband rollout as this was important and there had not been any briefing on how this project would be rolled out.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Special Investigating Unit (SIU) update on its investigations; Department on merger of three institutes (NEMISA, eSI and ISSA), with Minister & Deputy present 2
- Special Investigating Unit (SIU) update on its investigations; Department on merger of three institutes (NEMISA, eSI and ISSA), with Minister & Deputy present 1
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