Government Communication and Information System on its 2014/2015 Annual Report

NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication

28 October 2015
Chairperson: Ms E Prins (ANC, Western Cape)
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Meeting Summary

Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) briefed the Committee on its 2014/15 Annual Report. The GCIS aimed to provide communication support to Government’s cross-cutting communications campaigns, including national days, in a number of ways, which included ensuring a coordinated and comprehensive approach to the State of the Nation Address, the 20 years of freedom initiatives, the Presidential Local Government Summit and other events. Communication products were intended to grow and enhance “the voice of government” and these included the SA Year Book, the government Vuk’uzenzele that was produced in all official languages and around 5 000 Braille copies. Distribution figures were given and the Annual Report also noted the figures for outreach campaigns. In the last year there had been 2 238 development communication projects reaching more than 53 million people, 2 506 community and stakeholder liaison visits, 326 public participation events where political principals interacted with the communities and 746 marketing events to increase the visibility of the Thusong Service Centres.

The achievements of the individual programmes were summarised. Under Programme 2, GCIS produced research cluster reports to guide planning and inform communication strategies of government communication clusters. It also produced 93 Research Advisory reports for various national departments and Premiers’ Offices. Two Apps were launched, for Vuk’uzenzele and the SA Government website, and a GCIS Golf Day in support of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children raised R210 000 that was distributed to two beneficiaries. Programme 3 disseminated 235 content toolkits  on government’s implementation of its mandate and the Plan of Action to key stakeholders. GCIS hosted 435 local community radio activations, reaching over 47 million listeners. District and provincial offices distributed 869 861 government information products through 1 019 distribution networks. The GCIS also coordinated weekly media briefings for the Inter-Ministerial Committee to influence and set the media agenda. It had developed 54 communication strategies aligned to the National Communications Strategy.

GCIS had also practised sound financial management, and achieved an unqualified audit with no emphasis of matter. It had maintained its vacancy rate at below the accepted levels, at 8.5%, and was fully compliance with legislation. It had developed staff and was attempting to retain its skilled human capital. All reports and financial statements were submitted on time to National Treasury, the Auditor-General and Parliament.

Members were appreciative of the unqualified audit, and the apparently sound processes. They asked how many departments had reacted to or were acting upon the advisory research reports. Members asked about security clearances and vetting. They wanted to know how the money raised in the Golf Day had been used. They requested clarity on what GCIS was doing to ensure transformation of the media. They asked if performance agreements were in place with employees, and how the vetting was affecting the filling of posts, asked for clarity on the moratorium and wanted to hear more about employment of people with disabilities. They asked if the media was selling the philosophy of ubuntu and inculcating best possible values, and spoke about the role of Brand SA, which they believed should be focusing on internal matters.

Members asked about sponsorship and cautioned that GCIS should not become too reliant on sponsorship. They asked whether communication with communities was ongoing even outside imbizos, which were not widely supported by the opposition parties and noted that accurate reporting on government service delivery was important. More information was sought on the Vuk'uzenzele newspaper, its content and charges, and asked whether the coordinating forums were found in every province.  Members asked for detail on the irregular expenditure of R506 000, and wanted more detail on content research. In answering the questions, GCIS gave expanded information on the new government apps.

 

Meeting report

Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) 2014/15 Annual Report briefing

Mr Donald Liphoko, Acting Director-General: Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) outlined the content of the presentation which would cover the performance, audit results and financial statements of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) for the 2014/15 financial year.

Mr Liphoko outlined that the overriding aim of the GCIS was to provide communication support to Government’s cross-cutting communications campaigns, including national days, in various ways that included:
- a comprehensive, coordinated approach to the 2015 State of the Nation Address (SONA)
- implementing a communications strategy for the country’s 20 years of freedom Tell Your Story initiative
- coordinating the Presidential Local Government Summit which adopted the Back to Basics strategy
- Operation Phakisa and launch of the African Charter
- communications around the repatriation of the mortal remains of South Africans who died in the building collapse in Nigeria.

He described some of the communication products produced to grow the voice of Government. He noted that 45 000 copies of the 2013/14 SA Year Book; 11 editions (18.7 million copies) of the government newspaper, Vuk’uzenzele, were produced in all official languages and 4 950 Braille copies were distributed. 11 editions (151 991 copies) of Public Sector Manager magazines were produced. 48 copies of the weekly electronic newsletter My District Today, which provides updates on government's delivery on its Programme of Action (PoA), were published. 2014 Media Landscape, which monitors media transformation was launched.

Outreach campaigns included: 2 238 development communication projects reaching more than 53 million people, 2 506 community and stakeholder liaison visits conducted, 326 public participation events where political principals interacted with the community, 746 marketing events to increase the visibility of the Thusong Service Centres. Cost effective media bulk-buying for government had included 272 media bulk-buying campaigns, with a total committed amount of R273 253 041.98, saving the various departments a total of R24 636 398.98.

Mr Liphoko gave an overview of the achievements under Programme 2. There had been research cluster reports produced, to guide planning and inform communication strategies of government communication clusters. The GCIS had managed the production of 93 Research Advisory reports for various national departments and Premiers_ Offices. Content convergence delivered government information to more people on more platforms. The South African Government News Agency (SA news) Twitter following grew tremendously, and the followers grew from 19 000 in April 2014 to more than 45 000 by March 2015. SA news wrote at least 20 opinion pieces, which were published in the mainstream media. A new-look South African Government website (www.gov.za) was launched, combining the previous SA Government Online and Government Services websites. Two Apps were launched for Vukuzenzele and the SA Government website respectively, allowing quick access to selected information from the websites. GCIS Golf Day raised R210 000 in support of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children.

Mr Liphoko then gave the overview of achievements in Programme 3, 235 content toolkits (key messages, communication strategies; fact sheets, summaries or media statements) in relation to government’s implementation of its mandate and the Plan of Action (PoA) were disseminated to key stakeholders. GCIS hosted 435 local community radio activations, reaching over 47 million listeners. The district and provincial offices distributed a total of 869 861 government information products through 1 019 distribution networks. Around 87 communication coordination forums were in place countrywide and met monthly or quarterly. Annual communication programmes for clusters were developed and implemented, in collaboration with the departments. The GCIS coordinated weekly media briefings for the Inter-Ministerial Committee to influence and set the media agenda. It had developed 54 communication strategies aligned to the National Communications Strategy (NCS) and the GCP.

Mr Liphoko noted that Programme 4 had practised sound financial management processes and procedures, leading to an unqualified audit without any matters of emphasis. The GCIS had managed to maintain the vacancy rate at 8.5%. It had managed to achieve compliance with relevant legislations, and human resource, strategic management, finance and supply chain management prescripts. GCIS had developed staff through extensive training and coaching programmes to retain skilled human capital. Human resources and financial constraints put staff under pressure, but the organisation still achieved its goals. Information systems and hardware were available more than 95% of the year, enabling the department of function efficiently.

Mr Liphoko summarised that amongst the the key achievements of Programme 1 was the fact that GCIS had submitted four interim and audited annual financial statements were submitted to National Treasury and Auditor-General South Africa (AGSA) within the legislated deadlines. It had produced four progress reports on assurance audits. Four reports on the implementation of the EE Plan were compiled, and it had approved and implemented the Work Skills Plan and Gender Mainstreaming Plan. Four progress reports on the implementation of the risk mitigation plans were produced and approved by the management committee. Four quarterly progress reports on the implementation of the GCIS portfolio of projects were produced and approved by ManCo. The 2015/20 Strategic Plan and 2015/18 Annual Performance Plan were tabled in Parliament on 11 March 2015. The 2013/14 Annual Report was tabled on 30 September 2014. GCIS had also submitted four approved quarterly performance reports to relevant authorities according to prescribed legislation.

Discussion

Mr J Parkies (Free State, ANC) welcomed the detailed report from the GSIC, which triggered many questions but doubted that the Committee would have sufficient time to interrogate it thoroughly.

Mr Parkies asked how many departments reacted to the 93 Advisory Reports and had used the relevant reports effectively. In relation to the reports based on the research, he asked whether anything had been produced on the content of the SABC. .He also wanted to know if any members of the institution had been vetted.

Mr Parkies asked about the GCIS Golf Day, and how the amounts gained in that event were to be used to benefit communities. He noted the uncertainty around securing funding for the project, and asked, if that was not forthcoming, how this would impact in terms of the GCIS's future projects.

Mr Parkies asked for more information on the performance agreements with employees, the filling of the vacant posts, the issue of a moratorium, and the placement and employment of people with disabilities.

Mr O Sefako (North West, ANC) also welcomed the presentation from the GCIS, and said it was critically important that it was dealing with current and historic communication. Mr Liphoko had touched on the issue of transformation and also the detailed research being done to make comparisons. He asked to what extent the media was selling the philosophy of Ubuntu, how it was trying to inculcate the best possible values to the youth who were to be the future men and women of this country, and also for more details on the media's role and possible influence.

Mr Sefako noted that slide 7 of the report mentioned the transformation of the media and transformation internally and externally in terms of customers, but asked if GCIS was happy with the transformation within the institution, with regard to its personnel, the ownership and the control of the media.

Mr Sefako also referred to slide 15 of the report , giving the reason for variation from targets as the failure to secure sponsorship for the forums. He asked who the sponsors of the GCIS were, noting the danger of becoming too dependent on sponsors.

Mr Sefako welcomed the clean audit of the GCIS. He noted the comment of budgetary constraints but asked it then to explain why R400 million was underspent. 

Mr A Singh (Kwa-Zulu Natal, ANC) complimented the GCIS on achieving a clean audit. He noted, in regard to the Imbizos that had been held, that the opposition parties were not supportive of them and claimed that poor people had simply been bussed in with promises of food and transport. It was very important for people to report back to communities and for government to hear communities’ complaints. He asked whether, in between the Imbizos, any information was sent out to the local media and local radio, and how communities communicated their problems to the relevant departments whilst Imbizos were not sitting.

Mr Singh asked if GCIS had achieved its target with regard to the employment of people with disabilities.

Mr Singh asked about the media cooperation and whether the information that the GCIS put out was positively reported, particularly in respect of service delivery. There was a spin on that – that government was not delivering in some areas – and the GCIS needed to take stock of that.         

The Chairperson asked the GCIS to clarify that R425 million was allocated to the GCIS, but R182 million had been spent in the area of goods and services. GCIS was asked to explain whether there were shortages, whether problems were caused by acting positions, or whether there was lack of capacity.

The Chairperson also asked what would be the charges of the Vuk'uzenzele newspaper. The business plan mentioned that this was likely to charge along the same lines as other newspapers charged government, and she wondered if that would be suitable for the general public.

The Chairperson asked for more detail on the material findings of the Auditor-General (AG) around the R506 000 irregular expenditure and whether the GCIS was working to strengthen its internal controls.

The Chairperson also congratulated the Department for its clean audit which was a big milestone for any entity to achieve, after 17 years not achieving a clean audit. She also complimented the GCIS for the work it was doing in informing South Africa and trying to get the message across to ordinary people.

Mr E Mlambo (Gauteng, ANC) also welcomed the presentation from the GCIS. South Africans were aware that a lot of damage had been done by individuals or people that wanted to portray the country or the government as failing. Therefore, it would be more relevant for Brand SA to focus internally because there were other people who were tasked with external missions who also played an advocacy role as ambassadors when they were in other countries. He believed that the role of  Brand SA was to make South Africans  more patriotic and instil a love for their country.

Mr Sefako asked how best the media could play its role in combating the moral erosion that was taking place throughout the country. Reports of brutal murders that took place in the country suggested a lack of humanity.

The Chairperson asked GCIS to clarify whether the coordinating forums were all in nine provinces of the country.

Mr Liphoko responded that the GCIS had prepared the advisory reports and given them to the departments, and communications with them were supposed to be passed on to the political principals. However, he said that GCIS would bring the monitoring and evaluation report back to the Committee.

Mr Liphoko said that the question on security clearance and vetting was an important one and it was linked to the vacancy levels as well. The 8% vacancy was good by government standards and it was below the 10% threshold set by National Treasury. However, one of the challenges that GCIS encountered was that it took an extraordinary long time to fill posts, because it was taking three to four months to get an applicant vetted. This meant that there was a time lag between the time of advertising and the time of filling, due to the wait to get verification from the vetting agency in order to employ the successful candidates.

Mr Liphoko said that there was a HR report in the Annual Report, at pages 68 to79. That had been broken down by programme, to indicate where exactly the vacancies were, and this also contained details about the people with disabilities. The report was a comprehensive description of what was happening in each branch. That did not mean that the GCIS was satisfied yet and recognised that there was more room for improvement.

He further said that the GCIS was making sure that the people it employed had the right skills to be effective in the work place, and it was also investing in capacity through technology. The building had been designed to easily accommodate people with disabilities, which was a particular focus area. GCIS did conceded that it could probably still do more on recruitment in the future.

Mr Liphoko said that in terms of the content research, the SABC was one of the biggest research units, being the biggest procurer of research in South Africa. All of the content that SABC broadcast was researched before going on air, to ensure the content was relevant. On an ongoing basis the GCIS was also monitoring the status to see what South Africans thought about the content so that the products could be improved.

Mr Kaizer Nyakgakgo, Spokesperson, SABC, said that it should be understood that anything the SABC put on air needed to be in compliance with the law, because SABC is a regulated entity. It also had to ensure that the public of South Africa, who were listening to their radio stations and television, were able to give input into what they were doing, which was why their editorial policies were designed in a way so that they interacted with the public of South Africa, and made sure that the views were heard and the needs met. That required the SABC to constantly monitor and it had media monitoring agencies within the news division and within the programming side, to make sure that every time there was engagement it would be picked up.

He also added that the same happened in respect of the station management for all radio stations, particularly when they engaged directly on air with the South African public. Programming was also always under scrutiny. SABC had to do constant research and make sure that the SABC gave the people of South Africa a lot of what they wanted. There were times when SABC might receive threats, and if people did not like the programming, they would not pay their TV licences. The public had to be reminded that failure to pay a TV licence was against the law. At the end of the day monitoring did take place to give feedback about programmes aired and other related issues.

Mr Liphoko said that when regular reports were delivered, it would be possible for the SABC to give a “snapshot” view of what the research had indicated, to inform the discussions and to give the Committee a sense of whether the broadcaster was addressing what people wanted to see and hear.

Mr Liphoko said that in terms of the GCIS Golf Day and use of funds, two beneficiaries were identified, in conjunction with the Department of Social Development. The first was a medical facility in Limpopo and the second was a home for abused children outside Pretoria. There was ongoing interaction with both beneficiaries to check on their needs. At the end of the year, the GCIS would be working with the City of Tshwane as well, through the Tshwaraganang Home for Abused Children, so that the children there were well prepared for school in 2016.

He noted that attaining security of funding for future projects was a very important issue, and one that management was currently grappling with. GCIS recognised that it, like other departments, was operating within a strictly constrained fiscal envelope and National Treasury could not always fund all its requirements. It had therefore started to explore how it might find different ways of funding the projects. The one thing that it was looking at was a restructuring of the actual lists. The restructuring had given the GCIS the opportunity to look at how it could use technology. For instance, interventions like the building of software applications that could get news out to the public more quickly and more effectively was one area to explore. The SA Government App, which is downloadable from the Google Play Store and also from the App Store, was one such product, and this replaced GCIS having to publish a physical product. Although the cost of making information available electronically was quite high, it was of course far more readily available to the public.

Mr Liphoko said that Vuk'uzenzele was another area where GCIS was experimenting with the different models. Initially it had gone to National Treasury with a business case, explaining that it had been asked to increase the print order of that publication. Because of budget constraints it was told it was not possible to get the funding. GCIS then investigated whether it could develop the model and get funding from participating departments. The Department of Energy had just finished the planning for a major South African Renewable Energy conference, and GCIS had encouraged it to advertise this through Vuk'uzenzele. That Department would be making a financial transfer to the GCIS’s coffers, who would then pay for whatever additional copies of Vuk'uzenzele that the Department of Energy needed. This was the first time this publication had come out twice a month. The efforts were bearing fruit. Members would see that the paper now included information on Government tenders, advertising of Government vacancies, as well as Government notices. It was trying to find a hybrid model to take this further. If National Treasury could not come up with funding, it would try to approach other departments to see if they too could assist in funding the publication and other of the GCIS interventions.

Mr Liphoko commented on the performance agreements, saying that he had written warning letters to those who did not sign the agreements, and in fact if that was not done, it was clearly set out in the policies that these individuals could not participate in performance discussions or in the bonus pool. If someone did not perform, then it would affect his or her pocket for they would not get any incremental rewards; and all staff were notified of this in a warning letter.

Mr Liphoko said that the moratorium was an important matter for it was intended to assist the GCIS over the transition period, when it was trying to establish exactly what form and shape it should take. When the Department of Communications came to present to the Committee, it would be able to explain how the whole Department of Communications structure had been populated, and how it was making sure that the vacant posts in the Department as a whole were being adequately resourced to be filled.

Mr Liphoko finally spoke to the question of media transformation and Ubuntu. The whole system was to do with how South Africa projected itself as a nation. Brand SA had a campaign called “Play your Part” which was an internal campaign which talked to South Africa about values.

The meeting was adjourned.

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