Documents awaited: Pan South African Languages Board (PanSALB) 2014/15 Annual report presentation; Presentation to the PPC (Arts and Culture) [email firstname.lastname@example.org]
The Chairperson opened the session by introducing the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) and giving some background on the current situation of the entity. The Department of Arts and Culture then provided an overview of the organisation. The performance, challenges and issues of PanSALB were highlighted and briefly discussed. Key discussion points included the poor management of the organisation and the role of the DAC in aiding PanSALB.
PanSALB presented the main issues and challenges within the organization and outlined the steps management intended to take in order to turn the organisation around. Discussion focused on the problems with the staff within PanSALB, the litigation measures being faced and the costs involved.
As time was an issue, the Committee Members were not able to discuss everything they wanted to. The alarm to signal the Committee Members to head to a National Assembly meeting began to go off when the Members were still asking questions and making comments. As a result of this, the South African Roadies Association (SARA) settlement issue and the minutes of 27 October were not discussed.
The Chairperson opened the meeting by giving some background as to the urgency of the meeting with the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB). Previously the Committee had advised PanSALB to form a task team to help get the entity back on its feet. It had also advised the Board not just to be neutral, but to be seen to be neutral. The Committee had not received an Annual Performance Plan (APP) from PanSALB. The entity had forgotten its mandate and become consumed with in-fighting and legal issues. The Chairperson then apologized for the unavailability of hard copies of the presentation and of the lack of refreshments, as a result of the Parliamentary staff being on strike. She also made a note of the absence of the Chairperson of PanSALB, who was in the United Kingdom.
Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) overview of PanSALB
Ms Monica Newton, Deputy Director General: DAC, began by apologizing for the absence of the Director General, who had a previous engagement. In 2014/15, PanSALB had achieved 28% of its goals, with an audit outcome of ‘Disclaimer’. The current Board had been elected in 2014-15 year as well. In the course of the year there had been three staff meetings, four management meetings, two audit committee meetings, one council committee meeting and four council meetings, which had been attended well, with 90% attendance. The low number of meetings showed that there was little active management and engagement within PanSALB. A major challenge the DAC experienced with PanSALB was that they did not receive any quarterly reports from the entity and there existed no annual performance plan (APP) or strategic plan. PanSALB’s major challenge was the litigation issues involving the improper dismissal of 48 employees. Eight of these 48 employees had been awarded 10 months’ salary each and the DAC had to find a way to assist PanSALB with this payment. This award amounted to over R3 million, which was an expense not in Pits budget. The DAC had instigated a forensic investigation to try and uncover some of the issues within the organisation.
Members’ questions revolved around what the DAC was doing to aid PanSALB with its financial and litigation issues. The Chairperson and other Members expressed their disapproval of the gross mismanagement of the organisation to the point where PanSALB had completely neglected its mandate.
Prof Wannie Carstens, Deputy Chairperson: PanSALB, began by giving some background to PanSALB. When the new Board had been elected, they had not realised the extent of the problems within the organisation. There was not enough money, a huge deficit, too much staff and no focus on its mandate. It had been difficult to try to ascertain what the problems were, as people were unwilling to talk. A new CEO had been appointed but then she had gone on maternity leave. A request had been sent to the DAC for a replacement but there had been no response. The Board had then taken a decision to reduce the staff of PanSALB, as the staff structure was eating up the entire budget. The Board was also unaware that there was no APP or strategic plan before they came on board. They eventually began the process of hiring the current CEO, Dr Mpho Monareng, who upon beginning the job had requested time to investigate the organisation before committing himself to an action plan and finalising his performance contract.
PanSALB had a very important mandate which had been lost by the mismanagement of people.
Dr Monareng told the Committee that when he took office, he had asked his predecessor for performance reports and plans but had been told that there were not any. He had requested that structures send reports on their performance, but had received only financial reports. A one-on-one session with staff had been held to ascertain the problems within the organisation. It had been found that staff were demoralised, angry, distrustful and hopeless. There was a need for an improvement in their professional conduct and for staff to have performance targets and set targets in place. Staff kept their own office hours and had lost what skills they may once have had through a lack of practice and activity. PanSALB had been in need of a well-constructed five year APP and strategy plan, as well as a better trained Board. All labour disputes had to be concluded and a Chief Financial Officer and a Language Executive needed to be appointed.
Dr Monareng proposed to restructure the organisation, with language at the core of all processes within PanSALB. The Board had attended a corporate governance workshop in order to better understand what their role as the Board was. PanSALB had many financial obligations, with a lot of people emerging and saying that PanSALB owed them money for services. This was on top of the money owed to former employees who had been improperly terminated, and placed PanSALB in a very tense financial situation.
Mr G Grootbloom (DA) asked the DAC what they were doing about PanSALB’s dereliction of duty with regard to the submitting of quarterly reports.
Ms Newton responded that the first draft had been due in August, but they had not received it. The second draft was due in late November, so PanSALB still had an opportunity to meet this deadline. She suggested that PanSALB would be better suited to respond to these issues, and said that the DAC was available to assist with the development of a Strategic Plan if they were needed.
Mr Grootbloom asked the DAC if any performance agreements had been signed with the management of PanSALB.
Ms Newton responded that it would be more appropriate for PanSALB to address this question.
Mr Grootbloom asked what take DAC had on the possible reinstatement of the eight former employees who had won their court case against PanSALB. What was the position of the other employees who had been dismissed?
Mr J Mahlangu (ANC) commented that the DAC presentation had mentioned only the cost of paying out the eight employees who had won their arbitration case against PanSALB without taking into account what the other employees might do. The other former employees were likely to bring cases as well upon hearing that the eight had won their case.
Ms Newton responded that the DAC was working with PanSALB to determine the cost of settling with all the former employees, using the same formula as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). It was this amount that they would be requesting from Treasury on behalf of PanSALB.
Ms N Bilankulu (ANC) commented that with the low number of audit meetings and management meetings within PanSALB, it was no wonder that the entity had received a disclaimer audit outcome. Without meetings and discussions, an organisation could not get to know their competences and compliance.
Ms Newton agreed that the lack of meetings within the entity was a pertinent issue that had led directly to the audit outcome.
Ms Bilankulu asked the DAC if PanSALB had fulfilled their commitment to start submitting quarterly reports from the second quarter. If they had not, why was this the case?
Ms Newton replied that the report had been delayed and that perhaps PanSALB should say why this had been the case.
Ms Bilankulu asked what the outcome of the forensic accounting investigation instigated by the DAC had been, and whether the DAC intended to act on these findings.
Ms Newton responded that they had received the result of the investigation in September, and that it had significant implications. Discussions between the Minister and PanSALB were ongoing.
Mr T Makondo (ANC) said that as a result of not having submitted quarterly reports and not having an APP which had been approved by the Committee, all the actions that took place within PanSALB were illegal. He asked if the group of former employees who had brought the arbitration case against PanSALB, and the those that had brought the labour court case against the entity were the same group, as the content for both these cases had been the same.
Ms Newton said that offhand she did not know if these two groups were the same, but she could check with the DAC legal services team and get back to the Committee.
The Chairperson re-directed the question to the CEO of PanSALB.
Dr Monareng responded that they were essentially the same group of people, except that some of them had decided to go the way of the labour court and the others the way of CCMA arbitration.
Mr Makondo asked how the DAC would work with PanSALB so that the situation with regard to the former employees did not get worse.
Ms Newton responded that they had asked PanSALB to initiate settlement talks with the other employees who had not yet instigated legal action against the organisation.
The Chairperson said that the Committee passed budgets according to the APPs and strategic plans they received. If they did not receive these plans, then they had no basis upon which to allocate funds, and the funds they did allocate should be used to fulfilling the entity’s mandate, and not on legal issues.
Ms Newton agreed with this statement -- that without an APP, the only outcome that would be possible was that of non-compliance.
Mr Makondo commented that PanSALB has been in this position before with regard to not submitting their quarterly reports. What was different now, to expect that they would submit?
Mr Grootbloom commented that senior management appointments could not be done without corresponding performance agreements. One could not have people who were unable do the things they had been hired to do. He suggested that the situation at PanSALB was such that it should be totally disbanded and then started up again in three or six months’ time.
He commented that there had been some information lacking in the presentation by PanSALB -- had 94 senior managers been appointed within the entity?
Prof Carstens responded that he and the Board also had questions themselves as to how this situation had come about. The structure of the organisation had become so large that it had not been able to perform the mandate of PanSALB. As linguists themselves, the Board members were aware of what work needed to be done, and PanSALB was most definitely over-staffed. It was hoped that a new committed head of language services would be appointed.
Mr Makondo expressed gratitude that Dr Monareng was being honest in his presentation. He attributed the current problems that PanSALB was facing to the Board of the organisation. He recounted an occasion in 2014 when some of the Committee members had visited PanSALB and had had a meeting with staff at various levels within the organisation. After these meetings they had reported their findings to the Board, but instead of dealing with these issues there had been internal conflict and in-fighting. This made him question if the CEO would receive the support he needed from the Board to transform the organisation.
Prof Carstens responded that he and the other Board members had done their best with the knowledge and skills that they possessed, and that if the Committee wished to appoint a new Board he had no problem with that. He also expressed the Board’s support for the CEO.
Mr Makondo said that the Committee had advised the Board of PanSALB not to discontinue the contracts of the 49 employees, and that such action was illegal. He expressed the opinion that the Board should be responsible for the payment of the award owed to the former employees, and not the DAC or PanSALB.
Prof Carstens said that when the Board had taken office, they had had no CEO and so had been forced to move into the unfamiliar arena of management, which had resulted in some bad decisions being made. They had now returned to the role they were initially supposed to occupy. The Board was trying to arrange a meeting with the DAC in order to work together, and the CEO had the full support of the Board.
Ms A Matshobeni (EFF) told Dr Monareng that the Committee had been aware of the issues within PanSALB that he had brought out in his presentation. She advised that all departments within PanSALB should compose a resolution which the DAC should take seriously, and also be a part of.
Mr Mahlangu said that the Committee had informed the Board during their visit in 2014 of the same issues that were being brought up by Dr Monareng. At the time, the Committee had advised the Board not to be consumed by the situation, a warning which had not been heeded. Entities which acted on the advice of the Committee did better than those that did not.
Mr Mahlangu commented that the judge had ruled that the dismissal of the former employees had been illegal, and this was why the lawyers representing the employees were not asking for their jobs back. This showed that simply throwing money at the situation was not helping. The CEO and PanSALB could not depend on their internal legal service, as that was how they had got into the situation they were currently in.
Dr Monareng said that PanSALB had been making use of an outside legal firm on issues which could cause problems for PanSALB, as well as in dealing with the cases regarding the former employees.
Ms Bilankulu asked Dr Monareng what promises he could make to the Committee after his experience of meeting one-on-one with staff, and if he had the assurance and commitment from the Board to support him in turning PanSALB around.
Dr Monareng expressed gratitude that he and the Board were on common ground with regard to the situation within PanSALB, and that it was his earnest intention to work on the mandate of the entity. While he appealed for support from the Committee, he understood that the responsibility to achieve the mandate of PanSALB lay with PanSALB. He expressed his desire to create harmony between PanSALB and the other language structures so that they felt part of one language institution.
The plan going forward was to find a way to finance the payments which had been awarded to the former employees. He wished PanSALB could be responsible for itself and not have to ask for money from outside.
Ms Newton stated that the DAC was looking within their organisation to see if they could find measures to support PanSALB. They were in the process of requesting funds from Treasury, which would take at least one month. This meant that they were unable to give a precise deadline as to when the funds would be available.
The Chairperson commented that it was important that all parties recognised the importance of the mandate of PanSALB, and that they had to work together immediately to turn the organisation around.
She added that reinstatement of the fired employees had not been part of the award by the judge, but that the lawyers were now asking for it.
Dr Monareng said that this was a difficult situation that they would have to consider. If these people were reinstated, PanSALB would have double the staff it currently had, and it could not afford that. Perhaps it would be possible to negotiate that if a pay-out was given, there should be no expectation of reinstatement. Perhaps PanSALB could assess the skill level of the fired employees to see who could still be an asset to the entity, but most of the fired employees offered no value to the organisation.
The Chairperson recommended that PanSALB begin the process of evaluating the fired employees so that it would be prepared for any eventuality, and to engage the lawyers of the fired employees so that they felt they were being taken seriously.
Prof Carstens gave his assurance that PanSALB and the Board would be taking the advice given by the Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.
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