Nemisa Annual Performance Plan: briefing

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Meeting Summary

The National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa (NEMISA) briefed the Committee on its Annual Performance Plan, with the main thrust devoted to developments surrounding the integration of NEMISA with the Institute for Satellite and Software Applications (ISSA), the E-Skills Institute and the Ikamva National e-Skills Institute.

At the outset, the entity gave an overview of the challenges it had faced in the past year – the resignations in quick succession of the chief executive officer and chief financial officer, followed by the Chairperson of the NEMISA board. Despite its massive mandate, it was under-funded and under-resourced. There were difficulties in filling vacancies because of uncertainty over the future of the organisation.

Of concern to the Committee was how long it would take to finalise the legislation to enable the new entity to operate. They asked what was being done to fill the vacancies; how African languages were going to be accommodated in e-learning; how to gain access to the Vaal University of Technology portal; why the training and salary budgets were not balanced; how an e-literacy qualification could be obtained; and what the duration of an e-learning course was.

Meeting report

Fourth Term Programme

Ms M Shinn (DA) said that obviously there was very little choice about what could be completed during next term, but she would like to suggest that at the 8 November presentation by the Department on cyber security, that the cyber security hub from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) attend as well. She was not sure whether the Minister's national advisory cyber security council that had been appointed at the end of the previous term was still functioning, but if they were, they should also be there.

The Chairperson said she would definitely make sure that they came as stakeholders. The request from the Deputy Director General (DDG) of the Department had been to assist the Committee. As the Committee had been at the hub when it was launched, it could get the relevant people.

The Fourth Term programme was adopted.

NEMISA on its Annual Performance Plan and Budget

Mr Thami ka-Plaatjie, Acting Chairperson: National Electronic Media Institute of SA
(NEMISA) said that it was a small entity which was, however, tasked with very onerous assignments in terms of the Constitution.

He said he that would like to bring the Committee up to speed as to the state of NEMISA. There had been unfortunate occurrences that had affected the operations of the Board late last year, when the previous CEO of the Board had resigned. He had been in the position for eight months before he resigned, as he had wanted to concentrate on his work at the SABC and further academic pursuits and business ventures in which he had begun to get involved. An amicable solution had been reached. His position had then become vacant. At the same time, the CFO, Moira Malakalaka, had been appointed to head a special unit created by the tax ombudsman and had left her position at NEMISA. Then there had been the resignation of the Board Chairperson, who had started a medical practice with a few partners, but who had to oversee a growing health business in Sandton after the resignation of a few of the partners. Following discussions with the Minister, it had been agreed to allow some of her internal colleagues to apply for these positions because they had been at the organisation for quite some time. In this way, Peter Ramatswa had been appointed as Acting CEO and Rofunwa Ligege had been appointed as the Acting CFO. The Minister had then asked him to take the position of Acting Chairperson of the Board. This was why the current situation was as it was.

He commended the current executive for their hard work within this very short space of time. The audit findings had been unqualified. A lot of effort had been put into the institution to stabilise it and focus it on the task at hand. One of the things that had been done was to bring back the computer laboratories (Co-Labs). There had been a two-day workshop in Johannesburg in August where NEMISA had taken stock of the challenges it had and the work that it did in order to match the vision that they had, together with the Board’s vision.

One of the serious challenges that the Board faced was that of continued integration.  The sooner integration was finalised, the better for the operations of NEMISA to be able to focus on what it was supposed to be doing. He also commended the support received from the Department, but there were some challenges going to be raised in its presence. These were related to funding some of NEMISA’s programmes and providing resources.

The Board had sought to stabilise NEMISA, although its mandate was huge.  It had sought to fill critical vacant positions so that the massive mandate could be focussed on. Some of the targets were ambitious, given the fact that NEMISA wanted to do a lot, but they were also dependent on funding, which was a matter that the Board wanted to raise.

The Chairperson said that she was pleased that the situation with the Board had been clarified, and asked the Deputy Director-General (DDG) of the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Mr Omega Shelembe, how long it would take for the composition of the Board to be resolved.

Mr Ka Plaatjie said that the nomination process had been completed and the results were with the Minister, who would be taking it to the next Cabinet meeting. Everything had been finalised.

Mr Peter Ramatswa, Acting CEO: Board explained the developments on the integration of NEMISA, the Institute for Satellite and Software Applications (ISSA) and the e-Skills Institute (eSI) into the Ikamva National e-Skills Institute (iNeSi). The task team had recommended that iNESI had to be aligned to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) mandate and legislation.   The Situation analysis of the integration was that e-skills were a key component for e-readiness.

The key areas of accomplishment had been:

  • Extensive consultation with Capricon District Health workers;
  • Building an open source Patient Management System (PMS); and
  • The understanding was that this would be the only open-source patient management system on this list.  (See document)

The Chairperson said it was very good to have had a colleague sharing information about the Co-Labs to be clear on what had been happening there. The Committee had done oversight at the Co-Labs in KwaZulu-Natal, and it had enhanced the Committee’s understanding and knowledge of what NEMISA did.

When the Committee had been requested to comment on the merger situation with the Acting Board Chairperson, there had been a business case for Committee’s approval. It now seemed that the CEO was flagging a move from the business case, which had to be noted, as the Committee had given approval for the merger. There was a difference which changed the basis for the interaction with the task team with regard to the curriculum. There was a recommendation that the Committee wanted to see a closer working relationship between the entities avoid duplication.

Mr C Mackenzie (DA) thanked NEMISA for the clarity on the roles and positions in the organisation. The organisation had been abandoned by the then CEO and CFO, which was one of the reasons why the Annual Performance Plan had not been tabled before the Committee. It seemed that they had served out their terms and had then left the organisation almost floundering without any of this work, which should have been done, being completed. He asked when the acting positions would be made permanent

Mr Ka-Plaatjie replied that when the first CEO had been contracted, he was also serving on the Board of the SABC.  One of the conditions in the contract entered into with him was that his undivided attention was required. It had also been agreed that he would relinquish his position as a Board Member of the SABC. This could not be realised, because of the quorum needs at the SABC, but most important was the calling of his academic requirements. He had become more entrenched in academia, had been appointed as a researcher and an external examiner, and it was realised that he did not have enough time to give to NEMISA. An amicable agreement was entered into. It had been hoped that the transition was going to be smooth. He had been asked to give a six-month period of notice to allow for a proper hand over, but because of the challenges that he had, and the demands of the SABC and academia, he felt it prudent to resign with immediate effect.  This was why the organisation had had to make do with the colleagues internally. He had submitted the names of three people found competent for the position of CEO to the Minister, and three names of women to agree with Member Tsotetsi’s input; this was to balance gender and assist in the finalisation of the input. With regard to the Board, the process was in the hands of the Minister.

One of the issues to emphasise was the importance of moving forward with Co-Labs. That was why it had been impressed upon the CEO to invite them to this meeting, so that colleagues could have a sense of the direction of this project.

Mr Mackenzie said that when Johannesburg worked, South Africa worked. The City of Johannesburg had launched an online university. This was a very good initiative -- essentially free e-learning. Did NEMISA have anything to do with that initiative, and was there anything that could be learnt from it?

Mr Ramatswa said that a Co-Lab was not defined by geographic location, but by the need to reach out to as many people as possible. Johannesburg City was being looked at in this respect, and there was an awareness of the initiative because of collaboration with Witwatersrand University. The Board was approaching any possible partner to create an awareness of the importance of such a relationship.   It was also serving on a provincial structure of the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS), so all initiatives undertaken by municipalities, including provincial structures, shared information and expanded on the collaboration. At this stage, nothing had been done but preparation to ensure engagement on all the initiatives

Mr Mackenzie said NEMISA’s budget indicated salaries at around R23 million, and training at around R15.6 million. This seemed an awful lot to be spending on training. He asked for some clarity on that.

Mr Ramatswa replied that there was awareness that the budgets for salaries and training were not balanced. However, it should be made clear that it was not really R12 million for training, and the CFO would provide more information about this. The DDG had indicated that over and above the budget, there was also R6.9 million which was not reflected in the budget. The strategy to prevent high salary bills was to work with small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) so that they could assist in the delivery of training. For example, trainers and facilitators would not be appointed full-time by NEMISA, but as and when they were needed so the salary bill could be reduced. Some facilitators would be directed to the Co-Labs.

Ms Rofilwa Ligege, CFO, replied that some programmes were not necessarily labelled as training, and others were labelled as staff development. They were also spread out under research and development ‘other,’ so the total programme expenditure came to about R40 million.

Mr Mackenzie said that he had noticed that NEMISA’s revenue was 88% government funded. If it was delivering valuable course material and there was a demand for it, was there any way it could increase its revenue that came from outside government -- less dependency on government and more revenue from external sources. This would be very useful as far as the business case went.

Mr Ramatsa said with regard to revenue, a lot of interest had been attracted from state entities. In KwaZulu-Natal NEMISA was working very closely with the Film Commission and the arrangement was that of cost sharing, where the Film Commission was paying 70% of the costs and NEMISA 30%. With state entities, there was also a relationship of sharing costs and subsidising, and also in the private sector, with companies like Hewlett-Packard and Nokia.

Mr Mackenzie said it was very useful to see the two presenters at the meeting from two universities, and asked for an indication of the nature of the eight post-graduate research projects that NEMISA like to undertake

Mr Ramatswa replied there were two Masters students at the University of the Western Cape, and their names and details of their studies would be forwarded to Mr Mackenzie.

Mr Mackenzie asked for the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) Co-Lab portal address, as he would certainly like to do oversight on that portal, if not do the course himself and pay for certification.

Ms Antoinette Lombard, Director: E-Skills, VUT said that she was more than willing to share the portal address with Members.

Mr Mackenzie asked in terms of portal functionality, a political party that he was intimately acquainted with made extensive use of technology, such as sms and password reset, so this was not new or any pioneering work. Could one not take that application from somewhere else and incorporate into the system, rather than reinventing the wheel?  

Ms Lombard replied that existing systems were being used, it was just that they had to be integrated with existing portal. Obviously there would be funding involved and this was a bit of an issue because it costs money to send out smses. There were no agreements with service providers like Vodacom or MTN as yet, but this was being worked on.

Ms Shinn said previously the Committee had heard that there was a problem collecting fees, and was a huge backlog of debt collection. She asked how this had improved. What was the fee structure for people who came on the course; was there a certification fee, but if people chose not to be certified, would they receive training without paying a fee? Who paid for what? Was there a fee structure for students taking the course? She asked if any mapping was done once students had completed the course -- do they have any idea of job opportunities and placements, and for those already employed at solar plants or farms, whether there was job improvement status within the employment structure?

Ms Lombard said that currently the e-learning fee structure worked on a per user licence. The e-literacy course was accredited by the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) and the Vaal University of Technology, and was a South African product. It was pitched at a very low level and a matric was not required.  It was covered from National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level 1 to 4.

Mr Ramatswe replied that NEMISA was mindful that it could not provide a free service, but also that some students were unable to pay fees. What had happened in this respect was that with two learnerships there was a tripartite arrangement or agreement, with NEMISA as the provider, SITA as the funder, and the learner. The SABC had approached NEMISA to do learnerships, with the view to absorbing these learners into the SABC.

Ms Ligege said that the debt had been handed over to a debt collection agency. This had been quite a slow process, because most of the students had completed their studies, so they were not easy to find.

Ms Shinn asked if a scan of schools in the country had been done.

Mr Ramatswe replied that he was not aware of a scan being done, but would investigate this matter.

Ms Shinn asked whether the hiatus with staff had delayed the formal legal structure of ikamva National eSkills Institute being sorted out.  Would that issue now be escalated in the coming year? Would there be legal finality on it? NEMISA had also talked about the risk of disaster recovery -- how was it mitigating that risk, because it had said it needed to develop and implement a disaster recovery plan and Business Continuity Plan (BCP)?

Mr Ramatswe said the BCP had to do with continuing the business at hand, but also looking at dealing with the current challenges. This would involve looking at change management and re-skilling of staff to maintain relevance in training to ensure alignment with the mandate of the institution.

 Ms Shinn asked when draft legislation to be finalised with the DTPS and the DHET could be expected. It had been said that not having legislative support it could not perform its defined mandate.

Ms Shinn asked how much all the companies that Co-Labs worked with contributed financially?  Did they contribute financially at all to the programmes which NEMISDA provided to their staff?

Mr Ramatswe replied that the companies did contribute to the Co-Labs.

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC) asked how many vacancies there were.

Mr Ramatswe replied that there were fewer than ten vacancies. In filling those vacancies there was mindfulness about the fact that the mandate was going to be changed and therefore job descriptions were going to be changed. There was an understanding that on-line learning had to be interfaced with face-to-face learning. People were therefore being retrained.

Ms Ndongeni asked where the Committee should go for oversight visit purposes.

Mr Ramatswe replied that the Co-Labs might be located at universities, but that did not mean that the NEMISA did not go into the rural areas whenever possible, so the training was far reaching.

Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) said capacity was important to make sure that targets were achieved. At least the entity was trying, because there were people in acting positions. There was no real certainty with acting positions. She was looking forward to NEMISA’s commitment to recruitment, and asked how long would it take to recruit the skills it was looking for.

Mr Ramatswe replied that the target group would be trained whenever possible, and there was a precise focus on women with regard to training. In some provinces, 40 to 60% of the trainees were women. NEMISA did have very gender focussed programmes.

Ms Tsotetsi asked if it played any role in the placement of trainees; were trainees assisted after graduation; was support provided to SMMEs?

Mr Ramatswe said that NEMISA had been working with a number of SMMEs, for example, with Hewlett-Packard. NEMISA ensures that the SMMEs were partnered with Co-Labs. Also SMMEs which developed entrepreneurship were targeted.

Ms Tsotetsi asked who the target group among the public was? How were language barriers dealt with? She had never seen any questionnaire in any of the African languages. How was that being dealt with?

Mr Ramatswe said that NEMISA was very conscious of this. While the training was being done in English, the translation of programmes was being looked at.

Ms Lombard said that the e-literacy course was going to be translated into Xhosa for free by the Nelson Mandela University.

Ms Tsotetsi said that she was impressed that there were women in the ICT field. She asked for a breakdown of how many males and how many females there were. What were the requirements to qualify as a trainee and how long was the training?

Mr Ramatswe said a Matric was the basic requirement, and the number of credits obtained determined the length of time spent to obtain a qualification.

Ms Tsotetsi asked which countries were seen as a benchmark, with regard to the exchange programme.

Mr Ramatswe said that of course, there was a focus on Africa. A lot of good work had been done in Kenya. NEMISA had been working closely with Ghana, where their students came to South Africa.

Ms Tsotetsi said on the rural clinics that had been left out, could NEMISA access the required infrastructure, because they were very often in rural areas, and the challenge had been infrastructure mostly?

The Chairperson asked for the Department’s support for the establishment of the entity,  because one of the things she was concerned about was that this process should not be prolonged. She asked if they were looking at legislation that would establish the entity, or was it going to be out of an amendment; how was one going to see this entity established legally in terms of a legislative framework? There should certainly be talk about draft legislation. She expressed concern that this process had not started. It was difficult to attract the right staff if the entities’ future was not very clear. There needed to be stability and a legislative framework. There needed to be a rollout of resources to the institution

Most of transfers to NEMISA did not happen in the first quarter, and one could not expect work that was not resourced to be accounted for, so for the Committee the timing of the transfers was important. With delays, it meant that the Department or NEMISA was left out. The entity should try to meet Annual Performance Plans and tabling of budgets and annual reports on time. One could not afford to miss out on those two cycles. With the previous DDG, the funds had stayed but the functions had been transferred.  

NEMISA’s response

Mr Shelembe said he would start with the establishment of iNeSI. At some last year, after all the consultations with government departments and clusters, the Department had produced a business plan and draft legislation that supported the establishment of the entity, but at the time of submission of documentation to the Minister, the Minister had emphasised that the DHET consultation needed to be strengthened to ensure that the Department was in sync with higher education legislation. So as of December last year, the Department had been in the process of consultations with the DHET. It was true the work of the task team had resulted now in consensus on what this entity could do and what it could not do, in order to ensure compliance with higher education legislation. The emerging consensus essentially says that for a higher education programme, iNeSI would not do its own curriculum development. iNeSI would also not do its own programme offering by itself, but would work in partnership with existing universities in the Co-Lab arrangement.  With the current arrangement NEMISA was going back to the drawing board to revise the business case so that it reflected the image and understanding, as well as to redraft certain clauses in the legislation. He assured the Chairperson that the legislation was already there, except now it had to be adapted to this new understanding. They were in the process of revising both the business case as well as the legislation that had been drafted last year. If everything went according to plan, NEMISA had tentatively put this legislation as part of the programme for next year. It was going to submit it and reflect it in its APP for next year, as well as one of the targets that had to be met. As part of the process of revising the legislation, NEMISA would then develop the implementation plan of the “road map” of where it was going with the establishment of this entity. He hoped that with this process, recruiting the right people would become a little bit easier.

In looking at the nomination for the Board that the Minister was now considering, what had been taken into account was the future of the entity, and an attempt had been made to balance the Board so that it took into account the skills required in the future for iNeSI as well. Some of the Board members appointed now would be retained for continuity into iNeSi as well.

With regard to resourcing the entity, Mr Shelembe said it was correct that the first quarter transfers had not been made on time to NEMISA. Ever since that had been brought to his attention, he had made sure that everything had since been paid at least for the first quarter, and that all the payments due for this quarter will be made within this quarter, so there would be no un- transferred funds going into the next quarter.

With regard to functions being transferred to NEMISA without accompanying resources  attached to that function, the DDG said that as things stood, the function was funded in the budget of the Department to the tune of R6.9 million, and the function was executed by NEMISA as an agency of the Department. There was a principled relationship between NEMISA and the Department, so before the funds could be transferred, every year the Department would enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with NEMISA as to how those funds would be utilised and how they would be accounted for, both in the books of NEMISA and the books of the Department. NEMISA and the Acting Director-General had signed this MOA, and the relevant funding had since been transferred. He was particularly alert to issues pertaining to the resourcing of the entity and was committed to making sure that all transfers were made on time.

The Chairperson thanked the DDG, and handed over to the Acting Chairperson.

Mr Ka-Plaatjie said he wanted to emphasise what the Chairperson had been speaking about – the expeditious allocation of resources to the institution. Increasingly, the mandate had become enormous. The tasks at hand had become greater than the finances allowed them to carry through, and the organisation was going to be found wanting next time and not be able to post results that were in accordance with the stated objectives and aims. He appealed to the Department for assistance, and concurred with the sentiments expressed by the Chairperson. NEMISA would do better with expeditious allocations and timeous allocations. The sooner the matter of the merger was brought to finality the better. In the current environment, a number of interviews for the position of CEO and CFO had been conducted. One of the pertinent questions most of the applicants asked was about the future of this institution. Some of the questions could not be answered, and one ended up losing some of the capable applicants because they could not commit to an environment that was fraught with uncertainty. As a result, a number of applicants had pulled out at the last minute.

Co-Labs were going to become the implementing agents of the new trajectory. It was important that their challenges were understood. They had been capacitated and provided with assistance where necessary, because they faced communities. At the same time, oversight had to be exercised over what they did.

The meeting was adjourned.

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