The Department of Women in the Presidency, with the Minister in attendance, was due to present on the 16 Days of Activism Campaign and 2nd quarter report. The meeting did not take place as scheduled because the Committee had concerns regarding the disparities in the information provided by the Department. The Department had also not submitted all the information requested from it by the Committee.
Members raised concerns regarding the functionality of the Department and its inability to provide requested information to the Committee. Members said the actions of the Department were disappointing and concerning considering the mandate of the Department and the status of women in South Africa. The Department was making it difficult for the Committee to execute its duties. The critical documents that were required from the Department had not been submitted, and this resulted in the Committee being unprepared to engage with the Department. The Department needed to explain why this was so.
Another issue was the Minister had said that the document on violence against women must be withdrawn because she had not submitted it to Cabinet and it had not been endorsed. Further, there was a large delegation from the Department present taking into consideration the budget constraints, and if they must respect one another regarding the honesty in information provided then the meeting must be postponed.
The Director General apologised and took full responsibility for the confusion.
The meeting was rescheduled for the following week with a commitment from the Minister that all the requested information would be provided.
Remarks by Minister
Ms Susan Shabangu, Minister of Women in the Presidency, thanked the Chairperson for the opportunity to present. She had notified the whip that she had a Cabinet meeting at 11h30, and because the meeting had started late it meant that she would not stay until the end of the meeting.
Minister Shabangu said the Department would present the Quarter 2 performance report that the Director-General would take the Committee through. The Department had looked at its mandate and the things that it had set out to do and on reviewing those issues which were indicated, the Department realised that there were shortcomings and financial constraints that would not enable the Department to meet the objectives.
National Treasury had given the Department notice that the budget would be decreased further. The Department would come to the Committee to report on the way forward in the context of the decreased funding and see how the areas that had been amended because of funding, capacity and resources. The Department of Monitoring and Evaluation agrees with the amendments because without the funding and capacity, the objectives could not be achieved.
Discussion on Department’s documents
The Chairperson requested that before the Director-General speaks, she would like to know about the two reports that the Department submitted to the Committee. The latter report was submitted on Friday after work had been done on the first report to be submitted. This was worrying because work had already been done on the first report. The two reports were different and it was a bit disturbing.
Ms Jenny Schreiner, Director-General, requested the Manager of Strategic Services to explain why and when the two reports had been sent and the differences in the information contained in the documents.
Minister Shabangu said it was the Office of the Director-General that should know that information and that the Manager of Strategic Services did not have to give an explanation at that point.
The Chairperson agreed with the Minister and said that the Committee was not going to delve into that, and reiterated that it was disturbing as a Committee to receive two sets of documents which contained contradicting information, and the Committee could not continue like that. The Committee could not receive documents and start working on them and in the middle of nowhere a different document was sent. It was disturbing and that was why she was bringing it to the attention of the Minister.
Ms G Tseke (ANC) added that the letter from the Committee to the Department was very clear in listing the information that it required from the Department. The outstanding reports were part of the list and none of them were submitted to the Committee. The audit action plan was also not submitted; and the monitoring and evaluation framework that was approved was also not submitted. This was a serious concern and the Committee felt the Department did not take it seriously.
Ms L Van der Merwe (IFP) said that in addition to what Ms. Tseke said, clarity was required from the Department regarding the documents submitted. She did not understand how presentations of that nature could change overnight because even the two presentations that were sent on Friday had contradicting information. This was an important matter because in order to hold the Department accountable the Committee must be furnished with the correct information. The Department was making it difficult for the Committee to execute its duties. The critical documents that were required from the Department had not been submitted, and this resulted in the Committee being unprepared to engage with the Department. The Department needed to explain why this was so.
The Minister responded that she was not aware of two reports. The responsibility of the Department was not only to comply, but to explain why they had not been able to comply and what the factors which contributed to this were. From the onset, she had mentioned that there would be a need to revise the documents to highlight this information. When the Department first had to submit, because she was not going to be available on 1 November she personally requested a postponement to 8 November. She was surprised that the Committee was in possession of the document on national dialogues of violence against women because she was still to present it to Cabinet and it had not been endorsed. This meant that the Committee was in possession of misleading information and requested that the Committee withdraw it because it was the document she would be presenting to Cabinet. There was a problem of wrong documents and information being submitted and the Director-General was in the best position to explain why this was so. The Director-General must explain why the Committee was in possession of information that the Department was saying would deliver on when this was not correct. The Director-General should explain what the issues were and why the requested information was not sent to the Committee.
Ms Schreiner responded that her understanding of the presentations was that the first one was submitted on time for the meeting when it was scheduled for 1 November. Subsequent to that there was a performance review with the Minister which helped the Department to be aware of its assessments and in light of that the second presentation had been refined to take into consideration the issues that had been raised. The audit outcome was available and it was an error that it was not made available to the Committee. She apologised that the monitoring and evaluation framework was meant to be part of that meeting. Her understanding was that it was a meeting in which the Department would be asked to present it in full to allow an in-depth engagement. She took full responsibility for the audit outcome.
The Minister said that the Director-General should tell the Committee which document they Committee should refer to as there were more than one. The Director-General must give direction as to which document must be referred to in the meeting.
The Chairperson said that the Department was given a list of documents that were requested for discussion at the meeting. She was a bit perturbed that the Director-General would say that she did not know that the other documents were needed. She knew what was expected and could not be diving and ducking. Things must be dealt with as expected, because the Department was not doing it for the Committee but for the people out there. At the end of the day the person that was going to be hung out to dry was the Minister. It painted a very bleak picture about whether the Department sat and discussed things as a unit. The Committee was concerned and needed to be truthful about its concerns and reservations regarding the Department. The Committee needed to know how the gaps in the Department came about.
Ms Van der Merwe said that the problem was that should the meeting that was set for 1 November have continued it meant that the Committee would have engaged with the wrong information because the Department changed presentations after meetings. The Committee was slightly disempowered by trying to find the correct information at the last minute. This was a serious problem in light of the limited time available.
Ms Schreiner explained that the second presentation dealt with the deviations and the changes made in order to allow the Department to meet its objectives. She apologised for the disjuncture that it had caused but the second presentation was submitted with the intention of providing the Committee with detailed information. She took full responsibility for the documents that were outstanding and accepted the guidance on what the Department needed to do to turn the situation around.
Ms D Robinson (DA) also expressed her concern about the manner in which the Department conducted its business. The Department should be fully aware of the challenges that women faced that included being treated as second-class citizens, and she was sad that the Department that was meant to be pushing for women were a poor reflection of advocating for women. Clear directives, strategies and plans were needed instead of jumping around because inevitably they all ended up looking foolish and placing everyone in an embarrassing situation. The Department must start being serious about its mandate and the power that it had to change women’s lives.
Ms N Bhengu (ANC) wanted to know if the quarter two report that was before the Committee was the relevant document, and if it were, requested that since the Department was there they should go ahead and engage on the document. She was confused and would like some clarity on the documents.
Minister Shabangu apologised to the Committee for the confusion, and as the executive authority, everything that was sent to the Committee must be sent through her and with her blessing. If documents were sent without her blessing, then she could not take any responsibility for them. That was why she said the Director-General must explain why there were two reports sent to the Committee in the first place, without explanation given regarding the changes in the information. The Department could not just submit documents for the sake of delivering. She was worried that the Committee was sitting with two documents. The onus was on the Director-General to write a letter withdrawing the first documents and explaining the reasons. She was also confused about what was happening and that the Director-General must explain what the way forward should be. It was not helpful that an engagement take place for the sake of engagement.
Ms Van der Merwe said there was another issue because the Minister had said that the document on violence against women must be withdrawn because it was not finalised. The second problem was that there was a large delegation from the Department present taking into consideration the budget constraints, and if they must respect one another regarding the honesty in information provided then the meeting must be postponed. The Committee must find another date, and the delegation reduced because of the budget constraints. It should only be the core people required for the presentations and not extra people who may not be needed.
Ms Robinson endorsed the suggestion by Ms Van der Merwe not to proceed with the meeting. Clarity was required and the correct information must be presented to the Committee.
Ms Bhengu said that she was still confused about the two documents and had questions that must be responded to by the Director-General so that she could understand.
Ms Schreiner said that as she had tried to explain the second document gave the Committee a better understanding of the challenges the Department had faced in performing its objectives. She apologises again for the confusion.
The Minister said that on a point of clarity, the Director-general should clarify which one was the first one and which one was the second one. The Director-General must explain the status of the documents and make a commitment regarding the outstanding documents.
Ms Robinson said that she would like to reiterate that time was being wasted by debating the documents which had been established to contain contradicting information. The budget constraints had been highlighted and therefore must be taken into consideration for the postponement of the meeting.
The Chairperson said that the Department must go back and check the documents and ensure that the Committee was furnished with the correct documents. The Committee could not function like that and the Committee would tear the Minister to pieces not being aware what was happening within the Department. The Department must be sure about the information it presented to the Committee. The Director-General should know better than to be in a situation like this and that must not happen again. The Department must do a proper job on what was expected from them. A new date would have to be found.
The Minister said she respected the decision of the Committee and apologised for the confusion caused by the Department. She committed to sending the proper documents by Tuesday, 15 November, and clarify the working documents and which ones would be withdrawn. She would immediately speak to the Director-General to correct the mess, and also submit all the documents that had been requested on the list. The Department could not afford to incur expenses that were unnecessary within the budget constraints.
Ms Van der Merwe said that the Department should decrease its delegation at the next meeting and only bring the people who were relevant for the presentation.
The meeting was adjourned.
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