Delegations from the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) combined to advise the Portfolio Committee on the amendments to the public service regulations aimed at the professionalization of the public service, and to provide recommendations on how to avoid delays in pension payouts, and the associated suffering, to government retirees.
The PSC said that career development within the public service was not structured well enough to enable the transfer of skills from one department to another. Employees seemed to move from one job to another in the public service, many a times on the basis of promotion, before becoming proficient in a particular job. It had proposed a public service specific internship, where candidates would be prepared for eventual entry into the middle management and upper management, following a prescribed period in an occupation that would serve as a feeder into the middle management level. While the public service had highly qualified staff in the current dispensation, university degrees and diplomas did not adequately prepare them for the tasks required in public service occupations. Since publication of the PSC’s discussion document, the Minister of the DPSA had issued a directive on compulsory capacity development, mandatory training days and minimum entry requirements for senior management service (SMS) members. This had addressed some, but not all, of the recommendations. The PSC would do follow-up projects on some of its recommendations, and would continue to engage with the National Planning Commission, the National School of Government (NSG), the Department of Public Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) and the DPSA to strengthen the development and oversight over the public service.
Members raised questions about public service workers being recruited according to their party affiliations, and asked what the PSC would do about that; whether South African students should do intern work for the government while studying if they intended specialising on the public service; and what should be done with the current public servants if they were not necessarily trained for their positions according to the method that was envisaged. They commented that it was necessary to emphatically spell out the definition of a developmental state, because civil society had already preconceived notions about a developmental state, such as socialism or communism.
The DPSA said there was a need to influence two forms of legislation -- the Public Service Amendment Act of 2007, and subsequently the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Equity Act. It wanted to strengthen the regulation of the Acts by its proposals. These encompassed such issues as a new code of conduct, which prohibited public servants from doing business with the state; financial disclosure, and anti-corruption and ethics management; planning for service delivery and reporting systems; the transfer of functions; the creation of posts, job descriptions, job evaluation and job grading; remuneration and other benefits; the working environment and general conditions of work; re-employment after dismissal for misconduct; withdrawal of resignations; and information management and electronic government.
Members said the regulations did not address the reasons for the use of consultants, such as the need for the skills or expertise of the consultants, and asked if this meant the departments would have to rely on internal skills as the alternative, according to the regulations. For the overall professionalization of the public service to take place, the promotion of the right candidates into middle and senior management was necessary, so did the new set of regulations address the concerns regarding promotion at all? Did the human resources (HR) division understand the regulations and the dynamics of the impact that they would have? Had the regulations reviewed the age of retirement, to allow for some people to remain employed beyond the age of 65? They commented that it was unnerving that public service employees who had committed serious offences, such as the mismanagement of funds, were given the opportunity to revert to employment in the public service sector after five years.
The Public Service Commission said its assessment of the Government Pensions Administration Agency (GPAA) had been informed by complaints and grievances received from retirees. It had created an impression that those who had retired from the public service sector were not treated well. The PSC felt that it was uncaring when someone who had served the government for up to 40 years was not properly cared for afterwards. The causal factors had been investigated so that recommendations were made to address the problems. It had found that a lack of training had resulted in HR practitioners not fully grasping the complexity involved in service termination and pension processes. Another key finding had been the record management, where the lack of proactive involvement by both the department and employees resulting in the data being out of date, which led ultimately to payout delays. There was also a need to create greater understanding among retirees and their dependents of the pension policies and procedures.
During discussion, Members questioned the issue of “double-dipping,” where were retired public servants also benefited from SASSA pension grants or social grants. They suggested the paperwork involved should start way ahead of the retirement date, to avoid payout delays. Were the calculation methods for pension payouts made available to recipients, or was this done only on request? They stressed the need for awareness campaigns, especially in rural areas.
Professionalisation of the Public Service
Mr Ben Mthembu, Acting Chairperson, Public Service Commission (PSC), said that the presentation arose from the National Development Plan (NDP). The PSC was of the view that much had been spoken about a developmental state to date, so it had wanted to provide clarity of what a developmental state entailed, as there were various conceptions about it. Comparative studies conducted with countries that were referred to as developmental states, had caused the PSC to conclude that, a developmental state essentially possessed the capability to develop or design national development goals, and equally had the capability to effectively implement those national socio-economic goals to realisation.
The comparative studies had highlighted the key elements which characterised developmental states that were very successful. The key issue identified was that they had a capable public service, which was characterised as professionalised. Therefore, when the PSC referred to an orientated service, it referred to a professionalised public service, which would be the crux of the presentation. Issues of in-job training, intern-ships, professions, requirements for appointment and performance management would also be elaborated on.
The PSC was of the view that if the vision of NDP were to be successfully realised by 2030, a constitutional imperative that sought to realise the vision would require the creation and construction of a South African society based on the democratic principles of social justice, equality, human dignity and human rights, which was well described in Chapter 2 of the Constitution. The NDP had already sought to realise that goal, and should its implementation be taken seriously, its pragmatism would be beyond a philosophical vision.
The point of concern was that there was not much time left until 2030. The first phase of implementation, starting with the Medium Term Strategy Framework (MTSF) of five years, from 2014 to 2019, had been defined with 13 outcomes that were expressed in various ways in the clusters of the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA). Some of the recommendations had already been implemented. The PSC could not impose a policy change, but could recommend and so influence policy change and direction for a developmental state. The PSC would appreciate further implementation of the balance of the outcomes, as aimed by the presentation.
Mr Dovhani Mamphiswana, Director General, PSC, said the presentation was structured with an introduction, the five basic tenets of the public service and then a conclusion. The NDP had indicated the need for professionalisation of the public service and through this documentation, the PSC had aimed for that professionalization to indeed take place. The document also indicated a value-driven public service, and in this regard the central theme and project for the public service was the promotion of the constitutional values outlined in the Sections 1 and 9, the Bill of Rights, and the public administration values in Section 195. What was key was that it was developmental-orientated. The PSC proposed the prioritisation of the five tenets that had been identified and its solution recommended for each one.
The first tenet was that the public service should be a career of choice. The PSC was of the view that currently career development within the public service was not structured well enough to enable the transfer of skills from one department to another. Furthermore, employees seemed to move from one job to another in the public service, many a times on the basis of promotion, before becoming proficient in a particular job. Those two problem areas should serve as the background for the proposals given, and it was in response to that background that the PSC advocated the introduction of public service specific internships. There were currently internships in the public service in a variety of disciplines, but the PSC had proposed a specific public service internship named “Public Administration and Management Intern.” Through this specific internship, the PSC proposed that the candidates would be prepared for eventual entry into the middle and upper management levels, following a prescribed period in an occupation that would serve as a feeder for Middle Management Service (MMS). In other words, the entry requirement for such internships should be a three-year degree or diploma. In the effort to professionalize the public service, the question was how one ensured that those who entered the public service were well capacitated, well prepared and would be effective with what they would be entrusted with. Thus, during the internship, the intern should receive training and be exposed to experiential learning in a specific scope of work, after which the intern’s proficiency in such scope of work should be certified. In other words, the interns should be certified first to enter the public service accordingly.
Mr Mamphiswana said that the conclusions of the comparative study had shown that other countries held examinations for entry into the public service for all prospective candidates. Subsequently, the PSC should investigate the introduction of examinations or tests as entry into the occupation that served as a feeder for the MMS.
The next tenet identified by the PSC was performance management. A challenge was that the performance management system should be evaluated against its own objectives or purpose. The stated objective of the performance management system was that it should facilitate the improvement of service delivery. Performance management had been reduced to formal procedures and in the process had de-emphasized the values of public service that should underlie all public administration processes. The PSC therefore, proposed that there was a need to undertake an evaluation of the effectiveness of the system against its own stated objectives. Change should be based on a thorough review of the assumptions and effects of the system. Furthermore, a comparative study/ literature review on performance management systems in other countries should be undertaken as well. A number of options for changes in the individual staff assessment system were suggested -- for Instance, much more use of objective external assessments of service delivery units could also be considered.
The PSC also recommended effective management structures, aligning responsibility, authority and accountability. It also proposed that effective performance management systems at the unit level be designed for a number of prioritised service delivery units, after which the structures/systems could be reviewed across the public service, based on the lessons learnt from the exercise. The PSC was hopeful that with the review of the public management system, it could be strengthened.
Another recommendation was that the nature of incentives and rewards in the public service should be fundamentally rethought. Currently, officials deemed performance management as geared towards particular merit awards or performance bonuses, which did not consider service delivery or the effectiveness thereof. Some of the officials had even used the calculator to decipher if they would achieve the score that was necessary to be awarded a performance bonus. The PSC wanted to discourage such behaviour, which would ultimately strengthen the public service.
The next tenet identified by the PSC was the political-administrative interface, where there were several challenges. For example, the demarcation between accountability for policy issues and accountability for administrative matters should not be over-simplified. Another example was that although the constitution provided for the appointment of a number of persons “on policy considerations” [section 195(4)], such “deployments” were restricted to deputy directors-general, directors-general and ministerial advisors. An example of the challenge was that the best performing institutions were characterised by stability of leadership and policy approach, while poor performance was associated with high turnover. A number of challenges were posed as result of the relationship between the political heads and the administrative heads.
Based on those analyses, the PSC recommended that the assignment of powers regarding recruitment, appointment, performance management, transfer, dismissal and other career incidents of employees should be reviewed. Thus, the PSC proposed an amendment of Section 3(7) of the Public Service Act (PSA) to assign all powers with regard to the career incidents of public servants below the level of DDG, to the head of department (HoD). In other words, the HoD should approve the appointment employees at level 14 and below, instead of the Accounting Officers, while Cabinet continued to appoint directors-general and HoDs. The political-administrative interface also meant the implementation of the NDP proposal to create an administrative head of the public service, and a hybrid approach to top appointments. Its implementation was much further down the track, but efforts with such a process should be considered for their pragmatism. This had legislative and possibly constitutional implications.
The PSC had also identified the tenet of capacitation, or training, and its funding in the public service. Challenges were that the public service had had highly qualified staff in the current dispensation, but university degrees and diplomas had not adequately prepared them for the tasks required in public service occupations. For example, a lawyer who had graduated from any top university in the country may require a different orientation to draft a public submission or policy of any note. There was thus a need to re-orientate the university curricula to prepare graduates by enabling the skills necessary for work in the public service, and to be geared towards the know-how to resolve the challenges posed in the country. Therefore training actually started at university level, but was completed by the employer, which logically required a close relationship between the tertiary institution and the employer -- the government or public service – in order to prepare the graduates appropriately. The PSC had consequently recommended that a much closer link between the scope of work of an occupation and training curricula was needed, and that the funding model for the National School of Government (NSG) and other public sector training academies should be reviewed to ensure the effective coordination of training in the public service.
Mr Mamphiswana concluded that since publication of the discussion document, the Minister for Public Service and Administration had issued a directive on compulsory capacity development, mandatory training days and minimum entry requirements for senior management service (SMS) members, specifically for public service. This addressed some, but not all, of the recommendations made by the PSC. The PSC would do follow-up projects on some of its recommendations. The PSC would continue to engage with the National Planning Commission, the NSG, the Department of Public Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) and DPSA to strengthen the development and oversight over the public service.
Mr S Motau (DA) commented that he may come across as a stuck record, since he had had to repeat the commentary that after more than 20 years of democracy, rudimentary fundamental precepts of executing governance was still under discussion. Having said that, the proposals by the PSC were welcomed, but why had it taken so long for something like this to occur? He used his own life experience as an example, citing that once he had matriculated he had been trained to operate as a book-keeper for a municipality, and by the time he had left he had operated as the chief cashier, among other titles, because the employer had perpetually upgraded his skill-set by means of training. However, it seemed that this area of employer training had since been neglected. Thus, his concern was that the PSC had stated these proposals merely as a discussion document. Despite the Minister for Public Service and Administration taking action by issuing a directive, ultimately it was just a discussion document - what had that meant? Who was going to adopt the proposals, who were going to accept it and what was the way forward, so that these proposals would become entrenched for the referenced professionalization and implementation to take place?
At a philosophical level, the biggest challenge that the PSC and its monitoring and evaluation had regarding re-orientation, was that public service workers should not be recruited on the basis of party affiliation. The biggest problem that South Africa had within its public service composition was that entry was influenced by political party participation. What would the PSC do about that? A career within the public service should entail independence from political agendas and focus on the professional service delivery of governmental work. An example that was applicable was when George Bush Jnr lost the presidency to Barack Obama. There had been much uncertainty within the White House, and he had responded by reminding the staff that ultimately they were public servants, irrespective of who won the election. Within South Africa that commitment seemed lacking. Hence the PSC have had the task of resolving public service recruitment that was independent of a party agenda.
Another philosophical argument was the notion of a developmental state, where the connotations were either socialism or communism, and those impacted negatively on the thinking of civil society. Civil society needed to understand exactly what it meant, so that confusion of its misnomer would not hinder progress. Understanding of a developmental state would grow the economy and create jobs without any form of communism or socialism. In fact, it was necessary to emphatically spell-out its definition, because civil society had already preconceived notions about a developmental state.
In conclusion, the PSC was a good institution that had a pivotal role. Previously, a concern had been whether the PSC had teeth to impose its recommendations, and subsequently the Portfolio Committee had advocated a change of legislation to grant it the required muscle. However, it had been said in the introduction that the PSC was not imposing, but merely proposing recommendations, so would it achieve their realisation? Irrespective of its good intentions, to have effect, there needed to be assurance that they were implemented, especially with its adherence to the NDP. A proactive approach was essential.
Ms W Newhoudt- Druchen (ANC) queried if there was a relationship between universities which offered Public Administration and Public Policy as a course of study, and the PSC? Overseas, a student within any year of study, could pursue an internship during the vacation period. If South African students were to specialise in public service, should they not intern for the government while studying -- for instance, two days a week as a start and then the entire vacation in their third year? For example, students of social work, within their second or third year, had to spend time at NGOs, and if specialisation was pursued, two days a week was sacrificed for it, as a ‘practical’ in the NGO sector. However, how would it be applied within the public service sector during the time of study – as per the examples given, or merely upon graduation? Currently, were there any internship programmes available for university students, or was discussion between the PSC and tertiary institutions for their implementation under review?
Mr M Ntombela (ANC) said the changing world that everyone was living in was so dynamic that it mandated a review of the former set of values, as the solutions for new demands were sought, to such an extent that if the mindset needed to be altered in order to address the new world order, it should be done. However, what would be done with the current crop of public service servants/employees, particularly if they were not necessarily trained for public service positions in light of the method that was envisaged? Would the current public service staff be entirely retrained? How would it be ensured that the current staff members remained relevant to the objectives for 2030? How did the concept of the School of Governance become strengthened towards the imperative route for the kind of service that was sought after? The recommendations in themselves may be good, but it might be dangerous to consider them outside of the current school of governance. The current school of governance should remain the leader of thought and changes which were proposed, and should strengthen it as opposed to contradicting it. The new proposals should strengthen the role of the School of Government.
The Chairperson reminded the Committee that written responses could be made available to some queries. Also, some queries pertained to the Budget Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) -- for example, the School of Governance, accreditation of internship and the reorientation of the business model. Thus, responses to the core issues were expected only. Having said that, there was an assumption that the PSC had already made a presentation to the Cabinet. The purpose of today was not to have the Committee make recommendations, as some of the recommendations that were to be received by the PSC were for the Executive to make. Therefore, upon return of the PSC in 2017, clear proposals by the PSC for the Portfolio Committee would be recommended. The Public Service sector education and training authority (SETA) and the NSG had highlighted the need to grade on-job training, as academic certificates or diplomas did not always match the performance of the individual. Education was necessary, but as Mr Motau had shown with his experience as an example, he had been able to climb the ladder due to his on-job training, but he could not pursue a career in accountancy, because he had not the academic qualifications for it. Ultimately, the public service not delivering reflected an issue of management, so the PSC should advise on how Directors Generals should enforce compliance, because if not, staff may be insubordinate and thus the entire hierarchy downwards would be negatively affected. She instructed the PSC to kindly summarise responses in two minutes, and to respond to the rest of the questions in writing.
Mr Mthembu answered that while it had been said that it was a discussion document with recommendations, post-1996 there had been a new constitution that had accommodated an executive and policy-making powers in the PSC. Prior to 1996, there had been no Department of Public Service and Administration and its formation had meant that the PSC had the role of oversight. Therefore, constitutionally the PSC could advise and recommend, and when certain weaknesses were identified in the public sector, only the probability of research was warranted. The PSC had researched, conducted a case study and had made recommendations accordingly that tried to persuade, via argumentation, as a means of influencing policy. The presentation under review had therefore been cited as a discussion document, because due to the separation of powers, it was constitutionally beyond the call of duty for the PSC to implement its proposals. Therefore, the PSC had presented the documentation with the intention to lobby the Portfolio Committee, as its Members could influence policy-making as well.
Dr MP Sithole, the new commissioner for the province of Kwazulu-Natal, as well as head of the specialist team of Monitoring and Evaluation, PSC, responded that comfort was taken by the invitation to respond with written responses, because some of the queries with a philosophical nature could consume much time. However, it should be said that when the presented report was reviewed, all of the issues it had highlighted were issues that had an intricate link among them, and could not be examined in isolation. The five tenets presented explained the condition of the public service in South Africa. For instance, engagement with South African universities for this project produced the finding that university degrees were much too theory-based and not adequate preparation in itself for work in the public service sector. It was only recently that they had become experiential in their crafting of learning programs. The manner in which governmental departments had been inducting and promoting their officials was discipline-orientated, and had nothing to do with the larger picture of National Government. For instance, someone may have been recruited because he or she was a doctor without considering that eventually they may become a CEO and thus require leadership skills. By having citing localised performance management along with issues of internship, the PSC was urging that proper performance management be enforced at an early stage. With the review of the tenets, the PSC was hoping that public servants would be produced whose skill set was not restricted to their academic skill set, but could administer public service delivery and its management.
Mr Motau added that he had been probing because he had wanted to hear where the Commission was going, and what was heard was encouraging. On another note, the breaking news was that Donald Trump had won the US presidential election.
The Chairperson responded that Americans were full of surprises.
Mr Ntombela commented that at least Americans would ultimately reach a level of sanity after five years due to the new leadership that was to take office. He said there were only 14 years to go for the realisation of the 2030 NDP goals, so could the PSC answer that with all of the plans proposed whether the public service was in a position to realise its 2030 objectives, or were alternative routes necessary?
Mr Mthembu replied that currently this was the first phase of the 2030 NDP implementation. The PSC had identified 13 outcomes that related to the Medium Term Strategy Framework (MTSF), and it was expected of the Departments to implement the first phase. Even the various Ministers had advocated its compliance by insisting that performance management of HODs must be monitored, and that this would cascade down to all public servants. The PSC had had a system of performance management evaluation since the inception of the NDP to measure the extent of progress, because all plans were informed by the MTSF regarding the manifestation of outcomes. Hence, the PSC had stressed the need for an assessment of the effectiveness and the achievements of the NDP thus far. This would likely take place in 2019, as it would mark the end of the first phase and the level of achievement would be quite clear.
Another challenge of the timeline posed was that planning was premised on the economy growing at 5.4%, but the reality was that the economy was not doing well. The Minister of Finance had indicated that the current economic growth of the country was less than 1%. This had obliged the Minister to cut funding for programmes, but some such as social development had needed to be preserved, particularly education, given the national crisis.
The Chairperson then said that proper clarity had required a day of deliberation, as a joint meeting with the Department of Monitoring and Evaluation seemed necessary too, as it was an inter-departmental concern. Due to the constraints of time PSC would have to proceed with written responses. However, the PSC was thanked, and it was said that the DPSA would begin with presentations in future instead.
Revision of public service regulations
Mr Mashwahle Diphofa, Director General, Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), said that the presentation followed a need to influence two forms of legislation -- the Public Service Amendment Act 2007, and subsequently the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Equity Act. The DPSA wanted to strengthen the regulation of the Acts by the proposals, which included the new e-disclosure as opposed to manual disclosure that the regulations referred to.
Ms Renisha Naidoo, Acting Chief Director: Legal Services, DPSA, said that a revision of the Public Service regulations was necessitated by fiscal constraints, the need to introduce anti-corruption mechanisms that had to be focused on, and undertakings and amendments arising from the collective bargaining processes.
She said that Chapter 2 encompassed the new Code of Conduct that prohibited public service workers from doing business with the state. Part 1, which included regulations 11 to 15, seemed to be a transitional mechanism which, once effective, stated that if an employee did business with an organ of state, it would be treated as a criminal offence and/or the relevant disciplinary measures would be in place. The transitional measures were introduced in 1 August 2016 to deal with an employee who was conducting business with, or who was a director of a company conducting business with an organ of state, and it allowed an employee six months to elect whether they wished to resign from the public service or discontinue doing such business.
Part 2 dealt with financial disclosure, as the information disclosed through the e-submission system needed to be aligned with the Regulations.
Part 3 dealt with anti-corruption and ethics management, which placed obligations on a HOD to assess risk in the area of ethics and corruption and to develop and implement strategies to mitigate such risk and where necessary, report such corruption to law enforcement authorities as well as to take disciplinary steps. It also had remunerative work contemplated in section 30 of the Public Service Act, as provision was made to allow the Minister to determine the process of new applications and the form to be completed by employees.
Chapter 3 encompassed the planning, organisational arrangements and service delivery. Part 1 provided for the various plans that were required for the department’s reporting system. Part 2 entailed the organisational and functional arrangements, which were the transfer of functions, feasibility studies for the establishment of government components and specialised service delivery units, and organisational functionality assessments. Part 3 sought to institutionalise the operations management framework, the service delivery charter and the service delivery improvement plan within departments.
Ms Naidoo said that the biggest focus of the cost-component was found in Chapter 4, as it dealt with employment. Part 1 entailed the creation of posts, job descriptions, job evaluation and job grading (regulations 39 to 46). Post provisioning norms and standards, as determined by the Minister, would take into account the size of the department, the responsibilities of units, the number of supervisors versus subordinates and it would give guidance for the structure. The ideal of this regulation was to remove disparities in salaries for similar jobs within the public service, and the manner in which this would occur would be by having the Minister centrally grade specific posts. Once the Minister had done so, executive authorities would not be allowed to re-evaluate the grading of those particular posts. Occupation Specific Dispensations (OSD) would continue to be subject to collective bargaining agreements and processes, as was currently the practice.
The setting of higher salaries (regulation 44) was a rationalisation, since the DPSA had wanted to pay employees the value of the work that they did, so the higher salary option would be eradicated. The exception to the rule arose where an executive authority may offer a higher salary to an employee for purposes of recruitment and retention, so that it could not be arbitrary and devoid of the actual content. The setting of a higher salary did not prevent pay progression. The regarding of posts entailed that in the event that a post was placed on a higher salary level following a job evaluation, an executive authority must absorb an incumbent in the upgraded post should they meet the minimum requirements as regulated. It had provisions that either the job would be redesigned, or the employee had to be transferred to a suitable position.
There was little change made to the regulations for Part 2, which covered remuneration and other benefits (regulations 47 to 50).
Part 3 entailed the working environment (regulations 51 to 56), because previously executive authorities had appointed additional staff members without expiry dates for the termination of work. The new regulation limited the time that emergency staff could be appointed for, which may result in the promotion to permanency, an increase in work, or absence of the employee. The limit of the additional appointments was 12 months, but it was recognized that certain departments may have operational needs that required longer periods, where the Minister could approve the longer periods necessary. The regulation also entailed the salary being commensurate to functions, so the job had to be subject to job evaluation.
Part 4 of Chapter 4 entailed the general conditions of work. The issue of unpaid voluntary workers (regulation 59) had been introduced in the Public Service Amendment Act, 2007, but it had required regulations to support its proper implementation. The prohibition on the re-employment of former employees dismissed for misconduct (regulation 61) prescribed periods after which such employees may be re-appointed in the public service. The most serious misconduct created a maximum prohibition period of five years, while the least serious was a minimum of one year.
The regulation on secondments (regulation 62) stipulated that the period of secondment was now limited to 12 calendar months, with latitude for the Minister to determine a longer period based on operational reasons, for which the executive authority (EA) had to provide a rationale. An EA could require an employee who requested the secondment to agree to continue employment for a fixed period after the secondment.
The regulation of a direction to perform other functions or act in another post (regulation 63) provided that an employee appointed to act must have the necessary competencies (as per the definitions in regulation 2) to perform such additional duties. This was due to the concerns raised that many who were appointed in acting positions failed to have the necessary competencies and therefore prejudiced the administrative system.
Provisions in relation to the appointment of foreign nationals had been clarified to conform to the PSA.
Advertisements were regulated as a cost-saving mechanism, since a pool may be created for a period of six months from a single advertisement process, meaning that similar posts need not be re-advertised, but this was at the discretion of the EA. Posts in the office of an EA and a Deputy Minister may be filled without following an open advertisement process. New employees could not be appointed permanently unless they were transferred in terms of section 14 and 15. Provisions regarding selection entailed a regulated head-hunting process, where normal recruitment processes had not provided suitable candidates. An executive authority had to approve head hunting.
Regulation 68 allowed for the Minister to prescribe periods of probation. Regulation of resignations had introduced a provision that an employee may withdraw his or her resignation with the approval of the EA, provided that the approval was obtained before the last working day of the employee. The motivation was that the DPSA had been inundated with requests to permit withdrawal of resignations. Therefore, through these regulations, the EA would be empowered to exercise discretion.
Part 5 dealt with the amendments effected to the performance management system, because there was a need to clarify what was required and which system was applicable to employees who were not members of the SMS. Regarding rewards, an EA was required to develop a written performance incentive scheme to reward good performance. However, such a scheme would be subject to the limitations set by the Minister (currently 1.5% of the department’s annual remuneration budget), and the applicable limitations to certain employees or categories of employees. Part 5 entailed training and the associated bursaries, in which departments were authorised to provide financial assistance to employees and prospective employees within the parameters contained in regulation 77. Part 7 entailed labour matters, and the amendment to Section 16B(3) required the Minister to make regulations regarding the summoning of witnesses by chairpersons of disciplinary hearings.
Ms Naidoo said that Chapter 5 dealt with Senior Management Services, in regulations 81 to 92, in which the Minister may issue determinations on annual cost of living adjustments for SMS employees.
Chapter 6 dealt with information management and electronic government. Reference to the Minimum Information Security Standards (MISS) had been removed, as the Minister of State Security and no longer the Minister of Public Service and Administration administered the MISS.
Chapter 7 dealt with advisory bodies to the Minister for Public Service and Administration (regulations 98 to 106) Section 3(3) of the PSA, which provided that the Minister may establish by regulation one or more bodies to advise on any matter contained in section 3(1) of the PSA. Currently the Public Service Regulations (PSR), 2001 allowed for the establishment of two advisory bodies and an ad hoc body to advise in respect of conditions of service for members of the SMS. Given the fiscal constraints, the advisory body to advise of matters relating to section 3(1) was limited to one body, and members would serve on a part-time basis.
Chapter 8 dealt with the Community Development Workers Programme (CDWP). It allowed the Minister of the DPSA, after consulting with the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, to determine a framework for the CDW programme.
She concluded that the contracts of employment for HODs were prescribed in Annexure 2 in terms of section 12 of the Public Service Act.
Ms Newhoudt-Druchen said that many departments reported there was an over-use of consultants, which they needed to scale down. The regulations did not address the reasons for the use of consultants, such as the need for the skills or expertise of the consultants. Would the departments therefore have to rely on internal skills as an alternative, as per the regulation?
Mr Motau asked what a Z-form was? It was referenced in Chapter 1 that “z” forms would continue to exist, and departments were empowered to tailor the form to its purposes, with the approval of the Minister.
Mr A Van der Westhuizen (DA) questioned the transitional measure that had been introduced to deal with an employee who was conducting business with, or who was a director of a company conducting business with an organ of state, as at 1 August 2016. Was this date applicable only to the transitional measure or to the full set of regulations? Secondly, it seemed that a recurring problem area in the public service was promotion, and as overall professionalisation was to take place, the promotion of the right candidates into middle and senior management needed to take place. Did the new set of regulations address this concern at all?
The Chairperson asked whether the regulations made clear which Minister was appointed for the particular tasks, as it seemed that there was an integrated relationship amongst Ministers, such as in the selection criteria of Chapter 4. Also, it was unnerving that those public service employees who had committed serious offences, such as mismanagement of funds, warranted the opportunity to revert to employment in the public service sector after five years. On another note, public service workers should remain politically neutral and whatever convictions or party affiliation they may have, these should not be actively seen. The regulations failed to address that visible party support or activism should not be allowed, because if not, employees could challenge the government, claiming that there were no stipulated regulations that prohibited them from being visibly politically active. Were there any synergies in the implementation of the regulations, such as the OSD or abuse of sick leave? Lastly, the cited date of implementation was 1 August 2016, but it was also indicated that consultations were taking place, so what was meant by the given date? Had some regulations begun to be implemented on 1 August?
Ms Newhoudt-Druchen asked if the Human Resource (HR) division within the public service departments had been made aware of, and trained accordingly, to implement the new regulations yet? Did the HR division understand the regulations and the dynamics of the impact that they would have?
Ms Naidoo answered that the use of consultants was excluded from the regulations, because it was a domain that pertained to National Treasury, and they would regulate it according to the PFMA (Public Finance Management Act). However, the DPSA had processes under way to reduce the use of consultants, but had taken into consideration the reasons why the consultants were relied on in the first place. However, the regulations had made a requirement that the advertisement of vacancies should clearly state the required qualifications for, description of and outcomes for the job. The enhanced regulations should hopefully address the skills shortage that initially caused the need for consultants with expertise.
She explained that the Z form was a prescribed form that the Minister of Public Service and Administration (MPSA) had usually issued. Some of the forms had been imperative from pre-1994, such as the leave form or long service, and had continued to exist as the prescribed forms with its format since then, and as a result there had been consistency among the departments. The Occupation Specific Dispensations (OSD) dealt with specific occupational categories only, where particular jobs were identified and salaries were designated as a central job dispensation mechanism bargaining tool.
Ms Naidoo confirmed that 1 August 2016 was the implementation date for the entire set of regulations. Since then, the DPSA had repealed the 2001 regulations. The issue of promotion was not explicitly noted, but it was hoped that it would be addressed by the enhancements of the regulations, such as the new focus on skills would ensure that the correct candidates be elevated to the correct positions.
The concern about the chairperson of the Public Service Association (PSA) being the chairperson of the selection panel, as stated in Chapter 4, was actually an on-going debate between the PSA and DPSA, but it had finally been resolved, because the regulation provided that the chairperson was the executive authority of the office of the Public Service Commission. Therefore, the Chairperson was given the same responsibilities as any Minister of any department.
The DPSA would have preferred the total prohibition of those who had been previously dismissed due to misconduct, but the Act itself did not allow for total prohibition. The Minister could only prescribe periods for which the dismissed employees could not return, but to prescribe a total ban would contradict the Act itself. Admittedly, there had been debates about the prescribed one to five years, as well as arguments of rehabilitation, but it was recognised that people had the potential to change. Hence, after extensive debate on the topic, it had been decided that former employees should not be denied the opportunity to reapply.
The Chairperson asked if there had been any repercussions for those who had done business with state organs, but had not disclosed it yet, since the intention of the regulation was that public service employees must stop doing business with government.
Mr Van der Westhuizen asked if the regulation had reviewed the age of retirement, and if changes had been made for some people to remain employed beyond the age of 65. At one stage in the public service sector, there had been an evaluation system to assess their suitability for promotion, but there had not been a reference to a mechanism of assessment for promotion. Therefore, how would promotions be made, and how could it be assured that only candidates who were suitable to perform at a higher level would be eligible to apply?
Mr Diphofa answered that the Public Service Act provided that public service employees could apply for positions above their current positions at any time, because promotion was not an automatic process. The perceived suitability of the candidates, or their assessment for the applied position, was at the discretion of the management after the employee had applied for the vacancy, because a review was not made beforehand. Hence, promotion was a reactive process, which occurred only when a public service employee applied for position higher and was granted that position. The understanding was that subordinates had the opportunity to grow in capacity by exposure to weightier tasks, which may have prepared them for the dynamics involved in the promoted position. This did not mean that once a public service employee applied for a higher position that he or she would be guaranteed the job, because his or her application competed against external applications as well. Also, the regulation did attempt to rationalise the leave dispensation. Lastly, the witnesses who were part of the dismissal processes might play a part in the return of formerly dismissed public service employees, by means of recommendations.
Management of Service Terminations and Pensions Pay-outs
Mr Mthembu said that the assessment of the Government Pensions Administration Agency (GPAA) had been informed by the complaints and grievances received from retirees. It had created an impression that those who had retired from the public service sector were not treated well. The PSC felt that it was uncaring when someone who had served the government for up to 40 years was not properly cared for afterwards, especially as there was a clear legislative framework that ensured the management of the logistics of both before retirement as well as after it. Also, it begged the question as to what extent these allegations of negligence by the government were actually true. The causal factors had been investigated so that recommendations were made to address the problems.
Ms Kholofelo Sedibe, Deputy Director General, DPSA, echoed that the assessment followed complaints received by the PSC, as well as reaction to newspaper reports about families who were left destitute due to the failure of the governmental pension agency to process the pension benefits of some deceased employees or retired public servants. The PSC had undertaken the study partly to determine the trend, but also to establish the reasons why such delays existed. The PSC had wanted to understand the different role-players in payout process, because in the process there were the employee, the descendants or beneficiaries, the government department, the agency and other institutions such as SARS, which were involved. The PSC therefore wanted to understand the involvement of each role-player and how it would influence or negatively impact payouts.
The PSC had sampled 40 national departments, but only 28 had co-operated by participating in this study, and only eight of the nine provinces had participated. However, the PSC was of the view that due to the huge similarities, the lack of participation by the outstanding departments had not compromised the findings. Secondary data comprised of desktop literature and legislative frameworks reviewed. Primary data was obtained from the focused interviews which were held, using semi-structured questions, with HR practitioners, the Government Pensions Administration Agency (GPAA) and the retirees and/or beneficiaries.
There was a challenge that once the beneficiaries or retirees who had previously been assisted by PSC had received their payouts, they became extremely suspicious of the motives of PSC officials who had continued with their investigative studies, and had therefore decided to withdraw their participation in the case studies. The PSC had had to respect their decisions. When conducting the study there were key challenges that had surfaced, such as departmental capacity that was related to training. To have contextualised the issue, it should be indicated that there would have been training conducted for some HR practitioners, but what the training had failed to take into account was the attrition rate, such when a trained practitioner would leave the department or retire. As a result of the lack of standardised formal training, there was heavy reliance on senior HR practitioners to train the influx of new HR practitioners. The consequence was that there was a shortfall in the level of quality to get the new HR practitioners to fully grasp the complexity involved in the service termination and pension processes. This included the lack of technical know-how of the implications of legislation, as well as the implications of SARS. Therefore, the PSC felt that the lack of structured training had partly contributed to the lack of forms being submitted to the GPAA.
The annual departmental management of the beneficiary profile had also contributed to delayed payouts, because employees in the public service sector had failed to co-operate by providing updated information, either by neglect or blatant refusal. They had completed only the first submission when they were recruited, but no update had been made since, even though their particulars had changed -- such as marital status or the addition of family members. This in itself was problematic, because the Department and the GPAA could rely only on information submitted on paper, and not on changed circumstances that were not supported in writing.
Another key finding was the record management, such as the lack of correlation between the years that the employee was claiming, and the years that the GPAA claimed that the employee had been in the public service. This problem was much more prevalent with the elderly employees, especially if they were former TVBC (Transkei, Venda, Bophuthatswana and Ciskei) employees. The GPAA also experienced problems if employees left the public service, but then reverted. Another problem was that some employees had been recruited when pension deductions had not taken place, or the deduction of pension could not be proven to have taken place on the first few years of salary slips.
Customary and civil marriage disputes were a key finding that also contributed to the delay of payouts. This had resulted because spouses had contested the amounts that they had received as beneficiaries. For example, there may be an instance of two wives and six children collectively, but only one family consisting of one wife and two children were listed as official beneficiaries, which the other family would dispute. If one party registered a dispute at GPAA, the payouts would be halted completely, up until the matter was resolved within the court system, and it had received an official court order declaring who the funds should be paid out to.
Awareness of the service termination and pension payout processes was a key finding for delayed payouts too, because only 68% of retirees had indicated that they were informed of the service termination process by their departments and were getting feedback from the GPAA on progress with their applications for pension pay-outs. Consequently, the 68% also constituted those who experienced limited delays with their pension payouts. However, 32% of retirees who participated in the study had said that they were not informed by their departments or the GPAA about the progress of the pay-out processes and the challenges that might be encountered - they had discovered what the processes were only when they had experienced delays in receiving their pension pay-outs. The lack of awareness of the processes led to application forms not being properly completed and insufficient supporting documentation being submitted to the GPAA for the pension pay-out.
She said that the feedback of communication from the GPAA to stakeholders served as a key finding only when the prospective recipient was pro-active with his or her query, because the GPAA would liaise on missing documentation directly with the department, and if the beneficiary queried his or her status by the department which claimed that they had never been contacted by GPAA, it would contribute to the delay.
E-channel equipment requirements that GPAA used also posed as a challenge, because there was no compatibility between it and the systems used by department, resulting in departments having to spend their own funds to submit the documentation required by the GPAA. Documentation could also be lost, because it would be shifted from one department to another, because not every department had the sophisticated gadgets required for compatibility. The structure of departments was problematic, because although most of the departments were centralised, processes included mobility of the documentation from whichever level of government the employee operated at, up to National Government (NG), which had the responsibility of submitting the information to GPAA, and the NG took one to four months. It should be understood that these were some of the biggest departments in the country, and at every stage verification may have been required.
Other challenges related to divorce, when this involved court cases and contested percentages of payout, and the integration of the TBVC pension funds and the Government Employees’ Pension Fund (GEPF). The were also issues involving medical aid, because according to the law if a public service employee had worked 15 years or more, he or she was entitled to a post-retirement subsidy for medical aid, but if any delays occurred in the process, the medical aid payouts might be cancelled altogether.
The departments had indicated that superstition contributed the reluctance or refusal by employees to submit or re-submit the required documents. One of the issues was that employees felt that by nominating a beneficiary, they were indirectly signing their death warrant, because the risk of their being murdered became likely. However, the reality was that once a public service worker was deceased, complications arose regarding who the official beneficiaries were, because extended family members would impose themselves, by either claiming that they were the guardians of the minor children left behind, or the spokesperson for the elderly listed beneficiary. Unfortunately, that was not the terrain that GPAA operated in, because it was the terrain of the department that presumably should assist by means of the Masters office, which should determine who the beneficiaries were. Also, departments claimed that the non-availability of GPAA Client Liaison Officers (CLOs) when they were required, had contributed to delayed payouts.
The assessment indicated that the GPAA had put a lot of systems in place, but some employer departments did not use the e-Channel system, resulting in heavy reliance on the CLOs to submit the forms. The GPAA had depended upon the employer departments to provide accurate information about the pension member and his dependants/beneficiaries, and if errors or omissions were detected, they would communicate such details to the departments, which may not have responded accordingly. Some employees who went on retirement between 1996 and 2013 experienced more problems compared to employees who went on retirement from 2013 until 2015. The retirees of 1996- 2013 were employees who had entered state employment in the 1970s and 1980s. The problems during the 1996 to 2013 period could be attributed to various factors, ranging from questionable pension years, unclear and problematic systems of the GPAA, and dependants/beneficiaries not claiming their benefits.
Ms Sedibe said that the impact of pension payout delays on the welfare of retirees and their dependents included cancelled medical aids, and an inability to provide for the family, such as sending their children to school, particularly when the deceased spouse was the sole breadwinner, because the widow/er was oblivious of the processes to claim, and subsequently became a victim of loan sharks. Although the payouts had improved in the last three years, there were isolated cases of negative impacts on families, because some descendants and dependents of retirees, in trying to help the situation, ended up in criminal activities. The PSC had recommended the importance of training stakeholders on the process involved with the pension payout to the departments, so that the beneficiaries would understand the role of the GPAA, the banks and SARS.
The PSC had recommended that departments devise a database of unclaimed pension benefits and try to trace the beneficiaries. South African law stated that pensions unclaimed after 30 years became the property of the state, but if there were beneficiaries who suffered as a result of not receiving the funds within the 30 years, it became a generational transference of poverty. Hence, the PSC prompted beneficiaries to become pro-active with the receipt of claims, instead of expecting the system to update itself if delayed. The PSC also expected the departments to be pro-active, by conducting follow-ups to ensure that the right beneficiaries were paid out, or if delays had occurred. Just because an employee had resigned or retired and the documents had been submitted, it did not mean that the task of the departments were completed or at an end.
The need for departments to decentralise was paramount to speed up processes. Campaigns were necessary to increase the levels of awareness of processes, because beneficiaries were confused about the implications of SARS. The PSC had even recommended that the external young dependents or beneficiaries of elder employees attend these training sessions to understand the dynamics involved. Departments should also allocate funds to upgrade their IT systems for their compatibility with the GPAA. Additionally, strategies should be in place to communicate with the employees on what was required, because it would minimise instances of a blaming ‘to-and-fro’ between the GPAA and the departments.
It was concluded that challenges around delays with pension payouts were not caused by the absence of policies and procedures, but was undermined by the human factor -- HR practitioners and the employees, due to the lack of awareness or cooperation to nominate a beneficiary. Ever since the PSC had completed this report, many enquiries had been escalated to the GPAA, most of which had been settled. However, there were still instances of contested beneficiaries which would have to be resolved by the court system, because they had been delegated to the relevant role-players to follow the due processes.
The Chairperson opened the floor to questions and queried the issue of double-dipping, which were retired public servants benefiting from South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) pension grants and other public servants benefiting from social grants. In 1998/99, local government had tried to resolve this issue, but that had been restricted to the councillors, and it was uncertain if other public servants were prohibited from double dipping.
Mr Van der Westhuizen appreciated the presentation, because many former public servants had complained about the huge delays that they had suffered. Regarding retirement, he said that sometimes public servants had to relocate for their occupation and upon retirement they reverted to where they had originally come from, or elsewhere. However, the pensions department apparently did not touch the application before the last working day of the retiree, according to the feedback given. Was there any strategy in place before the retiree would leave, to collate the necessary paperwork and start the process, so that the retiree need not wait for months before they would receive their pension? Even if an interim payment could be made, that would be crucial for the retiree. Regarding the calculation of the pension amounts, were calculation methods of pension payouts ever made available to the recipients, and if so, was it made available only upon request? Lastly, regarding the new resignation reversal, the DPSA had earlier explained that public service employees could retrieve their resignation before their last working day and if they had chosen on the last day available to remain working, how would it impact or complicate the pension payout process? What if the pension had already been transferred to the new pension fund at the new employer -- who would do the reversal, because it seemed that the change in the regulation would impact the pension payouts too?
Mr Motau questioned if there was any relationship between the GPAA and the GEPF. He said those who were on the government employment pension fund did not receive any reports or annual statements citing the expected amounts of payouts. Why was that so, and how could it be changed?
Ms Newhoudt-Druchen commented that it was painful that after so many years, government workers would be reduced to suffering upon retirement and would continue to suffer without intervention for either themselves as retirees, or their beneficiaries, if a death was involved. Some retirees had approached SASSA while waiting for payouts, but had been declined, as its system would indicate that the retiree was waiting on the pension payout from the GPAA. Something should be done about that, because the refusal from SASSA contributed to a lack of a means of living. Also, within the rural areas there was a lack of technology, especially prior to 1994. Many public servants within the rural areas had begun employment before 1994, but records may only show employment thereafter, due to the induction of technology and/or lost documentation in the attempts to digitise or centralise. Was it not possible to lessen the suffering of retirees and their beneficiaries by paying out the amounts calculated from 1994 in the interim, whilst the exact amount owing to them prior to 1994 was investigated? What was the target market for the proposed awareness campaign? Would the awareness campaign be held in rural areas as well? Ignorance among the people was a concern, because either no beneficiaries were nominated due to superstition, or the wrong beneficiaries were nominated under the pretence that he or she would look after the minor children. Both scenarios posed a concern, because of the lack understanding of the documents required, the relevant role-players and the know-how of who to nominate as the beneficiaries. If it was assumed that the public service employee was to retire within the year, was it not the responsibility of HR to approach the employee and request the relevant documentation, to prevent delays? It had also been said that 12 departments had not cooperated with participation in the study. Were those particular departments guilty of the problems highlighted? Had the HR divisions of those 12 departments failed to understand the implications of not participating? If an employee passed away without a will, his or her assets became the property of the Master of Court, but would the Master of the Court not first do an inquiry to clarify if any descendants were left behind before taking possession of the assets?
Mr Ntombela asked what form the awareness campaigns would take, and how efficacy would be assured. Were there statistics available or would they be made available, that reflected the extent of effectiveness of the campaigning? Was any financial management advice given to the next of kin or other beneficiaries in addition to the payout, to ensure financial sustainability? As means of decentralisation, one or two mobile office services would be made available, but given the vastness of the country, this may not be enough, so how effective were the mobile office services overall? Also, once payouts were made after a delay, would the payouts include interest accrued, or was the amount payable excluding interest?
The Chairperson reminded that written responses were needed by Friday, 11 November. It would be necessary to convene with the Government Pension Administrations Agency as well. There seemed a need to retrain the personnel to move from analogue to digital, because documentation could get lost or destroyed. The smart card introduced to civil society may need to be extended to public servants as well, even on an interval basis, or whatever was financially feasible. It was advisable that departments with a greater number of public servants or challenges should be prioritized.
Ms Sedibe responded that the rules around pension payouts were that an employee could either apply for a once-off full payout, or a 1/3 lump sum payout, of which 2/3 would be given as instalments. Problems arose when retirees compared payouts. For instance, someone would query why his/her colleague had received R1 million, whilst he or she had only received R300 000, but comparison was done having forgotten the different type of arrangements available. The complications around the latter choice was that should the retiree pass away after five years, his/her family would not receive the balance of the 2/3 pension payouts, but if the retiree passed away within five years of retiring, the family would receive the balance of the 2/3 pension payout. It would no longer be the contractual obligation of the state to pay the family the balance of the pension, should the retiree pass away after five years. However, if the retiree passed away within five years of retiring, the state would consider the last salary and multiply it by the number of years served. This was called the defined benefits, because it seemed more beneficial than those who had worked in the private sector.
SASSA had used a threshold calculation that made determinations if retirees qualified for a pro-rata SASSA pension or not, and retirees who had earned above the threshold would not qualify for SASSA pensions, while those who earned below the threshold would qualify, but SASSA would calculate the percentage that the retiree had qualified for and the pension installment. The PSC had found that often teachers and nurses who earned low incomes would qualify for the pro-rata SASSA pension once they had retired. However, there was a complication if the retiree had taken the once-off lump sum payout, but then pursued a pro-rata SASSA pension at a later stage, because if SASSA felt that the retiree was at a level that could have sustained him/herself financially, it would result in a rejected pro-rata application by SASSA. Yet if the lump sum was low, SASSA could consider eligibility for the pro-rata pension. SASSA pensions were, therefore, very strictly controlled.
Regarding the mobile office services, large areas had one or two mobile office units within the province, but it would also piggyback on mobile units used by community developmental workers and social development, and research from the call centres indicated that the mobile offices were the means of approaching the GPAA. Sometimes the attendance at imbizos were not as high as the PSC would like it to be, but many systems and mechanisms had been put in place to reach out to the people. The PSC had engaged with the GPAA to ascertain who triggered the actions of the Masters Court. If minors were listed as beneficiaries, or no beneficiaries were listed but it was known that there was a widow/er and children left, payouts would proceed, unless an intervention was made because some other individual felt that they should not receive the funds.
The meeting was adjourned.
- PSC on building a Career-Oriented, Professional and Capable Public Service for a Developmental State
- Assessment of Management of Service Terminations & Pension Pay-outs in Public Service: PSC briefing
- Public Service Regulations, 2016: DPSA briefing
- Building a Career-Oriented, Professional and Capable Public Service for a Developmental State
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