Statistics Act challenges: StatsSA briefing; Public Service Commission Amendment Bill: deliberations; Committee Report on PSC commissioner selection

Public Service and Administration, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation

30 November 2016
Chairperson: Ms R Lesoma (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Statistician-General briefed the Committee on the decision to amend the Statistics Act, although it had not yet been decided whether this would be done by way of an Amendment Bill or a complete overhaul and presentation of a new Act. This would aim to ensure better coordination of statistical production. The legislation should be finalised by February 2017 in preparation for being taken to the State Law Advisors, Minister, Cabinet and then to Parliament. He briefly described the main achievements for the past year, which were the work on this legislation and the move to the new building, to be officially opened on 9 December 2016. Stats SA had surrendered 8% of its vacancies for the year but he cautioned that any clawing beyond those vacancies meant that it would face “a fiscal cliff”. Internal and international exchanges and consultations were mentioned.

Members asked what Stats SA required from this Committee and asked what the consequences were likely to be if Stats SA did not find the right employees. Members asked if there was a definition of “data” and what vacancies there were, and what the impact would be if not filled. Members also wanted to know what statistical information would be regarded as private and confidential, how it would be shared amongst agencies, whether the Statistician-General or Director General would be assumed to be the accounting officer in the new structure, and how professional independence was currently maintained, when it was necessary to report to the Minister. One Member stressed that there was a need to find a balance beween achieving independence and keeping fully in ouch with South Africa's needs. Members asked if StatsSA faced any threat of being manipulated by withholding or granting of budget to perform its work and asked what would happen if a number of different researchers had come up with the same statistics. They asked if there was danger of political interference, overt or indirect, and whether the current reforms were a direct attempt to prevent such political interference. Stats SA was requested to report back by June 2017 on further progress.

The Committee discussed its report on the appointment of the Public Service Commission Commissioners. A subcommittee had been established to deal with the process. Some editorial corrections were made. It was noted that that names of the shortlisted candidates and the reasons for their decision were noted. One candidate had declined to be interviewed and it was agreed that this candidate would not be named. The Committee wanted the criteria and tool used to select the candidates to be listed.  The draft Report was adopted.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) then took Members through the reasons for and wording of the amendments being proposed to the Public Service Commission Amendment Act. The amendments were directed to creating greater certainty and efficiency around the renewal of terms of office of the PSC Commissioners. The PSC obviously wanted to be able to retain candidates with experience and skills to ensure that its mandate was fully exercised. Basically, the President would be able to renew the term of office of a sitting Commissioner , within 90 days of the expiry of the first term, for one additional term. The President may also appoint another Commissioner to act as Chairperson if both that person and the Deputy Chairperson were absent at the same time. A State Law Advisor noted that Parliament could not take over the function from the President as it was set in the Constitution, and could only provide recommendations. It was suggested that perhaps some further information was needed around appointments and the practicalities, and the PSC was asked to brief the Committee again in March 2017, having discussed the practicalities and the implications with its legal advisors.

The Committee adopted the Committee report on the process of selecting candidates to recommend for appointment to the President.

Meeting report

Statistics Act No 6 of 1999: Statistics SA update
Dr Pali Lehola, Statistician General, Statistics South Africa, noted that the opening of the new building would be on 6 December 2016, and Members were cordially invited. He noted that in this year the major achievements of Statistics SA (StatsSA) included the progress of the legislative reform and opening of the building.

Speaking to the Statistics Act, Act 6 of 1999, he pointed out that it was now old fashioned and has limitations which need to be dealt with. The purpose of the Act is to ensure statistical production and coordination. Statistics South Africa is preparing for the new legislation, which will either take the form of an Amendment Bill or a completely new Act. This should be finalized by February 2017 and will be taken to the State Law Advisors, Minister and then through Parliament. There was still a substantial amount of work to be done on the Act.

He noted that StatsSA had surrendered 8% of its vacancies for the year and any clawing beyond those vacancies meant that it would face “a fiscal cliff”.

There had been a number of consultations internally.

Stats SA had paid visits internationally, to countries such as Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom to benchmark its statistical laws. The legislative reform process will take time and would have to be handled with caution.

Discussion:
Mr S Motau (DA) raised a question on what Stats SA requires from the Committee, noting the figure of R14 million for the full staff complement and the comment that the consequences could be dire if there is no suitable employee found for the posts.

Ms W Newhoudt-Druchen (ANC) asked to have the updated version of the presentation; there were additional pages presented today that were not in the pack for the Members. She asked whether at the moment StatsSA thought that it would present a Bill or a new Act. She asked what exactly was the definition of “data” - there seems to be confusion and the definition of data is not provided for in the Act. She asked which vacancies were being spoken of in the presentation, and how important were the positions to the organisation and what the impact would be if these were not filled.

Mr M Ntombela (ANC) raised a question on the legislative reform process, wanting to know which statistical information would be deemed private and confidential and how the information is shared between the agencies that generate such information. If the idea of the Statistician General and the Director General of Stats South Africa were to be approved, he asked which of the two would then be the accounting officer. He asked how professional independence was currently maintained, when it was necessary to report to the Minister. He wondered if there was a hypothetical model in mind, which would explain what form the enforcement of compliance would take in the organisation. 

Mr A van der Westhuizen said that his questions were concerned with the independence of Stats South Africa; how would it remain independent yet keep fully in touch with and responsive to with what government needs. He said that Stats SA should not be doing research on fields or data that are not deemed currently relevant by government. He asked how Stats SA would ensure that it is not manipulated through its budget, in the sense of being threatened with budget cuts should its work not be deemed to be correct. He also asked what would happen if a study done by a number of different researchers were to come up with a multiplicity of the same statistics.

The Acting Chairperson said that by now, Stats SA would probably have a preferred option, out of the three models presented. She asked why it would have chosen that. She agreed that there was a need to revisit the laws and asked if there was any danger of “silent political interference” or politically indirect budget constraints.

Dr Lehohla started off by addressing the legislative reform concerns, mentioning that the reform will facilitate the administrative changes. The end result that StatsSA wanted to achieve is based on a fundamental principles of official statistics. Key to that was the concept of the independence of the Statistician General who must use the best methods possible in the service of the state, and be the Chief Advisor of the State when it comes to numbers. Speaking to the possibility of the multiplicity of statistics, he mentioned that another principle required that the Statistician General should rebuke those who abuse statistics. Stats SA is a creature of financial constraints and the problem arises when there is no clear system of how the constraints are applied – that was where the main weakness lay. There is a lot of waste in the government at the moment in as far as data is concerned. The legislative reform is a revolutionary process that gives South Africans the freedom to do things differently.

Mr Ntombela asked a follow up question on the matter of financial constraints. With the creation of the state-wide statistical service, the implication is that the organogram will increase. He wondered what would happen if it was not possible to create the positions, because of budget constraints. In respect of the statewide statistical servicing aid, he asked how performance contracts would be coordinated and evaluated, and if such people account professionally to the Statistician-General. He wanted to know if the legislative reforms that are currently being initiated are actually a way of preventing politicians from interfering in the future.

Dr Lehohla explained that progress is marked by sophistication of legislation and practice and the two dialectically articulate over time. At the moment practice has outpaced legislation and this shows that there are no protective mechanisms to stop politicians from interfering.

Dr Lehohla said that “data” is raw material and made an example of the age of 24 being raw data.

Ms Yandiswa Mpetsheni, Acting Director General, StatsSA, addressed the concern for the dangers of duplication of data and mentioned that in the new legislation, Stats SA is trying to have a clearing house where people would have to go to through a particular clearing process before they can do any statistical collection, to outline what they would like to do. They must submit statistical plans to the Statistician-General so that there is clear knowledge of what is happening at any given point. 

The Acting Chairperson thanked the representatives from Statistics South Africa and asked that since Stats SA is expected to have completed the process by June 2017 it should report to the Portfolio Committee on its progress at that stage.

Committee Report on Public Service Commission (PSC) Commissioners
The Portfolio Committee’s Content Advisor provided a background to the Committee's draft Report. It had been compiled after a series of meetings, from the day the subcommittee dealing with the process to appoint new Commissioners to the Public Service Commission (PSC) was established, up to the interviews being conducted.

Members of the Committee proceeded to make editorial corrections to the report.

The subcommittee had shortlisted 14 candidates for the PSC vacancies, and their names were listed on the report. All candidates were invited for an interview, but one declined.

Mr Ntombela asked that the name of this individual should be listed, and the reason for declining should be given.

Ms Z Dlamini-Dubazana (ANC) mentioned that the report will be a public document which will be accessed by everyone once it has been finalised and suggested that this not be done

The Acting Chairperson suggested an inclusion of the criteria and tools used to select the candidates for the positions, in a clear and precise manner.

The Acting Chairperson then thanked all who had been involved in the process, saying it had not been easy, but the Committee was able to work together. She further thanked the administrative team.

Mr van der Westhuizen and Ms Dlamini-Dubazana gave credit to the Acting Chairperson for her leadership.

Ms Dlamini-Dubazana expressed her concern that some media had been publishing “confidential information”.

Members adopted the draft Report.

Public Service Commission Amendment Act: Deliberations
Mr Ben Mthombo, Acting Chairperson, Public Service Commission, greeted Members and introduced the Director-General, Mr Dovhani Mamphiswana, who would give the briefing.

Mr Mamphiswana said that he would not present the slides on the background.  The Public Service Commission Amendment Bill seeks to amend the PSC Act of 1997 in order to ensure efficiency and certainty with regard to the process of renewal of the term of a Commissioner. It aimed to provide continuity in the PSC, with respect to the retention of commissioners with experience and having regard to the execution of the mandate of the Public Service Commission.

He briefly outlined the history: approval of the Amendment Bill was given in May 2015 and a presentation on the Draft Amendment Bill was made to Cabinet on 17 June 2015, and approved, whereafter it was introduced to Parliament.

Mr Mamphiswana read out the proposed insertion into the Public Service Act, which was to the effect that the President, as contemplated in section 196(10) of the Constitution may renew the term of a commissioner for one additional term. This would be done within 90 days of the expiry of the first term of office.

Another proposed amendment clarified that if the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson were both absent for any reason, the President may then appoint one of the serving Commissioners to act as the Chairperson.

Discussion Ms  Newhoudt-Druchen asked if the Committee could receive a copy of the correspondence between the Presidency and pSC.  Mr Sisa Makabeni, Senior State Law Advisor, provided further clarity on the renewal process. The President is the person who must initiate and confirm the renewal of the term of office. Parliament cannot initiate the process. Since this power is conferred upon the President by the Constitution, it is not possible to amend the legislation to allow Parliament to do anything other than regulate that appointment process.

Mr van der Westhuisen noted Mr Makabeni's comment that Parliament cannot take over this function from the President. The function of Parliament in this regard was only to provide recommendations. However, he differed with the opinion provided and thought it might be wise to get it in writing.

Mr Motau expressed his frustration on the issue of appointing an acting chairperson when both the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson are absent. As far as he knew, there had never been a time when both the President and Deputy President were out of the country simultaneously.

The Acting Chairperson mentioned that the purpose of the meeting with the PSC had been achieved. She suggested that PSC should go back to its legal advisors and get more insight on the provisions and practical procedures around appointments so that at the next meeting with the Portfolio Committee there could be a presentation on how it had decided to deal with the issue and it could present the final amendments. She asked that this be done before the end of March 2017.

Composition of Committee
Mr Motau mentioned that there had been some changes in the DA caucus.

Mr F Marais (DA) announced that he will be switching to the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises from January 2017.

Mr van der Westhuizen said that he would be moving to the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training, which is more in line with his past experience at FET colleges. He wished his colleagues well.

The meeting was adjourned.  

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