Secretary to Parliament response to oversight questions

Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament

11 May 2017
Chairperson: Mr V Smith (ANC); Mr S Mohai (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Document awaited
The Secretary to Parliament appeared before the Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament to provide explanations on matters the Committee had raised during previous meetings between November 2016 and February 2017.
 
Answers from the Secretary dealt with filling of vacancies; performance management system; centralization of supply chain management; disciplinary hearings; budget of the Speaker’s Office; condonation of fruitless and irregular expenditure; contravention of supply chain management procedures; bursary allocations; and allegations from Nehawu.

During the discussion there were questions the Secretary did not want to respond to. In one instance, the Chairperson had to intervene and ask him to give a simple yes or no answer. Some of these questions were about bursaries, danger pay, supply chain management, and disciplinary hearings.

Members queried if the Parliament policies have been finalised and signed off by the relevant authority, and if any policy gaps that have been identified; how much time does the Office of the Secretary have to finalise matters with Nehawu; if there are measures in place to cut down on travelling; who looked at the performance contract of the Secretary when he was awarded a R30 000 bursary; the staff complement of the Speaker’s Office; committee chairpersons do not have a say on the performance appraisals of researchers, content advisors, secretaries, and committee assistants; through what policy was the danger pay for “chamber support staff” approved; who granted condonation for Parliament's R2 million fruitless and wasteful and irregular expenditure and requested access to the recommendations for this condonation as it was a contravention of the legislation; why the Secretary to Parliament was both a player and a referee in the Adjudication Bid Committee; why the Secretary to Parliament had said the Enterprise Planning and Resource Management (EPRM) system was obsolete and has to be replaced.

Meeting report

Mr Gengezi Mgidlana, Secretary to Parliament, provided responses to questions the Committee had raised in previous meetings since November 2016:

Matters of reporting:
Mr Mgidlana indicated they continue to improve the way of articulating targets, collecting and verifying data. They are adopting an outcomes based approach. At line management level, descriptions and indicators have to prove that things have been done and systems have been put in place to ensure things are done the correct way as pointed out by the Auditor-General (AG). A draft framework has been formulated that details a method of reporting for matters identified by the AG.

Clarifying SMART targets:
On whether the targets were complying with the SMART criteria, he said this is work in progress and there is improvement year on year. Currently, they are busy with 2017/18. The process is verified by the internal audit committee.

Performance Management Policy:
He reported the institution is reviewing some of the HR policies broadly. The executive authority has engaged labour to participate in the performance management system. Labour has promised it would participate in the performance management system.

Consolidation of guidelines and templates:
Mr Mgidlana stated the consolidation process has been done already, including the training of line managers where gaps have been found. There is movement in the new direction and the reports are getting better.

Condonation of fruitless and irregular expenditure:
A committee has been established to look into the matter. It has started its work already. It has gone through substantive work and made proposals, and it is going through a series of checklists and has made recommendations. The recommendations that have been already made are on condonation. Challenges are around paperwork for transport e.g. hiring of taxis to bring people to Parliament and you discover the service provider has no business registration certificates or tax clearance certificate. However, there are steps that have been taken to ensure the  irregular expenditure identified is condoned.

Critical vacancies:
Thirty posts related to core business have been identified. Progress is at different levels so short-listing has been done, or offers have been made, while other posts have been advertised. The filling of core business vacancies has been prioritised. However, the budget cuts are proving to be a constraint. This is not only unique to Parliament. This is going to affect the CoE (Compensation of Employees), Goods and Services, etc. Steps have been taken to look at critical posts and posts not filled for some time. Relevant line managers have proposed that posts not filled for a long time be frozen. No people have been retrenched from work up to now. Most of these posts are not in core business but support the business side of Parliament. Belt-tightening meant some things will be done while others are not going to be done. This not only affected the CoE only, but Goods and Services as well. As a result, the institution had to cut down on the purchase of flowers, relooked at travelling, and printing is now done internally, except that of Bills. Management has been asked to look at ways to make savings and yet still deliver the service e.g. doing strategic plans workshops inside Parliament instead of outside. That saves a lot of money.

Local and international travel expenditure:
Most of the work of Parliament is local. Figures have been presented on expenditure by Members of Parliament.

Centralisation of Supply Chain Management:
Mr Mgidlana reported there is still compliance and there is a full application of the principles of supply chain management (SCM) to manage contracts properly. The CFO for SCM has been commissioned to provide a service that is proper and supports the requirements of legislation and regulations. The CFO has tabled a proposal which has been considered. This would work well with the Enterprise Resource Management.

Information on the 20 years of celebration of the Constitution:
Mr Mgidlana pointed out this is a thematic area this year for Parliament. Everything they do is done in the context of the celebration of the Constitution and establishment of the NCOP. They are looking at existing plans and on leveraging them. An event was held in the Chamber to celebrate the Constitution and the establishment of the NCOP. R2 million has been set aside for printing, travelling, catering, filming, etc. So, everything they do is going to be in the context of celebrating 20 years of the Constitution and establishment of the NCOP.

Suspended employee:
He stated employees are suspended for a variety of reasons. Only one employee has been suspended. The matter is being handled by the legal representatives of the employee and those of Parliament. The parties are engaging at different levels for a speedy resolution. It is still a pending matter.

Breakdown of budget of Office of the Speaker:
Documents reflect there are 20 staff members in the Office of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, House Chairperson, and Office on Institutions Supporting Democracy. There are also 43 staff members at various levels in support of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and House Chairpersons including the Ministerial Handbook.

Reports on allegations made by Nehawu:
Mr Mgidlana explained Parliament has a recognized agreement with Nehawu. There is a bargaining chamber. Where there were instances of labour instability, there were interventions the executive authority and Nehawu made to normalise the process. This involved the Secretary of Parliament and Deputy General Secretary of Nehawu. Some of the matters have been there while others are new. These are the same matters expressed on other platforms. On the allegations of refusing to pay performance bonuses, the matter is currently under discussion in the bargaining chamber. It is not yet finalised. The team that looks into this matter comprises the Regional and Provincial Secretaries of Nehawu in the Western Cape and some members of the executive authority. Nothing has been finalised yet. Furthermore, a secondary structure has been set up by the executive authority and leadership of Nehawu to take over matters should the first structure fail to arrive at a resolution and things collapse. On the allegations about recruitment and selection of candidates, there is a policy in place for the advertisement, approval and funding of posts. The first interviews were not successful. They were not able to get the candidates they wanted. Consequently, they resorted to headhunting. All the headhunted candidates had gone through an interview process, done psychometric assessments, and had their background information checked. There was compliance.

Bursary allocations:
He reported that during 2017 bursaries have been given to junior, mid, and senior staff members. They are also provided to Members of Parliament. There is a bursary policy and it is now going to be called a learning and development policy. It is also going to look at conditions of employment to improve what they currently have.

Contraventions of SCM:
He pointed out the SCM has provisions that empower the Secretary to delegate and appoint relevant people to ensure compliance. The ICT policy and strategy has been approved, and the internet server is going to be improved to ensure members get information as quickly as possible.

Stakeholder Management:
Mr Mgidlana stated it is first important to determine who the stakeholders of Parliament are. A draft policy has been put in place to determine how Parliament conducts business with internal and external stakeholders. This is going to lead to an institutional governance charter. This would be done in the form of a survey by an independent research company.

Enterprise Planning and Resource Management (EPRM) System:
He said this has been in operation for more than ten years. He had asked for assessments to be done on it because its functions were no longer meeting the needs of the institution. The process is still in the early stages of engagement and it is not yet finalised.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked if the SCM, ICT, and bursary policies have been finalised and signed off by the relevant authority, and if there are any policy gaps that have been identified.

Mr Mgidlana replied that the policies are in existence and they are in the process of reviewing all of them because they are ten years old. They have got gaps, and have not progressed with the development of the institution. The SCM policy is going to be reviewed with the provincial departments.

Mr Shaik-Imam (NFP) asked how much time does the Office of the Secretary have to finalise matters with Nehawu. He asked if there are any measures in place to cut down on travelling.

Mr Mgidlana indicated the executive authority would like to see matters resolved as soon as possible with Nehawu. The management team is engaging with Nehawu, and the Secretary engages with the Deputy Secretary General of Nehawu. On travelling, he said the measures are multi-pronged. There are mechanisms in place so that they can administratively plan in advance in terms of costs. Line managers have to plan projects so that procurement plans can be sorted out in time. Delegations from the Office of Speaker, Deputy Speaker and support staff have been limited in terms of travelling but it all depends on what the travelling is all about. A corporate agreement has been concluded with airlines and accommodation places to get discounts.

Ms C September (ANC) asked for clarity on bonuses in the bargaining council. Is a policy in place or are they just looking at a dispute resolution mechanism because it does not look like they have a way of arriving at a conclusion.

Mr Mgidlana replied that there is a policy on performance management but it has gaps. The previous environment was moving in a transactional approach but the current one deals with outcomes and results. If you are performing, you must be achieving the results. The policy environment has to keep up with changes taking place in the institution.

Mr J Steenhuisen (DA) said it appears the bursary policy was never there and referring to it now as a "learning and development policy" is not something new. He asked if the Secretary was awarded a bursary, if the Secretary going to sign it himself or is it going to be signed by another person? He wanted a rationale for centralising SCM and asked what was wrong about the current decentralisation.

Mr Mgidlana replied that a committee has been established to look at the management of bursaries. The Secretary only receives reports from the committee and is not involved in it. The Secretary does not even sign the paperwork involved in the bursary management. Employees who want the bursary have to state their development areas so that they could achieve their set targets. That is signed by the line manger of the employee. On SCM centralisation, he said that is a noble thing to do so that the institution can be efficient, but there is no need to amend the regulations.

Mr C De Beer (ANC) asked when was the bursary policy last reviewed.

Mr Mgidlana replied that most of the policies were drawn up between 2006 and 2009. Now they are being reviewed to be in line with the new strategies.

Mr M Waters (DA) asked who looked at the performance contract of the Secretary when he was awarded a R30 000 bursary because he mentioned that when bursaries are awarded, they first look at the performance contract of the employee.

Mr Mgidlana did not provide an answer.

Mr Steenhuisen indicated that if there are policies in place, the Secretary has to follow them to the letter.

The Chairperson intervened and stated that all matters related to bursaries would no longer be entertained until all the Members have been provided with the necessary policy documents.

Mr Waters remarked the Secretary appears not to know the staff complement of the Speaker’s office. The Committee is fed the wrong information because the document on the organogram of the Speaker’s office states there are 20 staff members at a cost of R90 million but there are also figures of 43 and 72. He asked if the Committee could get an undertaking from the Secretary that from 1 August 2017 it would get clear and accurate information. He asked what Projects Division is doing or is all about.

On the organogram, Mr Mgidlana explained that he had reported to the Committee that a macro-structure of Parliament was approved in the Fourth Parliament strategy. Now in the Fifth Parliament, they are reviewing the structure to be aligned with the programme of the Fifth Parliament. They also have identified posts that need to be frozen. The Projects Division looks at inefficiencies and misalignment of structures within the institution. In 2015/16 Annual Report, they could have said it is an outstanding matter, but during 2016/17 it was work in progress.

Ms E Coleman (ANC) asked if there is a policy in place for trips when Members are allowed to travel abroad. Have posts for content advisors been abandoned because nothing is said about them?

Mr Mgidlana elaborated that the travelling policy is part of a political management process. The House Chairpersons engage with the executive management on matters that require travel abroad. For bilateral and multilaterals, the executive management authority is advised on the work to be done and it has provisions for the number of delegates allowed to travel. On content advisors, he replied that the Acting Deputy Secretary has advised that Committees that need content advisors should engage with his office for the provision of assistance.

Mr N Gcwabaza (ANC) asked if the 60 vacant posts were a result of attrition or if the HR created them. He asked if there are any other budget line items affected other than the freezing of posts.

Mr Mgidlana replied that the vacant 60 posts are there due to attrition. He said there are other budget line items that have been affected such as the need to do printing internally, purchasing fewer flowers, as well as affecting catering and transportation, etc. He said Treasury looks at the inefficiencies in the institution's capital expenditure.

Mr A Masondo (ANC) commented that labour relations is one area in many institutions that is neglected in terms of management capacity. The management complement in Parliament has been unstable for a long time.

Mr Mgidlana replied that the labour relations strategy is being reviewed to be aligned with the Fifth Parliament. This strategy would deal with a number of pillars like conditions of employment, learning and development. They have engaged the services of a labour expert in terms of interventions. If the strategy is successfully implemented, it would have an impact on the working environment.

Mr Steenhuizen asked if the Secretary could explain who accepted or granted the condonation of R2 million fruitless and wasteful and irregular expenditure and asked if it is possible for the Committee to have access to the recommendations for this condonation because this is in contravention of the legislation. He asked for clarity on why and how the Secretary navigated to be both player and referee in the Adjudication Bid Committee.

The Chairperson asked what the process of condonation is, the terms of reference, and who is involved in this committee that condones the irregular expenditure.

Mr Mgidlana replied that Section 4.4 of the Regulations state that the accounting officer can establish a committee. When the issue of irregular expenditure arose, an Annual Report was tabled. It was agreed that a structure that is independent would be established and it would report to the Secretary who would then report to the executive authority. That process has so far gone to this particular level.

On the Secretary to Parliament acting as both player and referee, Mr Mgidlana replied that when they worked on the Back-to-Basics projects, the structures that were developed failed to deliver on their mandate due to a lack of capacity. Then it was decided to put in place additional consultants to assist the Bid Evaluation and Bid Adjudication Committees. That process did not deliver despite outside intervention. The regulations were studied carefully and there is a provision about the powers of the Secretary. Then a special Bid Adjudication Committee was established because some bids need special skills or knowledge and normal processes do not work sometimes. The Secretary serves on the committee as last instance. Provisions are stated in the regulations. There was compliance. Various legal advisors were listened to and there were different interpretations.

Mr N Singh (IFP) asked for clarity on danger pay for the “chamber support officers” and asked if these employees who protected Members who were seen to be in danger during 2015 were contracted by Parliament and if they were going to be paid retrospectively. He asked how many disciplinary cases are outstanding and how many were being paid while their hearings were still in progress.

Mr Mgidlana explained the danger pay is related to the conditions of risk between the employer and employee. The danger pay is not part of the actual contract and those employees are not going to be paid retrospectively. Concerning disciplinary hearings, he reported there is only one suspension. Parties are currently engaging in this space, including an independent body. They have not yet arrived at an agreeable position. He then said seven cases are still undergoing the disciplinary process. The process is going to the CCMA to help resolve the matter.

The Chairperson remarked it is going to be too late if the aligning of the macro-structure of the Fourth Parliament to the Fifth Parliament is only finalised by 2017/18. He also pointed out that Members do not have the policies. The Committee needs to be given the policy documents. Five priority policies are needed and the Secretary needs to discuss how he is going to move forward with these policies.

Mr Mgidlana replied that the alignment happened a little bit late and it was challenging for it to happen at this time. It would have been proper to have done this in 2015/16. They were not able to deliver due to capacity constraints and they need to do a catch-up.

Ms September asked for clarity on the danger pay and asked if it was truth or just speculation from the media.

Mr Mgidlana remained silent.

The Chairperson intervened and asked the Secretary to give a yes or no answer.

Mr Mgidlana agreed in the affirmative that it is finalised and has been implemented since February.

Ms September asked on which policy basis was this danger pay implemented because there is nothing noted about this matter.

Mr Mgidlana replied that the danger pay is benchmarked with what the public service puts forward. The danger pay was approved and authorised by the executive authority, based on the motivations they advanced because that is something they need for the institution going forward.

Mr Steenhuizen proposed that each Committee member should be given a copy of each and every policy the Parliament has, including the 2017 January Memorandum. He asked the Secretary to confirm statements he made in November 2016, as reported by PMG, that the current ERP is obsolete.

Mr Mgidlana explained the ERP was brought ten years ago. The system they have got now does not match their needs and systems. The procurement process is going to be done to get a better system. What they are having now is not good. He said he is not talking from a theory perspective. The situation has to be turned around. The tool they have got does not suit their operational model. There has been assessment around this and they need a system that has got the functionalities of today. He assured the Committee that the revised and approved documents would be forwarded to it.

Ms Coleman commented that as Committee Chairpersons they work with researchers, content advisors, secretaries, and committee assistants but they do not have a say in their performance appraisals. She asked if the current performance management model makes provision for such.

Mr Mgidlana stated that the current model does not allow committee chairpersons to have a say on performance appraisals or assessments of secretaries, researchers, content advisors, etc. He said they use different tools for the people they service such as the chairpersons. That information is used when they do assessments and is applied in the performance assessments. However, this method is not in process yet and it is being considered.

The Chairperson asked about staff debt and what mechanisms are in place for additional income.

On additional income, Mr Mgidlana replied that they are trying to improve the management of the inventory, catering and canteens so that people can start to eat inside Parliament. They are also trying to improve the gift shop, broadcasting and communication. There are no approved areas for now. Everything is still under discussion. He said the staff debt is related to “no work, no pay” [strike matter]. They are hoping it is going to be resolved amicably because it is part and parcel of the basket of issues in the bargaining council.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

Documents

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