High Level Panel recommendations: Public Works response; Committee Report on Gauteng oversight

Public Works

27 November 2018
Chairperson: Mr H Mmemezi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Public Works (DPW) presented a report which covered the issues highlighted in the recommendations of the High Level Panel (HLP). The issues were employment creation and sustenance; the management of immovable assets; spatial planning and land-use management; and policy and legislation.

The Department’s Director General said the Department envisaged a delay in passing the Expropriation Bill, as it had been withdrawn for further consideration. The DPW suggested that the tendency to introduce new laws each time an issue arose or became topical should be avoided, and that the redistribution and expropriation of well-suited private land should be encouraged only where land owners were holding the land for speculative purposes. The Department supported the proposal for expropriation without compensation, but recommended that a new White Paper, which should be inward looking, should be presented.

The Chairperson responded that both Parliament and the ANC had resolved on implementing “expropriation of land without compensation”. The issue was no longer up for debate. He also placed emphasis on the need to promote jobs and development by creating small harbours to serve the small rural communities. Members urged the DPW to collaborate with user departments to achieve objectives that would help the nation.

The Committee adopted the minutes with minimal changes, but the delayed report on the 2014 oversight visit to Gauteng was not adopted because Members complained it was not properly presented and did not follow the correct report structure. The adoption of the report was therefore put on hold until it was properly presented.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks

The Chairperson said this would be the last meeting of the Portfolio Committee, unless it had to convene for and issue that required urgent attention. He appreciated the commitment of the Committee Members for their decorum during the course of the year. The Committee did not suffer from party politicking, as Members were focused on the objectives of the Committee rather than on their party differences. He also commended the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) for doing a credible job.

He said that infrastructure development was a game changer. The coastline extended around South Africa, but some areas were deprived of harbours. Hong Kong could show the way in which the Department should invest in the future, by using small harbours to develop areas that were seemingly forgotten.

Adoption of minutes and oversight report

The Chairperson commenced the process of adopting the minutes and the report of the oversight to Gauteng in 2014 by going through the pages and asking Members to point out errors.

The minutes of 6, 13, and 20 November were adopted with minimal changes.

However, Members complained about the format of the report on the oversight visit to Gauteng in 2014. It was argued that the report needed to be adopted only for the Committee to keep up with the procedure, because the constitution of the Committee had changed since 2014.

The Chairperson responded that the Committee was a successor in law to the previous Committee that had gone to Gauteng, so the new Committee had to correct and treat the report as if they had been in Gauteng. He questioned whether the report should be adopted or re-written.

Members decided that the report should be re-written.

The Chairperson said since the new Committee would own the report, it would rely on the secretary and the content adviser to re-write the report for later adoption.

High Level Panel (HLP) recommendations

Adv Sam Vukela, Director General: Department of Public Works (DPW), said the report covered the issues highlighted in the recommendations of the High Level Panel (HLP). The issues were employment creation and sustenance; the management of immovable assets; spatial planning and land-use management; and policy and legislation.

Mr Mthokozisi Sidambe, Chief Director: Senior Policy Specialist, DPW, said the content of the report was not limited to highlighting the challenges of the Department that were indicated in the HLP report. It included how the DPW planned to resolve the issues and contained 12 main issues which were clustered into four categories, as mentioned by the DG.

On employment creation and sustenance, the challenges extracted from HLP report were listed as embedded poverty; unemployment and inequality; the short term of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), and the bias against labour-intensive economic activities. The DPW proposed four solutions to this category of challenges.

On the management of immovable assets, the DPW had identified inadequate and inappropriate infrastructure, especially educational facilities, and proposed effective oversight mechanisms as a solution.

He identified the challenges and proposed solutions to the area of spatial planning and land-use management, and policy and legislation respectively. The Department envisaged a delay in passing the Expropriation Bill, as it had been withdrawn for further consideration. The Department suggested that the tendency to introduce new laws each time an issue arose or became topical should be avoided, and that the redistribution and expropriation of well-suited private land should be encouraged only where land owners were holding the land for speculative purposes. The Department supports the proposal for expropriation without compensation, but recommends that a new White Paper, which should be inward looking, should be presented. He requested the Committee to look into the proposals made by the Department in relation to the HLP’s recommendations.

The DG invited Ms Sasa Subban, Director: Real Estate Investment Services, DPW, to provide additional information for the Committee.

Ms Subban stated that pressure on the Department came from both the urban and rural areas. She explained that 79% of South African population lived in the cities, and rural areas lacked facilities. This meant one had to look at both urban and rural land in developing facilities for social integration and alignments.

The DG said the Department would be guided by the Committee.

Discussion

The Chairperson said that both Parliament and the ANC had resolved on implementing “expropriation of land without compensation”. The issue was no longer up for debate. He acknowledged that the report covered the whole South Africa, and not just a part of the country. South Africa had a lot of land that needed to be developed. Unlike South Africa, overseas countries were taking advantage of coastal towns for the development of new or rural areas. He commented that the presentation was not forward looking, and was behind in the type of plans that the country should be having. He felt that “the report was like a report from 1993.”

Mr M Filtane (UDM) thanked the Department for taking time to consider the HLP report. The DPW had been the first to do something constructive with the HLP recommendations. He asked if the Department was thinking of forming a panel to adjudicate on a pool of service providers. How often would this pool be reshuffled? If reshuffling was not done, new entrants would be blocked and the older service providers would dominate the pool. He commented that the DPW had mentioned “the removal of the limitation of two years on the participation of workers so that they could be employed for longer periods.” He asked how the DPW intends to employ the people in a formal way, and who the employer would be. He asked how the implementation of minimum wage would affect the DPW’s budget if the employments were to be formalised. The question was important, because he was aware that some workers were currently paid lower than the minimum wage.

He said that there was no drive to create employment in some provinces, such as the Eastern Cape. The Department had to ensure that the proposed changes became visible in such areas. In addition, the DPW should engage with small businesses and ensure that traders were provided with small trading hubs, because most areas currently lacked spaces for small business operations.

Mr K Sithole (IFP) asked about the relationship of the DPW with other departments. He referred to a statement in the report, “land owners who hold land for speculative purposes,” and said he would like to know what mechanisms would be engaged by the Department to identify the land owners, because earlier reports stated that most of the land owners were unknown.

Mr D Ryder (DA) said it was nice to have the panel report that addressed key legislation on the imbalances of the past. In the past, the DPW had not given enough inputs concerning legislation to enable change. It was good to know that the DPW had listened to his call on the need for White Papers. The HLP report also talks about access to quality education and healthcare, and the provision of access was a key role of the DPW. He asked if, among other Departments, the DPW had a clear role, specifying the needs and how it should provide access to services. The lack of role specification among Departments was a challenge, and there was a need to promote the use of White Papers to tackle the challenge.

He said that the presentation did not tackle the issue of land leases and disposal referred to in the HLP report. The DPW had to keep a focus on the recommendations on land rights in the report, while moving on with the expropriation. Based on the recommendation in the HLP report on the need to work better on rural spaces, he asked if the DPW thought the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) was the best place to house spatial planning and land use management. He was not sure that it be should be housed in the DPW either, but believed that it should participate in, or at least have a say in, spatial planning. The user departments needed the DPW on board.

Mr M Figg (DA) asked the DPW if the report was meant for the Committee, or if it was meant to be implemented. Regarding the reference to the EPWP in the report, he recalled that there used to be a good system in place, where artisans were trained. He did not expect the DPW to focus on training, but it could collaborate with Department of Labour. He recommended using the apprenticeship training route for dealing with skill shortages in South Africa. The consultants were not performing, according to media reports, and it would be nice to review the roles of the consultants. People were living too far from their places of employment, and people wanted to live close to the cities. It did not make economic sense to locate low cost houses next to high cost houses, because the initial cost of the high cost houses would plummet. He recommended proper consideration before decisions on spatial allocations were made. He asked if the lands owned by the DPW would be distributed before expropriation took place.

The Chairperson said the EPWP was a massive project to provide skills for South Africans. It was not good that people joined the programme and left after two to three years without acquiring any certificate or skill. Poor South Africans who were the target of economic reforms, were the ones involved in the EPWP. He expressed concern that public servants in South Africa were not of help, even when they were the ones implementing the budget. If public servants continued with this trend, the capability of South Africans would be reduced.

He recommended that small harbours should be used to reduce the rate of unemployment, and should be created in places where there were none.

He was worried at the rate at which the country was turning out matriculants compared to the rate in which jobs were created. All the directors and their assistants should be worried about what was happening in South Africa. He encouraged the DPW to do more in the area of skilling and employing South Africans. The country needed more artisans, and public servants were the focal point for tangible change, especially among poor South Africans.

He urged DPW to improve on their performance. He reminded Members that the Committee was expected to provide a report on their opinion of the recommendations of the HLP. The report presented by the DPW would help the Committee when it was working on its own report.

The Chairperson asked if the Department had responses to the questions and contributions by Members.

Mr Sithole proposed that the Department be allowed to respond to the questions and observations of the Committee in writing, due to time limitations.

The DG agreed that the Department would respond in writing by Tuesday, 4 December.

The Chairperson agreed with the proposal of Mr Sithole and asked the DPW to submit written answers to the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.

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