The Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation presented on the Department of Communications’ performance over the past three years, with a special focus on the public sector, skills development and economic growth. Overall, the Department had performed poorly during the period. It had numerous challenges, including achieving non-compliance scores in the public sector, and had been reported as not being reliable with performance information by the Auditor General (AG) because there was poor performance in all key performance areas, which had raised concern.
One of its challenges had been in implementing an efficient ICT infrastructure that would benefit the economy. Although, the Department had created employment opportunities, there were still problems in ensuring that the whole country was up to speed with the new technological advancements, especially in rural underdeveloped areas. Expensive data costs were a concern because it meant information was less easily accessible to South Africa’s people.
The ability of the DOC to fund students was a challenge, because there were challenges with repeating students and student drop-outs. The Department was failing to meet targets for the successful completion rates of undergraduates, and in the issuing of certificates to students in TVET colleges. There were computer system backlogs in the TVET system which affected the economy because students were unable to look for employment without certificates. The DPME had been working with the relevant departments to resolve the challenges.
Committee Members were not satisfied with the progress of the DOC, and declared that more had to be done to resolve issues. Their main concerns were related to the lack of inclusivity in the Department, with particular reference to students with disabilities, affordability of data costs affecting the ability of poor communities to access the internet, and the need to bridge the gap between rural and city economies. The Chairperson also advised the Department to lead by example, especially during the monitoring and evaluation of public entities.
Performance of Department of Communication
Dr Thabo Mabogoane, Outcomes Facilitator: Education and Skills, Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), gave a breakdown of how the presentation would be presented, with a focus on the public sector, the economy and then skills.
Mr Lebo Masolane, Director: Public Sector Monitoring, said he would present on behalf of the Department of Communication (DoC), and that the data had been carefully compiled to reflect the true performance of the Department over the past three years. He would be focusing on the performance of the Department as per the Management Performance Assessment Tool (MPAT) which was used to assess the Departments’ management practices. The four key performance areas of the MPAT included strategic management, governance and accountability, human resource management and financial management. He would first discuss the strategic management of the Department between 2017 and 2018.
Strategic management, which included strategic planning, the Annual Performance Plan (APP) as well as monitoring and evaluation, measured the capacity of the Department to monitor and evaluate. It involved the ability of the Department to produce APPs that align with the five-year strategic management plan and determine if it had tools that provide reliable information timeously to improve performance. The role that DPME played to oversee and monitor entities that reported to it was vital, especially since the strategic management score had decreased between 2017 and 2018. The DPME recognised that performance was poor in all key performance areas, except financial management, which had performed poorly only with the payment of suppliers. There was partial compliance by the entities. He added that there was a lack of justification and evidence regarding the reasons for the poor scores and non-compliance, even though this was a self-assessment tool and requirement for the Department.
This raised a concerning issue of whether the Department of Communication had the ability to detect public entities’ performance and the various performances of departmental programmes. The Auditor-General’s (AG’s) report further revealed that there was a lack of reliability with the performance information of the DOC. The overall departmental score in strategic management had declined from 2017 to 2018 due to issues in the monitoring and evaluation environment.
Mr Masolane said the poor performance and the non-compliance in the second performance area, governance and accountability, involved ethics, financial disclosure, risk management and Information Communication Technology (ICT). He explained that ethics were about financial disclosure, the DOC’s ability to detect corruption, and the existence of whistle-blowing policies. The appointment of an ethics officer was also a part of ethics.
DOC did not provide any evidence for the assessment of the standards. Its disciplinary processing ability was assessed to ensure that processes were completed within a timeframe. The regression of the disciplinary standards affected the strategic management performance area, resulting in the low level in 2018.
The third performance area, human resource (HR) management, focused on the alignment of HR planning and the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) over three years. This performance area involved organisational design, the vacancy rate, HR delegations, the performance monitoring and development system, and disciplinary cases. DOC had a poor score in this performance area, which was a result of the regression of the performance. Again, evidence was not provided for the poor score by the Department.
The last performance area, which was financial management, involved the DoC’s ability to detect and prevent the unwanted and irregular spending of funds, as well as the late payment of suppliers. The Department had performed relatively well in this performance area, but the inability to pay suppliers within 30 days and not paying one invoice had prevented the Department from achieving a higher score.
Mr Masolane highlighted that the DOC had been non-compliant and performed poorly over the last three years, although financial management was performing relatively well. However, the Department had managed to perform better in 2016 compared to 2017 and 2018, with 2018 being the worst.
He said that the Department was in a state of doubting whether the current systems and processes could produce reliable information that supported planning and monitoring, as well as the implementation of corrective measures, especially since evidence was not brought forward regarding the non-compliance of the performance areas. He added that without proper implementation, there was no moving forward.
Mr Nyiko Mabunda, Director: Sector Monitoring of the Economy, explained that outcome four had to do with decent jobs through inclusive economic growth, and outcome six had to do with competitive infrastructure.
Mr Mabunda said that by 2030, the National Development Plan (NDP) was expecting growth in ICT not only in South Arica, but as Africa’s leading digital hub. However, there were challenges, such as having the right regulatory framework with the necessary skills and suitable infrastructure. The performance of the DOC was measured through its achieved targets, which were lower in 2018/19 compared to the previous two years. This was an area of concern, because the unachieved targets were core functions of the Department’s work on policy development, as well as the roll-out and completion of the broadcasting digital migration programme. The revenue of the ICT sector had grown, with telecommunication in the lead, followed by broadcasting and postal services, which were a little stagnant.
Mr Mabunda said that 21% more jobs had been created over the last three years in the telecommunications, broadcasting and postal services sectors. The percentage could be improved, as the Department had anticipated that it would be higher. There were challenges faced by the DOC, with the transition from analog to digital television. He added that the transition would boost manufacturing investment.
South Africa ranked 89th on the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) with regard to ICT adoption. Only 54% of the South African population had access to the internet. The Department of Communication would improve the situation, especially with the publishing of the new policy spectrum, which would increase competitiveness and decrease data costs. Access to the internet was a precondition for South Africa’s ability to participate in the digital economy, especially with the advance of the 4th industrial revolution.
Mr Mabunda went through the key performance highlights of the last three years. The key performance areas included the White Paper on Audio-Visual and Digital Content Policy, which enabled mechanisms to facilitate ownership by small, medium and micro enterprises, Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) where analogue transmitters had been switched off to support digital television migration, and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) Amendment Bill, which had been developed but was not yet approved by Cabinet, and had not been reported on.
He outlined four challenges facing the DoC.
Firstly, there was the slow transition from analogue to digital television. However, the process was expected to speed up as a new implementation plan was being developed, and the DOC’s APP estimated that by June 2020, all of the analogue transmitters would be switched off, which was encouraging for the Department.
Secondly, there was the challenge of high data costs, where South Africa was ranked the 31st most expensive, which was unacceptable to the Department. However, the memorandum issued by ICASA, which outlines a way forward for a wireless open-access network and issuing licenses to operators, should assist with the high data costs.
Thirdly, there was the challenge of unequal access to ICT by people residing in the rural areas. Implementation of infrastructure through the new policy would assist the DOC in bridging the gap, which was encouraging.
Lastly, the challenge of content and economic regulation had not yet been finalised by the DOC, but work was being done to improve this status.
Mr Mabunda outlined the priorities of the DoC. These were:
- The partnership with ICASA on the 5g spectrum policy, which seemed to be progressing;
- The finalisation and resubmission of the white paper on audio-visual and digital content policy, which would bring certainty on the way forward;
- The emphasis by the President on improving South Africa’s ranking on ICT adoption, which would improve infrastructure investment as well as decrease data costs, benefiting society and small businesses;
- The need for technical skills in the country to impact employment, technology and capability transfer of digital skills;
- The Presidential Digital Industrial Revolution Commission, where a diagnostic report was submitted the previous week to the President and a final report was expected sometime during February 2020. The final report would help the Department deal with the issues accordingly;
- Lastly, the importance of digitising government, to improve planning and implementation.
Mr Mabunda said that there had been progress in the DOC in addressing issues and challenges. The implementation of new policies provided the Department with plenty of opportunities to improve, with consideration of increased investments and employment with the suitable infrastructure.
Dr Mabogoane said that outcome five was not under the DoC, and asked if it should still be presented.
The Chairperson asked Dr Mabogoane to briefly present outcome five to the Committee so that there was clarity moving forward, as it would provide Members with a background during oversight visits.
Dr Mabogoane said that sector five involved skills and capable workforce support, to support an inclusive growth path. Performance had been measured by the DOC on the number of students enrolled into Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, although the target was not met. A major contributing factor to the unachieved target was the poor perception people had of TVET colleges compared to universities. Universities had higher enrolment numbers than other higher education institutions.
The target was met by the Department for the number of people enrolled into university, but the target was not met for the number of the students funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The challenge faced was that there was a high demand for funding, which exceeded the allocated budget. A contributing factor to the high demand for funding was the difference in the tuition fees at different institutions for the same course, and the Department was finding a solution to level the costs.
Dr Mabogoane said that there was an issue with the “missing-middle,” which were students who came from households that could not afford university tuition themselves, but were also not ‘poor enough’ to qualify for government funding.
There was also an issue with the TVET colleges over issuing certificates on time for qualifying students, and backlog issues with the TVET colleges’ computer systems The challenge was the high number of externally written examinations which resulted in Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) systems being unable to track the number of written course exams. A more efficient computer system was still being discussed by the DHET and the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) to resolve the backlog issue, as it affected the economy -- more young qualified people were unable to get employment because they did not have certificates.
Dr Mabogoane said that there was an improvement in the number of students who passed N3, but there was high number of the N3 students who could not proceed to do an N6 qualification. The challenge was that there was a high number of repeating students, as well as high drop-out rates and returning students. The Department had been struggling to solve the problem.
The target for the number of certified artisan programmes was not achieved by the DOC. This was crippling for the South African economy, because fewer people could qualify and practice as artisans. Regarding PHD’s, the target was met with the number of PHD’s attained by lecturers. He pointed out the importance of having PHD’s as beneficial for the country, because it allowed the country to actively participate the knowledge economy.
On the other hand, university access was increasing. The challenge was the through-put students who had failed their first year and had not completed the degree on time. The Department had been deliberating on how to decrease the number of repeating students without lowering the standard of learning. Dr Mabogoane added that students should be equipped to cope with the demands of university life, not just intellectually but socially as well. Some social factors included language barriers, hunger and excess freedom.
The target for the number of engineering graduates was met, the only challenge being ensuring that the graduates received accreditation to practice, as well acquiring the necessary experience. There had been an increase in the number of Masters graduates through science and innovation support. However, there were still backlogs in issuing certificates to students.
Targets had been met in the number of human and animal health graduates, as well as the teacher education graduates and the physical sciences graduates. Overall, the success rate of undergraduates was good, but the emphasis was still on the through-put students. Targets were not met for the number of successful distance graduates.
Dr Mabogoane concluded by saying that although the DoC had put in a lot of effort to meet targets, there was still inefficiency.
Ms W Ngwenya (ANC, Gauteng) highlighted the importance of information and asked how the Department recruited students -- whether it was through advertisements or head-hunting at universities. She said the recruitment of students was a good project. However, her main concern was the number of challenges faced by the Department. She asked whether there were any disabled people in the Department and whether it considered disabled students for employment opportunities.
Were there disciplinary measures in case performance did not meet standards? How did the Department ensure improved performance? What relationship did the DoC’s financial management have with AGSA?
Mr A Cloete (FF+, Free State) asked how the Department planned on retaining educated students from leaving the country.
Ms T Modise (ANC, North West) expressed concern on the number of challenges faced by the Department. She said data costs were expensive even for young students and asked how the DOC would make data accessible and affordable for everyone, including the less privileged. Secondly, what measures had been put in place by the DOC to strengthen and ensure the growth of ICT in the country?
Mr C Smit (DA, Limpopo) asked for clarity on the infrastructure that linked rural areas with central hubs. He asked how the Department would ensure that basic services were provided to link rural areas and developed city economies, and if there were any strategies in place to improve rural economies. If not, how would Department ensure that this occurs.
Ms Modise asked how the Department would achieve outputs if content evaluation was not yet finalised.
The Chairperson enquired how the Department expected to monitor entity’s targets, and suggested that it lead by example, especially if the targets were set by the Department. He stressed that service delivery was compromised if the Department did not meet expected targets. He also asked whether the configurations -- merges and splits -- in the Department were the reason for the poor performance.
Dr Mabogoane replied that there were no available statistics for disabilities within the Department. However, the Department was willing to provide a feedback report for the Committee.
The Department was unable to track everyone that left the country. People left the country for various reasons, so the Department had no control over students emigrating.
The Department’s financial reports were submitted to the Cabinet, so Cabinet members should hold each other accountable for the communicated unachievable targets by the Department and provide a suitable solution.
Dr Mabogoane said that the Department had a good relationship with the AGSA, where the Department submits the MTSF and the set targets of the Department. With the assistance of the AG, the Department can better measure and monitor the completion of its plans.
He said that the performance agreements would be signed by the President with the Ministers. The DPME had to put pressure on departments, since it did not have legislative power.
Mr Henk Serfontein, Chief Director: Public Service Monitoring, DPME, explained that information was mainly used to pressure various departments to assess problems, and added that new assessments would be drafted the following year. He accepted the Chairperson’s view and question, and shared the same sentiments as to whether the Department had the capacity to monitor and track public entities. He said that there was a need for the Department to review public entities and improve alignment with the relevant ministers and departments. He asked the Committee to discuss with departments their ability to oversee the reviews.
Mr Mabunda said that the there had been no publication of the data spectrum. There would be a need for retailers to decrease data costs. The Department would monitor. Rural areas were part of the government’s strategy to decentralise economic activity in central hubs, and that there had been emphasis on developing township economies, which was step in the right direction.
Regarding ICT, support was given to community radio stations with equipment and production, and BrandSA communicated government messages which impact on tourism. The Department was pursuing districts to support rural areas, to ensure participation. Skills development was important for growing South Africa as a central economic hub, through skills, ownership and inclusivity, and for content development. The South African ICT sector was more robust than any other country on the continent.
Follow- up questions
Ms Ngwenya asked if the structure which was adopted in 2010 was relevant, or if it needed to be reviewed, because the presentation had more challenges than successes. Was there a need for a re-evaluation?
Dr Mabogoane replied that the focus of the Department had been on inputs and outputs. However, there was not enough emphasis on the level of impact. The function of the Department was to ensure that funds were used to positively impact citizens. Evaluation was important not just for a clean audit, but to ensure that a difference was made.
Mr Serfontein added that there had been compliance with the set standards, which was an achievement for the Department, and that MPAT was a good change management tool which had been used since 2018. The Department wanted to focus more on analysis than assessment, particularly on improving performance.
Mr Cloete highlighted the importance of each department having a policy document, but many did not have one. He requested a list from the Department which listed the number of departments that did not have a policy document.
The Chairperson asked the Department to compile a list at a later stage of policy documents from the various departments for the Committee.
Mr Serfontein asked which specific departments the Committee would like the DPME to report on.
The Chairperson responded that the Department of Public Enterprises had not been reported on, and asked the Department to prepare and present a report to the Committee. It would be notified of a scheduled meeting to present to the Committee.
The Chairperson thanked and excused the Department representatives.
Alexkor oversight visit
The Chairperson reminded Members that an oversight visit to Alexkor had been discussed. The oversight would be a joint visit with the Portfolio Committee. A date was still being arranged, but the month end would be preferable. The purpose of the visit was to view the challenges at Alexkor, and the stakeholders had to be present. He asked the Committee secretary to provide Members with the oversight visit logistics once finalised.
Mr Smit said that the last oversight visit to Alexkor had been unpleasant and fearful. He stressed that there should be freedom and safety to ask relevant questions without fear, in order to address prevalent issues.
The Chairperson said that there needd to be representation from the Premier’s office, as well as from local government. He also expressed disappointment with Alexkor’s response at the last meeting with the Committee.
Mr Smit emphasised that all the stakeholders needed to be present at the next meeting.
The Chairperson said that the Committee could go on the oversight visit independently, but that would be the following year during the first term.
Ms Ngwenya asked that logistics be prepared properly, with a consideration for all Members, to avoid confusion and the presence of unregistered members.
The Chairperson announced that there would not be a meeting the following week on the Inkamva Bill, which had been withdrawn by the Department. However, there would be a meeting on Wednesday.
Ms Modise requested that the Minister brief the Committee on COP25.
Mr Cloete asked if there had been any investigation into the missing data from Alekxor.
The Chairperson said that the minutes would be adopted at the following meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.