Disciplinary cases in the public service; Stats SA on legislative reform; DPME, DPSA & Stats SA Term 2 & 3 performance; with Deputy Minister

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Meeting Summary

Statistics South Africa said the amendment to the Statistics Act would allow the entity to integrate other government departments into the data gathering environment. There was a need for statistical planning to ensure that there were non-traditional data sources for the production of services. The entity also had to ensure adequate reporting for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Part of the impact of the new amendments of the Act included accountability from other stakeholders to report back to Stats SA, which was currently not the case.

The Statistics Council pointed out that the budget allocated to Stats SA was for field work, but that data needed to be analysed and processed, so without proper resources it became a waste. The budget had been cut in 2015, and continued to be cut. This year they had been given R45 million, with the condition that they needed to reduce staff. That meant that the current staff was overworked, and despite that they had to produce accurate data.

The Committee wanted clarity on whether the staff of Stats SA in the various departments would be new personnel, or if they would be part of the existing staff. How would this growth in personnel be funded if there were current issues of funding?

The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) highlighted the challenges it faced in addressing disciplinary matters. These included departments not meeting the time frames for finalising cases; long suspensions resulting in costs, as employees were at home but still being paid; departments not adhering to collective agreements; some departments using legal representation without properly utilising internal alternatives; and selective reporting by departments.

Members asked how the DPSA was assisting provinces and departments where disciplinary issues were a serious problem. Were there any measures to deal with suspensions based on fabricated issues? Absenteeism and insubordination fell under the category of misconduct. In most departments, absenteeism was very high, and caused performance issues. Did the DPSA make follow ups on these types of misconduct? It was asserted that the Department already had teeth, but was not using them. In essence, it had been given powers but was either not using them, or was unable to use them. It was hoped that with its new Director General, the Department would become more proactive.

Meeting report

Statistics South Africa: Legislative Reform

Mr Risenga Mathunjwa, Statistician General: Stats SA, said that he, the Statistics Council, and the Minister in the Presidency would meet to continue to have meetings with the Minister of Finance and National Treasury to have discussions on the funding of Stats SA. The funding was not for the Council, but to secure the functioning of Stats SA.

He said he would deal with the background the Statistics Act of 1999, the rationale behind the amendment of the Act, the consultation process, the key amendments and the impact.

There was a centralised statistical system which consisted of Stats SA and other departments, depending on their mandate. The Act since its enactment had never been implemented to allow the integration of other entities into the statistics format.

The implementations and limitation were the inability to fully implement the Act, which had caused a weakness in the current legislative Act. It lacked sufficient authority, which resulted in inadequate implementation and coordination for the Statistician General to fulfil all the needs of its stakeholders --with the main stakeholder being the government. Five key areas of reform were necessitated.

There was a need for statistical planning to ensure that there were non-traditional data sources for the production of services. The entity also had to ensure adequate reporting for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In 2010, there had been an analysis into legislative reform, where limitations had been observed, and policy documents and legal opinions had been looked into. There had been a symposium with the Statistics Council, which had a specific interest in the final leg of the statistics, whereas Stats SA was concerned with all the data. Council could hold Stats SA accountable if they were not performing adequately. Council could recommend to the President to remove the Statistician General.

Part of the impact of the new amendments of the Act included accountability from other stakeholders to report back to Stats SA, which was currently not the case. There would now be a new body that would put the Act into action. In 2018, the legal draft bill was sent to the office of the State Law Adviser to give an opinion. There opinion was that the amendment Bill complied with the Constitution of South Africa and conformed to the legislative drafting processes. Those opinions were included in the Bill.  They were currently working with the Department of Monitoring, Planning and Evaluation to finalise the socio-economic impact assessment system processes and the specifications of the State Law Adviser. This would then lead to the final amendment bill which would be tabled before Parliament.

Discussion

Ms M Kibi (ANC) asked whether there were any challenges that Stats SA was facing with the current system, and if so, what mechanisms were they using to address those challenges? Secondly, when would the socio-economic impact assessment system be finalised?

Ms M Ntuli (ANC) enquired what the stance of Stats SA was on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

Mr M Malatsi (DA) asked the delegation to indicate when the entities would meet to discuss matters of funding. He wanted clarity on whether the staff of Stats SA in the various departments would comprise of new personnel, or if they would be part of the existing personnel. How would this growth in personnel be funded if there were current issues of funding?

Ms V Malomane (ANC) asked if a statistics unit in state organs would not cause capacity issues for Stats SA.

Professor David Everatt, Chairperson: Statistics Council, was given an opportunity to introduce his delegation, and also explained how they played an advisory role to Stats SA.

Responses

Ms Sindi Chikunga, Deputy Minister: Public Service and Administration, said the Department was committed to addressing the needs and issues of Stats SA, part of which was to look beyond issues of remuneration. The Department would give a more substantial report to the Committee on matters to be discussed at the stakeholders meeting they were planning to have.

Mr Mathunjwa explained that the current strategy extended over a five-year period, and was nearing its end. Every year, Stats SA brought its work programme to Parliament, and it was approved. They ensured that the work programme was implemented, no matter the funding that was available. The recommendations made by the Council and Stats SA to the Minister would come into effect on 1 April 2020. When it came into effect, it would be looking into technology as a tool for the future. With regard to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the impact could not be accurately assessed by Stats SA, but by research organisations.

With regard to having a statistics unit in the various departments, the departments would be in charge of hiring their own staff members. Some departments already had statisticians, such as the Departments of Basic and Higher Education. Furthermore, some departments may not need a unit, while deploying staff from Stats SA would not work as they may not meet the needs of that department. However, those statisticians were not working with Stats SA to harvest the national data that Stats SA may need. In light of this, through the amendment of the Act, Stats SA would be able to meet with the various departments to find out their plans for statistics in that year and how Stats SA’s requirements could also be incorporated, and assess whether they were moving in line with what they had planned. This would also assist in reducing the cost of compiling statistics.

Ms C Motsepe (EFF) asked how Stats SA captured mortality rate for their statistics. How broad or narrow did they go?

Mr Mathunjwa replied that their mortality statistics were very broad. They accounted for gender, race, age and cause of death, and they could specify in a particular year what the leading cause of death for a particular gender was – for example, tuberculosis.

Prof Everatt said that Stats SA was the best trainer for a statistician. The funding aspect had impacted on that training of graduates. The budget allocated to Stats SA was for field work, but that data needed to be analysed and processed, so without proper resources it became a waste. The budget had been cut in 2015, and continued to be cut. This year they were given R45 million, with the condition that they needed to reduce staff. That meant that the current staff was overworked, and despite that they had to produce accurate data.

Ms R Lesoma (ANC) suggested that the Committee should have a separate meeting with the Council at a later stage in order to understand their role.

New Director General for DPSA

Deputy Minister Chikunga introduced Ms Yoliswa Makhasi, the new Director-General (DG) of the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), describing her credentials and the recruitment criteria they had used. She also explained the role of the Department and its obligations in terms of legislation regarding disciplinary matters.

The Chairperson and the rest of the Committee expressed their congratulations on the appointment of the new DG and expressed admiration for the work she had done, and said they were eager to work with her.

Ms Lesoma stressed the importance of the Committee receiving documents well in advance, and told the DG that they would hold her accountable.

Ms Makhasi expressed her eagerness to be part of the Department. She also responded to requests for documents being sent in advance, and assured Members that her office would abide by that. 

Disciplinary cases in the public service

The presentation was divided between Ms Makhasi and Mr Geeva Pillay, Acting Deputy Director: Employment and Conditions of Service, DPSA.

Ms Makhasi described the legal framework, methodology, challenges, misconduct, precautionary suspensions and interventions that had been made. The purpose was to give an update on the nature of the disciplinary cases in the public service as per section 16B of the Public Service Act (PSA), and their implications.

Some of the challenges the Department was facing included:

  • Departments not meeting the time frames for finalising cases;
  • Long suspensions resulting in costs, as employees were at home but still being paid;
  • Departments not adhering to collective agreements;
  • Some departments using legal representation without properly utilising internal alternatives; and
  • Selective reporting by departments.

Ms Lesoma interjected by saying that there were specific areas which the Committee had requested the Department to touch on, which include the intervention measures the Department was taking to speed up disciplinary measures in order to save costs.

Ms M Clarke (DA) agreed with Ms Lesoma on the broad issues that needed to be addressed regarding disciplinary measures, and the strictness which the Department was applying to itself. 

Mr Pillay addressed the point raised by Ms Lesoma and finished the rest of the presentation. He went through the data in the presentation, and also explained the interventions the Department had tried to make. The DPSA had written letters to the accounting officers regarding non-compliance with the prescripts. They were working with National Treasury to reconfigure the Personnel Administration System (PERSAL) to allow for the departments to capture cases for reporting and monitoring. Further, the DPSA had established a pool of labour relations specialists to assist departments with chairpersons and initiators, and further interventions. 

He emphasised that the PERSAL would assist in enhancing the accuracy of information regarding disciplinary measures that were against an employee. The Department wanted to establish a process where a database was in place to account for suspensions, or any disciplinary measures taken against an employee by a department to the DPSA. It was an effort to try and reduce the time it took to deal with matters, and to tackle the issue where employees were prolonging matters in order to surpass 60 days. It would allow criminal matters and disciplinary matters to run concurrently, as the Department would not need to wait for the disciplinary process to end in order to pursue the criminal matter.

Discussion

Ms Lesoma asked how the Department was addressing some of the provinces, and those departments that could be termed as serial offenders. In which sectors in those departments were these offences being committed? How did the DPSA assist these departments that had these issues? What example was the DPSA setting when they had their own unresolved matters? How did they mitigate costs when they were aware that they may not win a case? She suggested that the training for initiators could be put in the programme of the National School of Government (NSG) for the induction. What was the procedure of checks and balances for information to ensure the accuracy of data and that resources were adequately used?

Ms Ntuli said that there were suspensions based on fabricated issues. Were there any measures that the Department had included to deal with such instances? With regard to the non-finalisation of matters, what measures were the Department taking to speed them up?  

Mr C Sibisi (NFP) commented that this was the Department concerned with the performance of government employees. Absenteeism and insubordination fell under the category of misconduct. In most departments, absenteeism was very high, and caused performance issues. Did the DPSA make follow ups on these types of misconduct?

Ms Motsepe said the Department had teeth, but was not using them. In essence, the Department had been given powers but was either not using them, or was unable to use them. She hoped that with the new DG, the Department would become more proactive. There were types of misconduct that needed to be identified and specified more clearly -- which misconducts led to precautionary suspensions, and light misconduct, said that employees would know which type of misconduct they were committing.

Ms Clarke said that considering the economic state of the country, it was imperative to be cost effective. It was worrying that an electronic system had not been put in place, considering that it had been in the works for years, as it opened a gap for employees to manipulate the process. She asked for a specific timeframe as to when the system would be put in place. She added that it would be interesting to see the amount of legal costs the Department incurred in relation to these matters, and how much of those legal costs were paid by the officials in their personal capacity. The state should have measures to recoup those costs should an employee lose a case. There must be consequence management for officials who did not adequately do their job.

Responses

Deputy Minister Chikunga responded to some of the queries, explaining that the reporting from the departments on these incidents of misconduct was often not sufficient, in that they may not always report properly. The DPSA then had to go through volumes of paperwork, and sometimes there was selective reporting which had to be dealt with through writing to other DGs, and escalating the matter if there was no response.

The system was dependent on other individuals who had the authority to dictate on what to bring forth to the Department. She also added that there was a need for a system that would assist with the crisis that they faced as a Department.

Training and discipline was important. When a person was employed, they were given a copy of the types of misconduct and disciplinary measures in place that could be used against them.

Ms Makhasi added to the points made by the Deputy Minister, and pointed out that there was difficulty in providing adequate statistics because of the nature of the system they were currently using.

With regard to the criminal justice system as it related to these matters, there was a public administration ethics, integrity and disciplinary technical assistance unit that would come into force in April to track matters in the criminal justice system.

Due to government processes, they were restricted on the type of system they could use. They were currently in negotiations with PERSAL in order to have labour relations personnel who could have access to the system. The system that the government had invested in, was currently being investigated, and so they could not utilise it.

The Department wanted to embark on a process whereby they were made aware of a case before a suspension occurred -- not to interfere, but to ensure that all processes had been adequately exhausted and there was a tracking system for every case.

Regarding the employee in the DPSA, the matter had taken a long time because of an investigation. It was a supply chain management (SCM) issue, and the employee had been dismissed. The team was now looking into whether there were any criminal matters that needed to be taken up with regard to this matter. This was an SCM director who was accused of interfering with the SCM processes.

Ms Makhasi said at times it became impossible for the DPSA to complete processes within the specified time because of the nature of the matter, and some employees delayed the processes. There were also problems of capacity. She also touched on the issue of extended paid suspensions that needed to be addressed to cut costs.

Ms Lesoma followed up by asking that how the Committee could support the Department with regard to the matters that had been raised.

Adoption of reports

The report of the Committee on the consideration of the second and third term performance of 2019/20 financial year of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (Vote 8) was adopted with amendments.

The report of the Committee on the consideration of the second and third term performance of 2019/20 financial year of the Department of Public Service and Administration (Vote 10) was adopted with amendments.

The report of the Committee on the consideration of the second and third term performance of the 2019/20 financial year of Stats SA (Vote 12) was adopted.

The meeting was adjourned.

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