The Deputy Minister said the Department, South Africa, and the world as a whole, was operating under difficult times because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and applauded the public service for carrying the nation through this difficult time. As communicated by the Minister of Finance, there will be overall budget revisions. It will soon be presented to Parliament. This indicates the Department will likely have to make changes to its current Strategic Plans and Annual Performance Plans. Changes will be informed by the directions given, following the redrafted budget.
The Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) said it has a history of underfunding and the pandemic is likely to lead to further cuts in the budget. However it was positive CPSI will be able to re-prioritise funding in some areas, such as cutting travel costs to attend meetings (as meetings are now held on virtual platforms). CPSI is currently drafting a document to present to the Minister on how to reconfigure its organisational structure to make sure it is able to execute its mandate.
The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) said no irregular expenditure was recorded in the previous 2019/20 financial year. In the 2018/19 financial year, the Department incurred R310 million in irregular expenditure. A significant proportion of this is since resolved, but the matter still needs attention, which calls for an investigation.
Several Committee members asked the DPSA to clarify if it was only starting investigations on irregular expenditure incurred in 2018/2019, now, and if so, this was concerning.
The Department said, most of the irregular expenditure incurred in financial year 2018/19 was investigated and condoned. There is a case submitted to the office of the Director-General, but no response was received. This case was re-submitted for comment.
DPSA is currently dealing with a wage dispute declared by unions in the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC). The unions involved are Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and South African Policing Union (SAPU). Conciliation of disputes began on 28 April 2020, through a virtual meeting, but was adjourned on 29 April 2020. National Education, Health, and Allied Worker’s Union (NEHAWU) said it was pulling out of the process to seek arbitration. The DPSA proposed a resolution to allow members of the PSCBC to meet and address pressing issues under the current level four regulations. There is still a need for collective action.
The Chairperson thanked Ms Sindisiwe Chikunga, Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration, for being present.
Apologies were read for:
- Mr Senzo Mchunu, Minister of Public Service and Administration,
- Ms T Kibi (ANC)
- Mr S Malatsi (DA)
- Dr L Schreiber (DA)
The Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) briefed the Committee on its respective 2020/24 Strategic Plans (SP) and 2020/21 Annual Performance Plans (APP).
Presentation by the Centre for Public Service Innovation
Ms Lydia Sebokedi, Acting Executive Director, Centre for Public Service Innovation, said CPSI was operating under difficult circumstances because of a dwindling budget and the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centre also has limited human resource capacity.
The organisation consists of 31 fixed posts. 28 are currently filled.
Key highlights include:
- Activities fall under two programme areas :
Programme 1 – Administration, and Programme 2- Public Sector Innovation
- Budget projection for financial year 2020/21 is R38.3 million
Ms Sebokedi said there are discussions with the Minister, and CPSI identified innovation research as an area which is lacking. This is mostly because of capacity constraints. CPSI aims to strengthen its efforts over the next five years.
CPSI wants to collaborate with entrepreneurs and the youth to develop solutions for service delivery challenges. Many entrepreneurs approached the organisation, hoping to work together to find solutions to some of the issues of the pandemic. The pandemic is challenging the CPSI to look at innovative ways to share knowledge. One such way is perhaps using webinars. The Centre plans to collaborate with the National School of Government (NSG) to offer online courses such as design thinking, and public sector innovation. This will ensure the Centre still reaches and empowers public servants.
Replication and mainstreaming innovation
A key challenge the CPSI faces, is the lack of creative strategies across departments and provinces. The public sector has pockets of excellence in some areas, but it is not widespread. Because of the pandemic, the country is adopting creative solutions more broadly, for example, online learning and telemedicine. CPSI hopes the public sector will benefit from this experience. It hopes mainstreaming innovative solutions will be embraced long after the pandemic. Provinces are more likely to replicate initiatives from National Government.
Expenditure in Programme 1(Administration)
Approximately 50% of CPSI’s annual budget goes towards costs associated with Programme 1. The Centre identified this as a key area to address. In an effort to cut costs, it proposed a new, leaner form of the organisation. This proposal is still under discussion with the Minister.
Presentation by the Department of Public Service and Administration
Opening Remarks from the Deputy Minister
The Deputy Minister thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present. She said the Department, South Africa, and the world as a whole, are operating under difficult times because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She recognised the work of frontline workers who were celebrated during International Nurses Day.
The Department also acknowledged work done by all public servants during the pandemic. This showed the public sector has the capacity to perform well. Implementing solutions such as online meetings indicates the public service already has the necessary capabilities for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Deputy Minister applauded the public service for carrying the nation through this difficult time. As communicated by Mr Tito Mboweni, Minister of Finance, there will be overall budget revisions. It will soon be presented to Parliament. This indicates the Department will likely have to make changes to its current Strategic Plans and Annual Performance Plans. Changes will be informed by the directions following the redrafted budget.
Ms Yoliswa Makhasi, Director-General (DG), Department of Public Service and Administration, said the work of the Department under its 2020/25 Strategic Plan and 2020/21 Annual Performance Plan, is informed by the Priority 1 of the 2019/2024 Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTEF). The principle guiding it, is building a capable, ethical, and development State. It is also in line with constitutional and legislative mandates of the Department according to the Public Service Act of 1994.
The Department has APP targets in six programme areas. These include: Administration, Policy Development, Research and Analysis, Public Service Employment and Conditions of Service, Government Chief Information Officer, Service Delivery Support, and Governance of Public Administration.
Wage Setting Mechanism / Wage Dispute
Significant work was done toward developing a wage setting mechanism for the Public service. DPSA is currently dealing with a wage dispute declared by unions in the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC). The unions involved are Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and South African Policing Union (SAPU). Conciliation of disputes began on 28 April 2020, through a virtual meeting, but was adjourned on 29 April 2020. National Education, Health, and Allied Worker’s Union (NEHAWU) said it was pulling out of the process to seek arbitration. The DPSA proposed a resolution to allow members of the PSCBC to meet and address pressing issues under the current level four regulations. There is still a need for collective action.
Discipline in the Public Service
The Department is working on developing a programme to improve managing discipline within the public service. It relates to suspensions. The Department is aware the Committee paid particular attention to this issue. One of the main challenges was reliance on a paper based system, which makes it difficult to receive information timeously. The DG said the Personnel and Salary system (PERSAL) is available, but departments seem reluctant to enter data related to information on suspensions.
Senior Management Service
One effort toward the overall management of costs in the public service, is establishing norms and standards in this area. This is to ensure the number of officials holding senior management positions is not too high.
National e-Government Strategy
The DG spoke about issuing an audit report to national and provincial departments, on implementation of the National e-Government Strategy. This will be conducted on specific areas e-government implemented in the public service.
ICT and Digitisation
An assessment by the World Bank on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and digitisation in South Africa shows high spending and fragmentation are important challenges faced by the public service. This is one of the areas identified for cost savings.
The Department will produce guidelines on conducting lifestyle audits for national and provincial departments. The initial target was to have guidelines approved by March 2021. Significant work was done in this area but the target date was moved forward.
Disclosure of financial interests
Under Programme 6, the DPSA will have another category of employees in the Public Service designated to disclose financial interests. E-disclosure closed on 30 April, but there were many requests to extend the deadline. The system is currently web-based. Employees should have been able to complete the process while working from home.
Auditor General Matters
No irregular expenditure was recorded in the previous 2019/20 financial year. In the 2018/19 financial year, the DPSA incurred R310 million in irregular expenditure. A significant proportion of this is since resolved, but the matter still needs attention, which calls for an investigation.
Mr Masilo Makhura: Chief Financial Officer, Department of Public Service and Administration, said the Department has a budget allocation of R1.8 billion over the 2020/21-2022/23 MTEF period. The annual allocation for 2020/21 is R 565 707 million.
As said in the previous engagement, from 1 April 2020, the DPSA will no longer make transfer payments to the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the National School of Government (NSG). These entities will receive funding directly from National Treasury. The only transfer the DPSA will make is for CPSI, R40.8 million for the 2020/21 financial year.
Programme 1: Administration currently accounts for the largest portion (45%) of the budget. This is because it acts as a supportive function housing many units, human resources, finance and general audit, the DG’s office and the Minister’s.
According to economic classification, compensation of employees accounts for 59% of the DPSA’s budget. This is because unlike other departments, it does not have infrastructural projects and depends primarily on employees to fulfil its policy mandate.
Activities during the COVID-19 lockdown
DPSA officials are working from home with the exception of a few essential staff members, such as cleaning staff, management, HR and finance. These employees were provided with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).
The Department will continue working toward implementing the APP as normal until further directives come from Parliament and National Treasury. It focused particular attention on resolving wage issues, providing operational support to departments, and reviewing policies.
The DPSA underwent many changes impacting leadership at various levels. It resulted in a lot of conflict. The DPSA is looking at ways to provide change management support to better equip employees to adapt.
-Non-compliance with DPSA’S own policies and prescripts issued to Department’s
Both DPSA and the Committee picked up on this challenge.
-Adjustment of Strategic Plan and Budget cuts
The President indicated, of the R 500 billion package dedicated toward the COVID-19 response, R 130 billion will come from the public service budget. Logically this will result in significant budget cuts. The DPSA is still awaiting guidance from the National Treasury, but understands this will call for revisions in the Strategic Plans and APP.
Ms M Ntuli (ANC) said it was clear the Strategic Plans and APP will be revised. The Committee accepts the presentations as it is and looks forward to working together to address any challenges faced. She asked:
- How CPSI was impacted by a dwindling budget?
- How will CPSI be impacted by further budget cuts as finances are reprioritised towards COVID-19 relief plans?
- In response to the reported success of online learning, she said she was not convinced. This was based on her understanding of the current inequalities in the country and the limited access to resources such as smart phones which some learners are faced with. This is most relevant with students living in remote communities who are the least likely to benefit from online learning. She asked if there were any plans in CPSI’s pipeline to address issues around short staffing.
- She further asked DPSA if using webinars was useful since lockdown measures were introduced.
- Has DPSA identified any ill-discipline in its employees who are working from home?
- She asked DPSA to clarify if it was only starting investigations on irregular expenditure incurred in 2018/19, now? If so, this was concerning.
- Lastly, she asked what the outcome was of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) and the Auditor General (AG).
Ms R Lesoma (ANC) said:
- in a previous engagement with CPSI, there was talk of reviewing the placement of the entity, to decide if it must fall under the Department or another relevant body. It was crucial for this to be finalised because there is a lesser appetite from the Department to take on products of innovation supplied by the CPSI. This calls for a strengthening of the relationship between CPSI and the Department of Science and Technology. She encouraged the DPSA to look at finalising this exercise.
- She asked CPSI if there are any specific replicated innovation solutions taken up by DPSA to help improve service, or execution of its mandate.
- South Africa must produce its own virtual platforms, because a focus group in Parliament presented there are risks associated with using platforms not locally developed.
- She asked DPSA how far the DPSA was in addressing irregular expenditure incurred in 2018/19.
- She further asked why it was taking the Department up to four years to deliver on certain goals, particularly the Public Service Amendment Bill which must be finalised by 2023. This puts Parliament under pressure towards the election to look at Bills. She said it was difficult to measure progress towards these goals as there are no roadmaps which give a sense of how long it must take. The Committee previously requested answers submitted in writing, however only the Public Service Commission (PSC) did so.
- She acknowledged the DPSA for its work in stakeholder management and facilitation of consultation across relevant entities.
Ms M Clarke (DA) said the following:
- She agreed with Ms Lesoma on the matter of the Public Service Amendment Bill scheduled to come to Parliament in 2023. She said it indeed puts the sixth Parliament under pressure to deal with necessities.
- She asked the CPSI what mechanisms are going to be put in place to strengthen innovation research. The current environment presents an opportunity for the CPSI to potentially create a new normal.
- She said the lifestyle audits the DPSA aims to complete by March 2023 were on the agenda for a long time, finality and closure is needed. She asked the Department to give a written report once the lifestyle audits are completed.
- In a previous meeting, the Committee had an extensive conversation about disciplinary cases. She asked for a report detailing progress and the strides made toward dealing with outstanding cases.
- She asked what norms and standards are going to be applied to providing senior management services.
- She agreed with the DG, and said she too did not understand why employees need an extension to complete financial disclosures. Although people are working at home, people still had the ability to complete the exercise. She asked if all departments are managed through the DPSA, as far as providing reports on outcomes, APPs, budgets and fruitless expenditure goes.
- She asked when the Committee will have adjusted APPs, to understand the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Department.
- She asked if the guideline for implementing proposals on reducing costs were finalised and if it will be presented to the Committee?
Ms B Maluleke (ANC) said DPSA’s presentation suggested the Department will not be affected by the pandemic and will carry out its mandate as normal. However, near the end of the presentation some potential issues were alluded to. How is the COVID-19 pandemic going to impact the Department?
Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) asked the CPSI when it will finalise the permanent appointment of the Executive Director. He said, in some cases where disciplinary investigations are completed, some employees feel threatened, and choose to resign to avoid repercussions. Those persons take up employment in other departments. He wanted to know what happens when a public servant has undergone investigation in one department, is that public servant allowed to seek employment in another department? He also asked what recommendation CPSI can provide given known challenges with lack of tools of trade, and limited connectivity in some areas.
Ms Clarke said it is critical for CPSI to have a well-staffed research department, questioning how it can fulfill its mandate with only one researcher.
Ms C Motsepe (EFF) asked if CPSI is busy with any projects during the COVID-19 pandemic, and if the pandemic contributes toward the re-prioritisation of any projects? She further asked if the Centre made any contact with the two South African entrepreneurs who developed a trailblazing COVID-19 test kit.
Ms Lesoma said it appears, as far as implementation of COVID-19 regulations go, the DPSA is experiencing contradictions amongst departments on the ground. Both DPSA and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) must establish synergy to avoid any contradictions confusing communities and law enforcement. In the next meeting, she wants to hear about the status of the housing scheme for public servants, and if it is being taken advantage of.
Response from CPSI
Ms Sebokedi said the CPSI has a history of underfunding and the pandemic is likely to lead to further cuts in the budget. However, she is positive CPSI will be able to re-prioritise funding in some areas, such as cutting travel costs to attend meetings (as they are now being held on virtual platforms). CPSI is currently drafting a document to present to the Minister on how to reconfigure its organisational structure to make sure it is able to execute its mandate.
CPSI understands Ms Ntuli’s point concerning online learning. There are still challenges with connecting all learners to online platforms. It may call for government to implement a hybrid model where a well sourced school is linked to a school in a rural area. This innovation will allow the teacher in a more resourced school to hold a lesson then broadcasted live to several schools located in rural communities. CPSI has also been tasked to work with a school of innovation in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Prior to the lockdown, CPSI was in communication with the KZN Department of Education to see if the school of innovation can be revived to come up with solutions. There are still many challenges, like unequal access to smart devices and poor connectivity. These still need attention.
CPSI is currently discussing how it will fill vacant posts. In the meantime, it contracted several individuals in the short term.
Repositioning of CPSI
Ms Sebokedi agreed with Ms Lesoma about a review on the repositioning of CPSI. It must be concluded. Before the lockdown, the Minister said CPSI needs to work together with himself and the DPSA on this. CPSI currently has a draft of how the organisation will potentially be repositioned.
Replication of innovation
Promoting the uptake and replication of innovation solutions across departments and provinces is still a challenge for CPSI. For example, an innovation called Vulamanzi was done in partnership with the Water Research Council and University of Stellenbosch, and was replicated in Limpopo. CPSI tried to promote its replication in other provinces to ensure water filtration. This is particularly crucial in instances where water is supplied through water tanks.
Innovation research is still a challenge but CPSI anticipates it will collaborate with more research councils. CPSI only has one research employee within the organization. This means it must outsource some of its work. Due to the pandemic, CPSI is challenged to focus more attention in this area and research has to be relevant to the current environment the country is in. A repository of all the innovations produced in response to the pandemic must be developed, especially in the country.
Lack of tools of trade and connectivity
It is important for the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) to be involved in addressing issues around the tools needed for implementing online-based solutions. The platforms used to host virtual meetings during the lockdown are made possible through SITA infrastructure.
Projects under COVID-19
CPSI wants to explore digitising the screening form to make sure the forms are pre-populated with employee personal details and temperature. This will ensure the information is easily consolidated for the Department’s use.
COVID-19 test kits
CPSI has not yet made contact with the entrepreneurs who developed a test kit. It received information these persons are currently working with the Department of Science and Innovation. CPSI will potentially be part of this process.
Response from the DPSA
Repositioning of CPSI
The Deputy Minister said the process of repositioning CPSI was underway. The Minister put mechanisms in place. It is mechanisms to ensure, when the decision is made, it is made based on science and research outcomes. Ms Makhasi confirmed she was seized with this issue and some work is taking place to advise the Minister about it.
DPSA has not yet hosted any webinars. It is exploring using this platform in the future to address some policy issues. First the Minister must sign off on it. Webinars seem to be a conducive way to engage with people, as parties cannot meet physically.
Ill-discipline during the pandemic
Currently, the DPSA has not picked up any cases of ill-discipline from employees working remotely. DG’s from other departments were asked to give copies of plans for working remotely, as well as reports on productivity during level five lockdown restrictions. DPSA will request information on any ill-discipline, if noted.
Most of the irregular expenditure incurred in financial year 2018/19 was investigated and condoned. There is a case submitted to the office of the DG, but no response was received. This case was re-submitted for comment.
Timeline for Public Service Amendment Bill
The submission of the Public Service Amendment Bill is dependent on multiple factors. Some are out of reach of the DPSA. Other processes must be fulfilled under National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), and Cabinet. Timelines are based on recommendations of the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) process, which is coordinated by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME). In its own internal capacity, DPSA looked at where it can develop its own plans and timelines so it can reach the desired outcome sooner. Until there is a review of the MTSF, timeframes will stand it has been given, but this does not prevent the Department from providing outcomes sooner. DPSA takes note of what the Committee said, and will look into ways of shortening the timeline.
The Department apologised for any written responses not submitted to the Committee previously. It ensured it will follow up on this issue and provide previously requested responses.
Lifestyle audit guidelines
DPSA had internal discussions on this matter and the bulk of the work is done. DPSA’s duty is purely to develop guidelines and to engage with departments. COVID-19 presented challenges for consultations but under the new level four restrictions, the Department is confident this will be possible. DPSA aims to complete work in this area in the current financial year. Reports on the findings of the audits will be provided once completed.
Senior Management Services norms and standards
Post provisioning is about determining how many positions in the Department must be senior management services positions. This is essentially the work going into development of norms and standards.
Ms Makhasi clarified, when she made reference to the President’s speech announcing the R 500 billion response package, R 130 billion of that will come from the public service as a whole, and not specifically the DPSA’s budget. All departments will incur budget cuts but this will only be finalised once National Treasury issues directives.
Impact of COVID-19
Process of developing a Strategic Plan and APP started long before the pandemic. As of now, no directives were received from National Treasury or Parliament about any changes. Until then, the Department cannot elaborate extensively on how the pandemic will impact its functions. The Department is not a service delivery department but is policy oriented. This makes remote work easier to perform. Some challenges the Department currently faces, revolve around a lack of tools, such as laptops enabling employees to work remotely. DPSA is working at its budget to see how many more laptops must be procured to ensure employees are able to work effectively.
The Department’s work depends on consultation with various departments. This is an area the DPSA is working on to ensure consultations can continue, despite limitations posed by the pandemic.
Appointment of the Executive Director
The Deputy Minister said the Department will respond formally in writing concerning plans towards the appointment. When the structure of an organisation is under review, it is usually advisable to avoid filling any vacancies especially those at top management level, until a conclusion is reached on the form the institution will take.
The ongoing disciplinary plan relates to the irregular expenditure the DPSA is currently responding to. The Auditor General made a finding, however, the investigation has not started yet. The Department will share more information on progress once the process has begun.
Manual screening of forms
DPSA is in conversation with the Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS) about an application to facilitate the screening of government departments across provinces. The Department contacted the Acting Director-General of the Department of Health to discuss a partnership between the two departments and GEMS about this application. This makes it easy to consolidate the information in a central database, making it easy for DPSA to obtain information on the status of public servants easily.
Status of Housing Scheme
The request for an update on the housing scheme is noted. DPSA will provide a report on this issue.
Synergy on COVID-19 regulations
The Department said it provided circulars on COVID-19 regulations, which are quite clear. There are different interpretations across departments and management. In these instances, DPSA requires the heads of departments to engage with labour within its organisations to deal with these issues.
The Chairperson thanked the Members of the Committee, the Deputy Minister and members of staff for making the meeting possible.
The meeting was declared adjourned.
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