Audio: SC Comm 10 July 2020
In March 2020 the President declared a National State of Disaster related to COVID-19. The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) was directed to coordinate messaging to the public. Key to the directives is to coordinate messaging across all spheres of government, to drive paid for advertising, and to educate and raise awareness on COVID-19.
A costed budget was submitted to National Treasury and R60 million is allocated through its Summary Adjustment Budget (SAB) with a proposed R50m allocation for Media Space (Electronic and Print), R3m for Print Products and Distributions, and R6m for Advertising Agencies.
GCIS highlighted three core objectives in its Envisaged Phases of Strategic Communications. These are; Preparation (Level Four and Five) to increase awareness of and compliance with health guidance and regulation, Crisis (Level Three) to prevent panic, provide reassurance and guidance and maintain social solidarity, and Recovery, to rally society around a common purpose and rebuild for the future.
The entity said it is in a period of transition from Alert Level Four to Alert Level Three. This encompasses a shift from the enforcement approach towards a more voluntary compliance approach. It consists of messaging aimed at behaviour change and calls on South Africans to play its part in defeating COVID-19.
The DG of GCIS said the entity experienced challenges with lack of resources. It needs resources. The magnitude of the problem encompasses unchanged behaviour amongst South African citizens.
She assured the Committee that the entity will continuously visit communities to engage with traditional and influential leaders. It is not enough for the entity to reach 93% of people with information. People’s behaviour remains unchanged. A lot of work must still be done to ensure people receive the necessary information and change behaviour accordingly. The entity is still experiencing difficulties with this.
Members raised concerns about increases in food prices and concerns about insufficient messaging, and distribution gaps, especially in rural areas.
Everyone agreed it is important to thank frontline workers for service during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Government Communications and Information Systems (GCIS) Adjustment Budget presentation
GCIS took the Committee through the presentation beginning with the original 2020/21 appropriated budget.
In March 2020, when the President declared the State of Disaster as it related to the COVID-19, GCIS was directed to co-ordinate the messaging to the public. Key to the directive was to co-ordinate messaging across all spheres of government and to drive the paid for advertising to educate and raise the awareness on COVID-19. A costed budget was submitted to National Treasury
The focus of the communication around the COVID19 campaign was to education society about the virus, provide information on prevention on the spread of the disease, dispel the myths occasioned by continues disinformation and create a general awareness message on the new normal as SA continues its life with the virus.
Looking at the summary of the adjustment budget of the COVID19 campaign, R60 million is allocated through the Supplementary Adjustment Budget (SAB) with a proposed R50m allocation for Media Space (Electronic and Print), R3m for Print Products and Distributions, and R6m for Advertising Agencies.
The presentation outlined procurement, advertising, the communication command centre and envisaged phases of strategic communication.
See attached document for full presentation.
Mr A Arnolds (EFF, Western Cape) said the GCIS is at the forefront of messaging in the fight against COVID-19. He asked about price increases under the national lockdown, using food prices as an example. Price increases in food negatively impacts communities. He asked the entity to explain if there are any price increases related to advertising agencies. There are a large number of service providers making use of the opportunity to get more funds, this causes price increases. He asked the entity to clarify this and how it is handling the situation. He also asked about staffing. There is no impact on staff because of the upward adjustment. The staffing budget remains at R295.4 million. There is not enough messaging thanking frontline workers for service during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr M Nhanha (DA, Eastern Cape) said business is not as bad as the public is made to believe. He welcomed the generous contributions of various companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook. These companies are not obliged to make donations. He said some of the contributions are worth millions of Rands, and encouraged the Committee to commend these companies for the contributions.
He noted that GCIS informed the Committee that eTV donated 14 spots and eTV is a commercial television station with only one channel. The SABC is sustained on the taxes of South African citizens and could only afford to provide the GCIS with 14 spots across its three channels - SABC 1, SABC 2 and SABC 3. This is unacceptable. It is disgraceful the SABC was out-matched by eTV. This issue must be addressed by the Minister of Communications.
The GCIS showed interest in utilising constituency offices to distribute some of the 70 000 posters and three million leaflets printed. He cautioned that the constituency office in Mthatha is closed. Staff work from home because of the COVID-19 outbreak. High volumes of material will simply be dropped at the offices by departments, such as GCIS, without any explanation. He advised the GCIS to look into other creative ways of distributing leaflets, keeping in mind that the constituency offices are closed.
Ms M Mokause (EFF, Northern Cape) thanked South Africans for taking it upon themselves to take care, without any government grants and other forms of government assistance during the global pandemic. Ordinary citizens must be commended for this, especially people from rural areas. GCIS, in its presentation, spoke of funding awareness campaigns throughout televisions, print media, and community radio stations. She asked the GCIS to name the community radio stations it targets. She mentioned the community radio station, Kurara FM, and said when she performs constituency work in Kuruman, the radio station said it is not its obligation to spread government news, since the government does not fund it.
She said the Command Council, which is appointed by government through its Executive, is spreading mixed messages. Communities do not know who to listen to and what to believe about COVID-19. She asked the entity to clarify if this is the same awareness campaign it is pouring money into.
The entity spoke about a partnership. She asked which awareness campaigns it had so far which were successful. In the North West, there was a funeral of a prominent member of the African National Congress (ANC). The attendance exceeded 100 people. She referred to the GCIS’s messaging and asked if it is working for ordinary people or for the elite.
She also asked the entity to advise who paid for the exorbitant invoices leaked at the OR Tambo Municipality in the Eastern Cape. COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in the Eastern Cape, and although a lot of money is poured into the Province, there are no improvements to show for it. She asked the entity to be specific when it speaks of its awareness campaigns.
Community radio stations remain underfunded. Management officials of various community radio stations reported threats of revoked licenses. She asked the entity to detail its requirements of community radio stations, and asked if there will be a continued spread of positive messages without any government assistance.
Ms L Bebee (ANC, KZN) commended the entity for the sterling it was doing, especially in the rural areas of KZN. She said in some of these areas, people got pamphlets. She asked the entity to explain its relationship with the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) since it moved to the Office of the Presidency. She wanted to know if the entity and MDDA worked or collaborated together in the fight against COVID-19.
She also made reference to one of the GCIS’s newsletters, My District Today, and asked the entity to explain the criteria it uses. She asked the entity to state in which provinces this is being done.
The Acting Chairperson asked if Members had any additional questions or comments before allowing the entity to reply.
Mr Arnolds asked if GCIS can provide the Committee with feedback, because in the presentation it spoke of only 93% of citizens who received the messages. He wanted clarity on the entity’s plans to address the seven percent who did not receive any information. He said all South Africans must receive information. The seven percent must be included.
His asked about National Treasury’s instructions on procurement processes, and suggested the entity present its procurement guidelines to the Committee. He asked it to indicate if any money is misappropriated.
Ms T Modise (ANC, North West) wanted to know which provinces are targeted by GCIS. The presentation said none of the community radio stations in the North West, specifically in rural areas, are included. She asked the entity to indicate the criteria used to determine which provinces are included. She said the community radio stations are crucial in getting messages across to community members. It provides messages in the language of the people on the ground. She asked the entity to explain the exclusion of the North West province.
Ms Phumla Williams, Director-General: GCIS, assured the Committee the entity’s district offices will hire people from local areas. This will ensure the GCIS understands the dynamics and networks of the communities. Fieldworkers comprise diverse groups, from religious leaders to business people, who are members of the communities. This is the beauty of fieldworkers. It assists GCIS on how it interacts with communities.
The DG said the entity experienced challenges with lack of resources. It needs resources. The magnitude of the problem encompasses unchanged behaviour amongst South African citizens.
She assured the Committee the GCIS will continuously visit communities to engage with traditional and influential leaders. It is not enough for the entity to reach 93% of people with information. People’s behaviour remains unchanged. A lot of work must still be done to ensure people receive the necessary information and change behaviour accordingly. The GCIS is still experiencing difficulties with this.
Regarding advertising, the DG assured the Committee the agencies appointed by GCIS two years ago will continue with contracts as is. The contracts will remain valid for the remainder of the agreed upon period. The agencies will also not be changing the terms of the procurement. She assured the Committee it would not be voting for R60m which would go down the drain. All procurement during this period is tagged for purposes of audit. The same applies to the question about community radio stations. Even though a number of stations are not featured in the presentation, all are tagged, and listed.
The DG said the SABC provides GCIS with 14 spots and has matched what the GCIS procured by providing free air time – the SABC has done a sterling job in providing discounts. She assured Members the SABC was doing its part.
Regarding the issue of leaflets left unattended at constituency offices, the entity will sensitise fieldworkers to this. The GCIS has a tight budget. Each and every leaflet has value. The entity assured the Committee it takes this matter seriously to ensure no wastage.
She agreed thanking frontline workers is important. It is a pity the presentation is failing the Committee. The GCIS plans to organise more technology to assist Members in gaining a greater sense of scripting.
Regarding the leaked invoices at OR Tambo municipality, the DG said the GCIS unfortunately did not have the information since it is not within its domain. The entity suggested the municipality will be able to clarify this better.
The DG addressed the issue of the Command Council. It is doing its best with the awareness campaigns. The Minister of Health is trying to engage society on almost all platforms. The provincial leadership also contributes. The entity will strive to uphold a continuous level of consistency with its awareness campaigns. The intention is to remain consistent despite all challenges.
The MDDA moved to GCIS during the lockdown period. The MDDA provided some relief funding. The DG said she did not have the details but said the MDDA’s relief funding assisted some of the community radio stations which were struggling. The MDDA also partnered with the entity in some of the talk shows. It assisted the entity to ensure it increased the number of community radio stations plugged in.
Community radio stations which are not sponsored by the government are a challenge. National Treasury insists community radio stations must be compliant at all times. The system will not allow the entity to procure radio stations which are not fully compliant. These are some of the challenges in the domain of the MDDA. It is doing the best it can to ensure all community radio stations are consistent and compliant.
Replying to the question about the North West province, she said the presentation does not capture everything. The DG assured the Committee she had telephone interviews with one of the radio stations in the North West. Most of the entity’s district offices in the North West provide it with reports at all times. The GCIS did random selections of which provinces to include in its presentation, but assured the Committee all nine provincial offices are on deck and doing their bit.
Regarding the criteria for the My District Today newsletter, the entity said it is a publication developed by its district officials. The officials provide the content on a weekly basis. There are no specific criteria for the newsletter. It is a criteria based on the people on the ground who decide what is covered and which stories are shared.
Ms Mokause said the Committee cannot access information related to community radio stations and/or print media companies which the GCIS works with. This is the right platform for Members and the general public to access all the information needed. Members of the public and the Committee must speak with the right information provided by Government Communications when analysing the radio stations and print media companies which fall under the jurisdiction of the GCIS. GCIS must provide the correct information and urged the entity to be specific.
She said she wants to understand GCIS’s role in Gauteng regarding COVID-19. Millions of graves are being dug in the province. She asked about the entity’s role in this. She also asked if the South African government lost hope in the fight against COVID-19, and if the graves are merely a preparation for failure. The Committee must gain a sense of what the GCIS is really doing, without any generalisation. It is unacceptable for the entity not to know what is happening in OR Tambo because it works closely with the municipality.
Mr Arnolds said he did not get an answer about the 93%, and the 7% that did not receive any messaging. The Committee needs information about the 90 billboards in hotspot areas. The billboards had a budget allocation of R12 million. More information is needed to track the progress and to indicate how the R12 million is spent on billboards.
Mr Nhanha said besides the motorbike ambulances in the Eastern Cape and the invoices Ms Mokause mentioned earlier, there are signal issues in the Eastern Cape in addition to the other challenges. He suggested GCIS finds a way to provide the Committee with the contact details of provincial managers/directors to ensure an ongoing interaction between the Committee and the GCIS on a provincial level. This is particularly in the event of material left unattended at any of the constituency offices.
Ms Bebee asked for the answer on the My District Today newsletter to be repeated since she could not hear the reply clearly. She said she wants clarity on the kind of criteria used in the newsletter.
The entity said it did not receive any briefing to include the list of community radio stations in its presentation. It assured the Committee it will make the list available to Members, detailing the stations used by GCIS. This is not classified information.
The graveyard issue in Gauteng arose with the provincial government. The entity does not know the details of what happened. GCIS receives most of its information from the media. The DG preferred to defer the issue to the provincial government, because this is where the issue began. The same applies to the Eastern Cape with the issue of the invoices. The GCIS only receives information from the media. It did not know the details of what happened.
Regarding the 93% and the 7% that did not receive any messaging/information, the DG said the work will not stop with the 93%. A campaign of this magnitude must be properly and fully resourced. The R60 million will not carry the entity to its desired target, but the GCIS is pleased 93% heard the messages. 7% did not receive the information. The entity will work on increasing the numbers. A lot of work must still be done. The R60 million is not exhausted. The problem area is amongst young people. The entity will go into the next phase with the remaining budget. The entity wants to target young people and look closer at the challenges. The problem is not people not receiving information, but behaviour remaining unchanged.
My District Today criteria are guided by the story of the week. It comes out on a weekly basis. The positive thing about the newsletter is it has a huge database at the local level. Moving forward, the GCIS is thinking of improving the newsletter because it has a sizeable circulation at the district level.
The entity will provide the contact details of the Directors to enable direct interaction.
Mr Michael Currin, Acting DDG: Intergovernmental Coordination and Stakeholder Management, GCIS, affirmed the DG’s response and thanked the Committee for its suggestions about the constituency offices. The GCIS will ensure it calls colleagues in advance to decipher if offices are functioning or not. The entity will consider looking at more creative mechanisms to distribute leaflets. Mr Currin said his colleague, Ms Khusela Diko (Acting GCIS DDG: Content Processing and Dissemination) manages the second branch of the GCIS and is in partnership with the retail industry. Some of the posters will be distributed in this sphere.
Regarding the My District Today newsletter, he affirmed the DG’s response and said there are no specific criteria for the newsletter. Prior to COVID-19, the GCIS used the seven priorities as one of its principles. My District Today is customised to show the stories from remote areas. The broadest criteria it uses is the seven priorities of the National Development Plan, and the current programme of action.
The outbreak of COVID-19 led the My District Today newsletter to be a full COVID-19 story. It depends on which particular issue occurs in the remote area. It was suggested by one of the regional coordinators.
For the time being, the criteria are aligned to the presented slides around the content strategy for level three. The GCIS is happy to provide the full list of community radio stations. It is also open to providing the detailed breakdown of the billboards, how it will be funded, the locations, and the periods in which it will be utilised.
The GCIS must double check the Public Service Announcements (PSA) issue with the public broadcaster. The leaflets for the first batch are the leaflets it is working with in partnership with the Department of Health. The second batch of leaflets, which was presented to the Committee, was also clear and comprehensive in its distribution strategy. The GCIS will double check the distribution strategy in the North West. Every province and every district is targeted on distribution. Given that volumes were quite short in the first load, the GCIS had to try and go towards more of the hotspot areas. The entity increased volumes printed in the next load. There will be a wider reach.
Ms Mokause asked about leaflets distributed across the country and targeted at specific districts. She mentioned an area in the Northern Cape surrounded by mines, and suggested it is important for the Committee to receive information about this area. She spoke of GCIS’s office structure, and noted concern about information not reaching rural areas.
The Acting Chairperson, Ms Modise, handed over to Mr T Matibe to conclude the meeting.
The Chairperson allowed the GCIS to reply to Ms Mokause’s comment.
Mr Currin said he had a terrible connection and could not hear Ms Mokause’s comment. He tried to address a few points from what he could hear. The GCIS has very detailed distribution plans in its breakdown. The GCIS does not make use of intermediaries. For example, the SASSA colleagues, the police and army colleagues, and frontline workers, are key in distributing leaflets. When the entity held one of its key stakeholder meetings at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many private companies also negotiated to receive pamphlets in exchange for various services to the entity The GCIS does not have an agency distributing the leaflets.
Regarding the comment about distribution gaps in the Northern Cape area mentioned by Ms Mokause, Mr Currin assured the Committee the entity will interact with its provincial director to double check the distribution strategy in this area. The GCIS will work tirelessly to ensure its distribution strategy is more intensive and reaches a larger scale.
The Chairperson suggested Ms Mokause submit her question to the Committee Secretary to get a proper response from the entity.
The GCIS welcomed the suggestion.
The Chairperson thanked the GCIS for its presentation. The Committee will address all the issues raised, especially those mentioned by Ms Mokause. Interaction at regional level is especially important, since the communities are located here. Service delivery must be targeted in these areas. The Chairperson thanked Members and said at the start of the meeting, some Members were struggling to log on but happily Members managed to connect to the meeting. The Chairperson lost connection at this point.
The Acting Chairperson stepped in to conclude. She thanked the GCIS for presenting its revised annual performance plan and budget for 2020/21 to the Committee, and said she appreciates the Members participation during the discussion.
The meeting was adjourned.
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