The Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), Brand South Africa and Statistics South Africa (StatsSA), presented their strategic and annual performance plans and budgets, which had been adjusted to meet the challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.
StatsSA said that data collection in the field would not resume any time soon, and alternative approaches had been implemented. Data collection from businesses and local government institutions had also been impacted. Where possible, staff were working from home, and data collectors were also working from home in most instances. Operations and service delivery targets had been impacted, and targets that had been delayed included those for transport, governance, victims of crime and domestic tourism statistics. The income and expenditure survey had been discontinued, so there were no poverty statistics measuring the impact of Covid-19.
Members asked about StatsSA’s readiness to conduct telephonic interviews, and how effective they were. They said that in the context of the pandemic, it was deeply disturbing for the country not to have reliable income and expenditure data that could be the basis for making critical decisions.
Brand South Africa said its communications unit had been tasked with managing issues in the environment that impacted on the Nation Brand, both positively and negatively, including public relations (PR) activities, media monitoring, and content development and dissemination related to profiling the work of the organisation. The unit implemented both proactive and reactive reputation management strategies to ensure positive positioning of the Nation Brand domestically and internationally.
Members’ concern was focused mainly on what Brand SA was doing in preparing for restoring investor confidence in the country post Covid-19.
The Department said more focus had been placed on monitoring progress in the response to the Covid-19 challenges, so monitoring would be expanded to include tracking the implementation of directives related to the pandemic across all sectors. The impact of Covid-19, the economic downturn and the resultant revenue loss, would have a long term impact on the fiscus, and would thus have a negative impact on the resources needed to fund the service delivery programmes of the government. With the mooted introduction of zero-based budgeting, a number of programmes may be impacted in the medium term. The DPME would therefore need to review the 2019/24 medium term strategic framework to adjust to these realities.
Members asked what role the Department was playing in assisting government departments to readjust delivery issues without compromising service delivery. Were there any critical positions to be filled within the Department? Would it be monitoring all Covid-19 expenditure, from the national to local government levels? They also wanted to know why there had been a turnaround on performance agreements, because the President had announced that he was going to sign them at the end of the month, but the Department was now saying that this had been cancelled without any reason.
Ms Lesoma was nominated to chair the meeting, because the Chairperson was not present as he was not feeling well.
Adjustment Budgets and Revised Annual Performance Plans
Statistics South Africa
Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) described the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mandate of the department, how the revised budget would impact on the overall allocations, service delivery targets and the recommendations made during the budget votes. Targets in the work programme had been affected by the impact on processes and methodologies, so data collection in the field would not resume any time soon, and alternative approaches had been implemented. Data collection from businesses and local government institutions had also been impacted. COVID-19 had also had an impact on staff, and where possible they were working from home. Data collectors were also working from home in most instances.
Operations and service delivery targets had been impacted by COVID-19 and the revised budget. Targets that had been delayed included those for transport, governance, victims of crime and domestic tourism statistics. There were also targets that had been discontinued because of the budget cut. These were for the income and expenditure survey, so there were no poverty statistics measuring the impact of COVID-19.
Some of the objectives to be achieved by StatsSA by 2025 included a repositioned and strengthened methodology function within the statistical system, modernisation and improved business processes to improve efficiencies, and a leveraged statistical infrastructure within the data ecosystem.
As a way of responding to emerging data needs, StatsSA had launched online a business impact survey of COVID-19, where businesses had been asked how the current crisis had affected their operations during lockdown. This survey had been conducted three times during the lockdown. An online survey had also been launched on society, and had been conducted in three waves. The first wave was about health behaviour and perceptions, the second wave was about employment and income, and the third dealt with education and how time was spent.
StatsSA’s strategic priorities included sustaining and protecting the quality of national indicators, driving business transformation and change, and driving legislative reform in the statistical system.
Ms Thulisile Manzini, Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), said Brand South Africa had been established with the ultimate aim of making a contribution to economic growth, job creation, poverty alleviation and social cohesion by encouraging local and foreign investment, tourism and trade through the promotion of the South African brand. Its purpose and objectives were to develop insights, create knowledge and to inform, with research as a core capability to position Brand SA as a national brand
Brand South Africa used an eclectic approach in understanding the performance of the Nation Brand. Research analysis and engagements with stakeholders were critical processes used to assess the performance of the brand, and to develop strategies to address challenges.
“Play Your Part” was a nationwide movement created to inspire, empower and celebrate active citizenship in South Africa. Its objective was to lift the spirit of the nation by inspiring all South Africans to contribute to positive change, and to become involved and start doing, because a nation of people who cared deeply for one another and the environment in which they lived was good for everyone. There were numerous opportunities, big and small, for each and every South African to make a positive difference in the communities in which they lived and operated. Play Your Part encouraged them to act on these opportunities.
Brand South Africa had recruited Play Your Part (PYP) ambassadors who were ordinary South Africans, currently playing their part as active citizens in their various respective communities.
It had developed and introduced the Brand South Africa Nation Brand Masterclass as a tool to educate stakeholders on the importance of presenting a cohesive and common message when marketing the country internationally. The Masterclass targeted stakeholders -- mainly in government -- that carried out international promotion or destination marketing abroad.
The communications unit was tasked with managing issues in the environment that impacted on the Nation Brand both positively and negatively, including public relations (PR) activities, media monitoring, and content development and dissemination related to profiling the work of the organisation. The unit implemented both proactive and reactive reputation management strategies to ensure positive positioning of the Nation Brand domestically and internationally.
Brand South Africa had adhered to the directive from the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) to revise the 2020/21 to 2024/25 strategic plan and the 2020/21 annual performance plan (APP), to align with the new circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation
Mr Robert Nkuna, Director-General: DPME, said that in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department’s overall mandate remained that of undertaking national planning, and the monitoring and evaluation of government programmes and projects in support of the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP). The medium-term strategic framework (MTSF) remained a five-year vehicle through which the NDP was implemented. The MTSF would, however, be reviewed to reflect the impact of Covid-19 and other factors, such as the report on fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
As far as the monitoring functions were concerned, more focus had been placed on monitoring the progress in response to Covid-19. To this end, monitoring would be carried out on the response plans and interventions aimed at alleviating the impact of Covid-19. Monitoring would be expanded to include tracking the implementation of directives related to Covid-19 across all sectors.
On evaluation and research, the 12 evaluations contained in the Cabinet-approved national evaluation plan for 2020/21 would not be performed this year due to the budget cuts. Instead, one integrated evaluation report would be produced. The Department had developed a conceptual framework for a country report on Covid-19. This was in line with the commitment that had been made at the clusters. The plan for the establishment and operationalisation of an evidence hub and integrated data system would continue. This was aimed at providing access to knowledge products, data and analytic services and tools – the Centralised Data Management and Analytic System, and the National Research Observatory Portal.
The impact of COVID-19 on the Departmental budget had seen a 12.9% baseline reduction for the compensation of employees (CoE). This had been achieved by deferring the filling of 30 vacant posts to April next year, and adjusting the timing of filling of some posts to realise additional savings. The CoE budget had been based on the assumption that there would be no cost of living adjustments for public servants in 2020/21. The submission to National Treasury was therefore conditional on it providing additional funding for any cost of living adjustments. R1.5 million had been reprioritised from CoE to transfers to fund pension penalties for the early retirement for three employees in the current financial year. National Treasury had not yet approved this transfer. Two requests for early retirement had been referred back to the Accounting Officer.
The National Planning Secretariat had not been negatively affected by COVID-19 -- there was no impact on the strategic plan or APP.
APP targets that needed revision due to COVID-19 included the concept note on the updating and prioritisation of the medium term strategic framework (MTSF) for 2019-24, to account for the government’s response to Covid-19 and the economic recovery.
Government priorities were monitored and evaluated for improved accountability, service delivery and evidence-informed policymaking, and for the measurement of performance.
There were no changes to the strategic plan and APP targets for the corporate services programme.
Mr Nkuna said that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic down-turn and the resultant revenue loss, would have a long term impact on the fiscus, and would thus have a negative impact on the resources needed to fund the service delivery programmes of the government. With the mooted introduction of zero-based budgeting, a number of programmes may be impacted in the medium term. The DPME would therefore need to review the 2019/24 MTSF to adjust to these realities.
Ms C Motsepe (EFF) asked if the department was ready to share the two Covid-19 reports with regard to monitoring and evaluation. Were those reports with the Committee, and had they been published on the website? Had a tool been developed to monitor performance departments’ tasks, and if there was, which tool were they using? What was StatsSA’s readiness to conduct telephonic interviews, and how effective were telephonic interviews? Was StatsSA ready to offer offline training in case the pandemic was still widespread?
Ms M Kibi (ANC) referred to the StatsSA decision to discontinue with income and expenditure data, and said it was critical at this stage, especially considering the repercussions, so why had such a decision been taken? What role was the Department playing in assisting government departments to readjust delivery issues without compromising service delivery? Were there any critical positions to be filled within the Department?
Ms M Clarke (DA) asked if the DPME would be monitoring all Covid-19 expenditure from the national to local government levels. She referred StatsSA to slide 15 indicating targets that had been discontinued, and wanted to know if this would not have a negative impact when they did their reports.
Dr L Schreiber (DA) said the report by StatsSA was very disturbing, and wanted confirmation that statistics on poverty would no longer be done. In the context of the pandemic, it was deeply disturbing for the country not to have reliable data that could be the basis for making critical decisions. He asked for more details from StatsSA in order to get more clarity and see what it actually meant, and if it was acceptable. Rebasing of the gross domestic product (GDP) had been pushed to next year -- what was the wisdom of doing this when the data was needed? What was the reasoning behind shelving such projects?
Ms V Malomane (ANC) asked if StatsSA would be continuing with the piloting of census 2021 in October 2020 as planned. She asked if the DPME would be able to fill critical vacant posts because of the budget constraints.
Mr S Malatsi (DA) asked Brand SA what they were doing in preparing for restoring investor confidence in the country post Covid-19. What was StatsSA doing to produce its periodic reports, especially after the budget cuts? Were they in a position to provide the relevant information? Addressing the DPME, he said there had been a turnaround on performance agreements, because the President had announced that he was going to sign performance agreements at the end of the month. However, the Department was now saying that this had been cancelled without any reason, and it was critical to understand why this had been done.
Mr Risenga Maluleke, Statistician-General, responded to the question about telephonic interviews, and said that Covid-19 had affected a lot of things, and there were different challenges every day. It had changed how people did business around the world, and South Africa had not been immune. StatsSA used to go in households and conduct interviews for 30 minutes in some instances. Since field workers could not move into different fields, the field workers still used the same guidelines, only now they were doing it telephonically and there had been challenges. In some instances, people refused to be interviewed or would say they were tired. For now, the telephonic interviews were going well and should there be weaknesses in the data collected, StatsSA would make sure that the public was made aware.
Readiness for census 2021 was still on track. Staff had been trained already, the pilot was going to be done online, and this would also include testing the ability of the community to respond to questions. There was still a need to go out in person and meet with the aged in order to assist them, and planning continued for future work.
Regarding the poverty statistics, the fact that South Africa did not have poverty statistics was nothing new. The issue had been constantly raised, as the last survey was conducted in 2014. Funding was not enough to conduct a survey for a period of two years, and because of Covid-19, National Treasury had asked for cuts of more than R200 million, so other surveys had had been cancelled. It had been difficult to decide, because it could have led to cutting the census.
Answering the question asked by Ms Clarke about the income and expenditure survey, he said the survey had been conducted so as to get an idea of what South Africans were spending money on, so the consumer price index (CPI) could be estimated better. If the National Treasury did not give StatsSA money in the near future, the CPI was likely to be affected.
The rebasing of the GDP would take place because the National Treasury unfortunately needed money. StatsSA still had other work to do, besides having some of the projects being cancelled, and there were product categories which were not affected by the budget cuts, such as mining and agriculture. However there would be delays with these reports because of the late responses. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had been informed of the delays, and StatsSA would make sure that all basic statistics continued to be released. Sometimes these issues were not only budgetary, but also societal because of how society responded. The Census was still being planned for. StatsSA agreed to the Auditor General doing audits on the COVID-19 budgets.
The acting Chairperson highlighted that the question of performance agreements should be directed to the Minister, and a response in writing would be appreciated since the Minister was not present at the meeting.
Ms Manzini responded on the question of investor confidence, and said that StatsSA was gathering information with relevant stakeholders, and was monitoring and conducting an environmental analysis of the country’s policies domestically and internationally. Brand SA was also working with tourism departments, and recently had attended online webinars between South Africa and Zambia in order to share ideas.
Brand SA had also hosted and attended national business initiatives in order to improve strategies on how to understand the needs of investors, and what the country needed to do going forward. There was also research on how Covid-19 had affected the country, and this would assist in coming up with strategies.
Mr Clement Madale, Director: Strategy and Service Delivery Support, DPME, said the reports were not yet posted on the website, but they were available to be shared with the Committee should they need them. There was a team dealing with the monitoring framework, and this would assist in identifying the points of linkage between the government and Covid-19.
There would be departments that would be affected, but they would not be affected in the same way. Those affected in a big way would have to retable their entire documents, but if the impact was limited, there would be an annexure that could highlight the areas which were affected. Critical vacancies had resulted in some of the targets being removed as a result of the shortage of staff.
Regarding Ms Clarke’s question about monitoring the data, and said the DPME was going to monitor, but the monitoring framework would be the guideline and there would be collaborations with other departments.
The filling of critical vacancies had been suspended. The Minister would respond to the question of performance agreements, as suggested by the acting Chairperson.
Dr Schreiber said he was glad that the SG had raised the issue of the IMF, as he wanted to know what the financial implications on the loan would be if South Africa was not in a position to produce the data required. Referring to the problems of funding StatsSA, he said there was a need to keep in mind that the budget was about priority. StatsSA had not been afforded the priority that it deserved, as it was the entity that produced data that may have critical implications for the financial status of South Africa. If there was a need, then the National Treasury should be invited.
Mr Malatsi said that he had not received clarity on the question of performance agreements, and whether there was a timeline that could be given on the agreements not being signed.
The acting Chairperson said that the IMF issue would be better responded to by the Minister of Finance. On the performance agreements, the SG would try to respond briefly.
Mr Maluleke said that based on the conventions that South Africa had signed, the Statistician General had the responsibility for doing reports, including the one for the IMF. The impact of StatsSA on the economy was beyond the scope of the Statistician General, and he elaborated on this by giving examples from some of the countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). In some instances money could be provided by the IMF because of political decisions that had been made.
Mr Madale asked that the issue of performance agreements be deferred to the Minister, in order to get a detailed response.
Mr Malatsi stressed that the sentence in the presentation had said that the performance agreements had been suspended on a decision by the President, and he wanted to get clarity.
The acting Chairperson acknowledge the need to wait for a written response from the Minister, providing more details in regard to the performance agreements not being signed.
The meeting was adjourned.
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