SMU Vice Chancellor inquiry preparations; Committee Reports on Adjustment Budgets

Higher Education, Science and Technology

17 July 2020
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology, 17 July 2020

Tabled Committee Reports

Documents presented were distributed to MPs only.‚Äč

The Committee held a virtual meeting and received a briefing from the Committee Research and Legal teams on the preparations for the inquiry into the appointment of Professor Mbati as Vice Chancellor of Sefako Makghato University and engaged with the briefing to gain clarity on the inquiry process. The inquiry will start on the 28 July with the Minister briefing the Committee on areas it had identified.

The following Committee Reports were considered and adopted:
• Special Adjustment Budget Vote 17: Higher Education and Training,
• Special Adjustment Budget Vote 35: Science and Innovation, was adopted without amendments.
• Revised Annual Performance Plans: Sector Education and Training Authorities & National Skills Fund
• Commission on Gender Equality Report on Gender Transformation at Tertiary Institutions 2018/19.

Meeting report

Committee Report on Special Adjustment Budget: Higher Education and Training
Ms B Bozzoli (DA) suggested under Recommendations that they should add in that the Minister and the NSFAS Administrator should expedite the appointment of the new Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer before the term of the Administrator comes to an end as there is no CEO being appointed. She requested that the reports are better formatted.

The Chairperson proposed that the poor format is a result of the minimal time frame the drafting team had to compile the reports. They considered the revised budgets on 14 July and the drafting team worked to have it ready to email to Committee Members by 15 July. Nevertheless, he proposed for the sake of consistency, all Committee reports should be in the same format.

Ms Bozzoli acknowledged the hard work of the drafting team.

The Chairperson agreed with Ms Bozzoli’s observation.

The Committee adopted the report with the amendment.

Ms Bozzoli stated that the Democratic Alliance reserved its right to vote until the plenary session.

Special Adjustment Budget Vote 35: Science and Innovation
After considering the report, the Chairperson proposed that the Committee recommends that the Budget Vote be adopted.

Ms Bozzoli disagreed with the Chairperson and stated that in the last meeting the Chairperson said they were worried about the budget cuts and were not happy with them but there is nothing they can do about it. There is something the Committee can do and that is to vote against the budget. Part of their job as the Committee is to hold the executive to account when they are not happy with them. When the Chairperson stated that no one would vote against the report, the Democratic Alliance would.

The Chairperson responded that for some time there had not been a procedure for Parliament like the one for the budget that was tabled by the Minister. Parliament must know what the contents of the budget is to be able to amend it and the amendment process is quite onerous. The parties have got the right to vote against the report if they are against the budget. He asked Ms Modiba if she could briefly explain the procedure to amend the budget from the information available to the Members.

Ms Mamphago Modiba, Committee Content Advisor, said she would return to the matter at a later stage of the meeting.

The Chairperson confirmed that Ms Modiba would provide a briefing on the procedure to amend the budget before the end of the meeting.

Ms Shanaaz Isaacs, Committee Secretariat, commented that the drafting team omitted a detail in the report. There were inconsistencies on how the Department reported on the number of students who were going to be affected. She was not sure if they should add it in the Observations or Recommendations that the Department did not report the exact number of students.

The Committee agreed that the numbers of students reflected in the report was to be corrected and adopted the report with this amendment.

Ms Bozzoli stated that the Democratic Alliance reserved its rights on the report.

Committee Report: SETAs & National Skills Fund Revised Annual Performance Plans
Mr Anele Kabingesi, Committee Secretariat, confirmed that the Committee would need to follow the same procedure for adoption of this report as they had with the Budget Vote reports.

Mr W Letsie (ANC) commented that on Point 7.1.7 of the Recommendations that the Committee resolved that they must add a timeframe.

The Chairperson agreed and asked if a six month timeframe was acceptable.

Mr Letsie agreed to the six month timeframe being added to the report.

The Chairperson asked Ms Bozzoli if the DA had any objections to the adoption of the report.

Ms Bozzoli replied that they did not as it was not a Budget report.

The Committee adopted the report with the amendment.

Committee Report: CGE Report on Gender Transformation at Tertiary Institutions 2018/19
The Chairperson took the Committee through the report on the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) Report. There were no comments or amendments.

The Committee adopted the report.

Sefako Makghato University Vice Chancellor Appointment Inquiry: briefing
The Chairperson contextualised the matter noting that the Committee has had extensive consultations on the matter on a couple of occasions. A lot of information has been accumulated over a period of time in dealing with the matter since it was brought to the Committee’s attention. There has been correspondence exchanged between the Committee and the University. The Committee also exchanged correspondence with the Department and requested that it provide a report on the allegations received, dating back to the University of Venda. The Committee received this report from the Department. The Committee raised specific questions to the University Council and individual members who participated in the process of appointment. Almost all of them responded, although initially there was some resistance, but ultimately they received cooperation which could potentially be the result of a legal opinion they received that they have to cooperate. The purpose of the briefing was to have an understanding and know their expectations with the National Assembly Rules before getting into that inquiry. The Content and Research and Legal team was asked to prepare an information pack for each Member, starting with written affidavits from people; the responses of the University and documentation sent to the Committee as part of their response and the Department response. This is a result of meetings being virtual so Members can follow what is happening.

The Committee had a productive engagement with the Legal team last week and they were asked to prepare a presentation for this meeting. They are intending to commence with the inquiry from 28 July. They have already dispatched a letter to the Minister as per the advice from Legal Services.

Ms Mamphago Modiba, Committee Content Advisor, briefed the Committee on the inquiry framework. As background, she noted the scheduled engagement in March 2020 with the SMU Council and management on governance and management-related challenges which was postponed as the Acting Vice Chancellor (VC) had to be quarantined for 14 days after international travel. The Committee noted that the Council appointed Prof Peter Mbati as the new VC despite the meeting being postponed. Prof Mbati has a sexual harassment case against him during his tenure as the University of Venda VC. There was also poor infrastructure management during his tenure as VC. She listed some of the stakeholders who interacted with the Office of the Chairperson in furnishing the information on the allegations against Professor Mbati. Some of the allegations were also referred to in the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) report and information requests were made to CGE and to the Department of Higher Education and Training on the matter of infrastructure mismanagement at the University of Venda. She took the Committee through a summary of the issues raised in the reports submitted.

Ms Modiba explained the constitutional provisions and the National Assembly Rules that empower the Committee to hold an inquiry into the appointment of Prof Mbati such as sections 55(2) and 56 of the Constitution and Rule 227(1) of the National Assembly Rules. She noted that on 2 June 2020, the Committee resolved to conduct an inquiry into the appointment of Prof Mbati. At this meeting the CGE reported to the Committee that it wrote to the Minister and submitted its report and recommendations for implementation but there was inaction on the part of the Minister. She took the Committee through the objectives of the inquiry, the terms of reference, the procedure and approach to the inquiry.

Dr Agnetha Arendse, Committee Researcher, took the Committee through an analysis of the responses to questions from Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, specifically the Council, its Members individually, the institutional forum and the senate. She provided an analysis of responses about the poor governance and infrastructure management at the University of Venda.

Ms Fatima Ebrahim, Parliamentary Legal Advisor, spoke to the legal framework of the inquiry. She covered the following topics briefly:
• Legal basis of the inquiry as being the duty to conduct oversight as per the Constitution and NA Rules
• Nature of the inquiry.
• Recommended format of the inquiry.
• Way forward.
She concluded by stating that the Minister must be invited to brief the Committee and thereafter the Committee must determine the parameters of the inquiry.

The Chairperson noted that he had received a letter from the Speaker in response to the Committee’s letter to her requesting permission to conduct the inquiry and to share the framework document with her. The Speaker replied that she had received the framework document and legal opinion presented to the Committee in this meeting and stated that there was no need for her to give permission as the Committee is empowered to conduct the oversight inquiry. The Speaker's letter would be included in the information pack.

The Chairperson asked Members to engage with the briefings and ask questions for clarity. He asked that they not get into the merits of the matter as the actual inquiry would answer many questions Members may have. Further, as they call witnesses they would need to ask structured questions which will be developed with the assistance of the research and legal teams and distributed to Members so the questions are focused and aligned to the inquiry objectives.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) asked for clarity from Ms Arendse on the numbers of responses that said that they were either aware or unaware of the matter.

Mr Letsie commended the work of the Research and Legal teams and said they were not getting enough credit. On the proposed 30 minute time slots, can they be extended if needed? The analysis of the Council responses needed to be further addressed to provide clarity.

Mr Letsie said the Committee is aware that the inquiry is not a Zondo Commission but the intention is to get responses from these people. The fact that the questions will be structured left him feeling slightly defeated as he initially saw it as an opportunity to cross examine people. However he acknowledged that they are not qualified to take that approach.

Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) noted that what the Department aims to achieve in ensuring people have adequate skills and knowledge to actively participate in the economy and how important it is to protect these institutions to ensure they fulfil that mandate, one must commend the Chairperson for his robustness and decisiveness in ensuring they attend to this matter of Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University and the University of Venda. This is particularly due to the profile of students at these institutions. These institutions cater for the majority of children of the proletariat and have a history in terms of black bodies in this country and in ensuring access to education for black bodies. It is important to continue to protect these institutions and ensure their success. She commended the Chairperson’s response to the prevalence of gender based violence, especially since the President has said it is a second pandemic in the country and needs to be addressed.

She asked for clarity on whether the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act protects Prof Phendla and other witnesses from any type of harassment during or after the process as some of the individuals may be intimidated. With the Council members, she asked if the Student Representative Council (SRC) and other stakeholders would be included for the Committee to understand what their views are. In Ms Arendse’s presentation, she asked for clarity about the references to the Council, the Senate and the Institutional Forum? What was the reason for the absence of the two members who said they were "not part of the panel process"? She asked about the number of responses received. If the Committee is not able to make a pronouncement on whether a person is guilty, are they able to recommend that certain individuals are not suited to be part of the sector and are jeopardising its progress in the democratic South Africa with mismanagement of state funds and state infrastructure grants? She asked for further guidance about strengthening and tightening consequence management.

The Chairperson clarified that based on the responses from the Council and the Council members, one can develop an idea of where the respondent is going once they receive the response document rather than this summarised version which lacks detail. He agreed that the SRC will have to be part of the stakeholders. They are in any case represented in the Council and responded to the Committee’s questions so they will be invited to the inquiry. They will also create a platform for those who volunteered to participate in the process.

Ms Modiba replied that with the SRC, its Secretary-General has replied and it is only the SRC Chairperson who has not replied but they hope in time he will send his submission. On time allocation, the structured questions Members will receive will save time; however, if Members desire it, they will amend the programme. With the Senate and the Institutional Forum, only the people who were part of the appointment process in their representative capacity were focused on.

The Chairperson replied that they would allocate more time as needed so they will not be restricted in the inquiry. They have an understanding with the House Chair that they have more time.

Dr Arendse replied that Members would have a spreadsheet with all the responses from each submission to get a sense of how they each replied to each question with sufficient detail. The responses would also not tally to 15 because one person may respond in three different ways for example. The summary was to get a sense of the overall responses. In reply to the question on how the responses add up, it is based on how they replied to the questions and the detail of the responses.

Ms Modiba replied that the responses from the Council were representative of all the members of Council as one as well as individual responses of each member.

Ms Ebrahim shared the oath that persons appearing before the Committee will take which is drawn from the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act (PPIPA). Persons who come before the Committee will have to answer satisfactorily to all questions put before them notwithstanding that their answers may incriminate them or expose them to criminal or civil proceedings or damages claims. PPIPA does offer some protection in that the information that they give cannot be used outside of Parliament except in criminal proceedings concerning a charge of perjury or a charge relating to the evidence of documents required in those proceedings. The privilege that PPIPA affords will not protect someone who is in the process of a legal action against them or another person and it appears they participated in criminal activity. It would protect people from the information being used against them later such as when applying for a job.

On the question of harassment that people might face after coming forward, PPIPA does not deal with that. That is dealt with in terms of the common law. The witnesses can lay criminal charges and the Committee will try to support them as far as possible. We will ensure not to place them in a position where they are endangered in any way. That will be explained to them and if any of them have concerns they can take that up with the Committee to see how they can be accommodated.

On the outcome, considering that the inquiry will not determine guilt or innocence, the Committee instead expresses a view. It can recommend to the appropriate authority that it takes remedial action. The Committee then holds that authority to account. For example, where there is financial misconduct or the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) is clear on what the role of the accounting authority is when it becomes aware of that misconduct. When Parliament adopts the inquiry report, it will state that in its view, person X has committed an act of misconduct. This cannot be ignored. The appropriate authority would be held to account and asked what they have done in response. That is how they attempt to influence actual decision making. This outcome is powerful and is at the heart of oversight.

With the cross-examination, Committee members will not be allowed to cross examine. However, they must not see this as her trying to tame them. They can be as robust and energetic as they want in their engagements within the confines of their oversight role.

The Chairperson echoed that the oath will provide protection to people coming before the Committee unless they are lying or committing perjury. This is so that the witnesses are able to be as transparent as possible without fearing of being sued for what they say in Parliament. He confirmed that they would allow space for follow up questions as it is in the nature of oversight and accountability within the parameters of the decorum of the Committee and the constitutional rights of the people who are being questioned.

He commended the work of the legal and research advisory teams in empowering and supporting the Committee to do its work. He suggested they create a platform so that before the Members engage with an entity or the Department, they have access to the research briefs so Members can gain an appreciation of the background work done to assist them. He confirmed that they would start with the Minister on 28 July 2020 and take it from there. They have already sent a letter to the Minister to brief the Committee on identified areas. Once the questions have been finalised they will have a meeting to allocate the questions to Members attending the inquiry.

Committee minutes
The Committee considered the minutes of 25 February 2020, 26 February 2020, 3 March 2020, 10 March 2020, 11 March 2020, 17 March 2020, 21 April 2020 and all May and June meetings.

Ms Mananiso proposed that to expedite the process Members should raise the minutes for which they have amendments instead of considering the minutes in a piecemeal manner.

Ms Bozzoli asked if the Committee keeps a register of all the items the Committee is meant to follow up on and mark them as completed once it has done so. She proposed that they adopt a register if they do not have one already.

The Chairperson confirmed that in the management committee meetings they do ordinarily follow up on the resolution of matters but he seconded her proposal of keeping an updated register of all the resolutions of the Committee.

Ms Mananiso asked that the 26 May 2020 minutes include the Construction SETA court outcome.

Mr Letsie noted the 26 May 2020 minutes and said the Committee must respond to the Services SETA inconsistent reporting. Due to time constraints they did not adequately respond to the question on their inconsistent reporting. The Committee believed the reporting to be dishonest as the same question was asked twice and their answers were incorrect. The Committee agreed to a follow up meeting with them and the National Skills Fund to clarify the understanding of NQF levels where senior management is appointed without the requisite academic qualifications.

The Committee Secretary confirmed that the point was captured under the resolution.

Mr Letsie was satisfied with the addition. He commented that they should further add the NSF, SAQA and CHE needs to clarify the matter of qualifications.

The Chairperson clarified that the intention is to follow up with the SETA to interrogate the inconsistencies of their response. The matters raised were adequately captured. On the matter of W&RSETA, he was uncertain if the minutes sufficiently covered the Committee observations. This SETA decided to absolve people who were implicated in the forensic report with inadequate excuses provided to the Committee about time and other reasoning. The Committee was not satisfied with their reasoning. This is not strongly expressed in the minutes but has to be plus the Committee requested the accounting authority to take action against the implicated officials and provide a report to the Committee. This must be included how the Committee expressed it.

The Committee Secretary confirmed that the point made was included under resolutions.

The Committee adopted the minutes.

Meeting adjourned.


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