Department of the Premier 2020/21 Quarter 1 performance

Premier & Constitutional Matters (WCPP)

12 August 2020
Chairperson: Mr R Mackenzie (DA)
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Meeting Summary

Video: STANDING COMMITTEE ON PREMIER AND CONSTITUTIONAL MATTERS, 12 AUGUST 2020, 13:00

The Department of the Premier briefed the Committee on its first quarter annual performance report. In total, 55% of targets were achieved across all programmes, while 45% were either not achieved or partially achieved.  Many of the targets had not been met due to the influence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some timelines and reporting had also been shifted, to allow government to respond to its onset. The pandemic had also prompted the Department to change its face-to-face training programmes and re-conceptualise them. The Department had spent approximately 21% of its budget during the quarter. Its entire provincial strategic plan was now under review as a result of government's recovery strategy.

Details were provided of the Covid-19 response, and reported that it had installed information technology gadgets at its field hospitals, including the 'Hospital of Hope' at the Cape Town International Conference Centre, Brackengate and Khayelitsha, to ensure people were sensitised and provided with much needed support. It commented that the “window” provided by the hard Level 5 lockdown had assisted it in preparing for the onset of Covid-19, as critical staff had been redeployed and budgets re-allocated to respond to the pandemic.

Members asked about the utilisation of the Hospital of Hope, and whether it had in fact been dismantled and transferred to the Eastern Cape. They also sought details on the progress of establishing the Children’s Commissioner’s office, including timelines for the filling of vacant positions.

Meeting report

DotP: 2020/21 Quarter 1 performance report

Mr Harry Malila, Director General (DG): Department of the Premier (DotP), apologised on behalf of the Premier for his absence, as he was chairing another meeting now.

Presenting the first quarter report, he said that:

  • In Programme 1, 75% of targets were achieved, while 25% were not achieved or partially achieved;
  • In Programme 2, 50% of targets were achieved, while 50% were not achieved or partially achieved
  • In Programme 3, 33% of targets were achieved, while 67% were not achieved or partially achieved.
  • In Programme 4, 64% of targets were achieved, while 36% were not achieved or partially achieved
  • In Programme 5, 62% of targets were achieved, while 38% were not achieved or partially achieved.

In total, 55% of targets were achieved across all programmes, while 45% were either not achieved or partially achieved.

Summary of Q1 performance

  • Some targets were not achieved, primarily due to Covid-19, which required a different role from the DotP. National reporting timelines had been shifted out to allow the government an opportunity to respond to the onset of the pandemic.
  • Many training interventions relied on face-to-face engagements, and could therefore not be implemented. A new approach to training was under development.
  • Some interventions required reconceptualisation as part of the recovery plan and new way of working initiatives.
  • The hard lockdown curbed travelling and access to office files.
  • Increased service demands, such as at the information technology (IT) service desk, meant that some turn-around time indicators could not be met.
  • There was dependence on the managements of other departments, whose focus shifted to responding to the pandemic. This meant that in some cases, their sign-off could not be timeously obtained.

Office of Children's Commissioner: Status

Administrative, secretarial and operational support was currently provided by the Chief Directorate: International and Priority Programmes. This interim arrangement would continue until permanent staff were in place. The organisational structure had been completed following consultation with the unions by the Organisational Development (OD) directorate. Recruitment to fill approved posts would follow now that relevant approvals had been obtained.

The physical offices were at Norton Rose House, leased from the Department of Transport and Public Works (DTPW). The office, IT equipment and cell phone allowances were in place. Its email address was childrens.commissioner@wccc.gov.za. The budgetary arrangements were R8m for the 2020/21 financial year, and R5m per medium term expenditure framework (MTEF) year. R3.1m had been allocated for the cost of employment (CoE), and the remaining amount allocated for set-up costs (R3m) and goods and services.

DotP’s response to Covid19

Mr Malila gave a comprehensive breakdown of the Department’s initiatives to deal with the pandemic. Apart from video-conferencing facilities for management to control and monitor the response, it had installed IT at the Western Cape government (WCG) field hospitals, including the ‘Hospital of Hope’ at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, Brackengate and Khayelitsha.

WCG Contact Centre was one the 14 channels for citizens to access WCG services. The call centre was used for the humanitarian response, and call numbers had spiked to a level of 14 000 calls per day. Many DotP staff had volunteered as call centre agents. The call centre also provided advice to citizens seeking social grants.

Concluding remarks

Mr Malila said the “window” provided by the initial hard Level 5 lockdown had assisted the WCG in preparing for the onset of Covid-19. Critical staff had been redeployed, and budget was re-allocated in response to the pandemic. Leading up to the second adjustment budget, the DOTP would review its annual performance plan (APP) in the light of the first four months of the financial year.

The DoTP would lead the recovery plan process, and set the tone for the “new way” of working.

Discussion

Mr C Dugmore (ANC) said the presentation reflected the amount of work to be done, and the DotP’s efforts were commended. Could the Department explain the components of the recovery plan? When the recovery plan was mentioned, the government’s actions rested on three pillars -- prevention, social relief and economic recovery. When one talked of a recovery plan, was it specific to the Western Cape, or a broader recovery plan? Was it internal, or an overall recovery plan?

When the Department reported on the Children’s Commissioner, it was revealed that the organisation’s structure and staffing had been approved. Could more details be provided, like how many staff members and when the actual recruitment process, such as advertising for the positions, would commence? With regard to the field hospitals, there had been a report in the media indicating that the Hospital of Hope would be relocated to the Eastern Cape. What was the current occupancy capacity at that hospital and other field hospitals in the Western Cape? Was it true that the Hospital of Hope would be dismantled and relocated to the Eastern Cape?

Mr P Marais (FF+) asked what the utilisation efficiency of the Hospital of Hope situated at the Cape Town Convention Centre was. Should they not have converted community centres into field hospitals? If that had been done, it could have cost R12m, or considerably less. To what extent was the recovery plan subject to national approval? Was it the DotP’s recovery plan, or nationally controlled? It was difficult to criticise a man for losing a race because he had a broken leg, as the Department had been crippled because of a lack of authority to drive the recovery plan. To what extent had this impacted on the efficiency levels in the Western Cape? Were their plans to recover what had been lost post COVID-19?

Ms W Philander (DA) referred to human resources, and asked if there was any support, such as counselling and bereavement services, available to staff.  How were funds not used for training being diverted at this time?     

The Chairperson asked whether timelines could be provided on what was happening regarding the Children’s Commissioner, because children’s issues were very urgent now.

Department’s response

Mr Malila said the Department was still drafting the recovery plan. This plan did not stand on its own, and looking at the post-COVID recovery, the Department also needed to look at its Provincial Strategic Plan (PSP). Some issues stood out in the PSP, some of which were the loss of jobs, getting the economy going and growing the economy as well. Another was dealing with issues of safety, which was the number one priority. Lessons had been learnt over the last months on how to deal with the pandemic.

Another important issue was that people were unable to have access to jobs, which would lead to a huge humanitarian crisis. The questions to be asked were how would the Western Cape Government work with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the national government to ensure that an appropriate response was provided to citizens. Government was therefore looking at the whole concept of providing human dignity in relation to the key services such as education, health, social development and others.

With regard to the recovery plan, the Western Cape government was part of the broader SA, as most of its resources were from the national government.  As a result, the PSP was aligned to that of the broader SA government plans. The plan was being developed internally, but in consultation with others.

He proposed that the entire Children’s Commission structure be submitted to this Committee. The Commissioner had asked him to have a session with her that would encompass that office’s budget, and when recruitment could commence. This Department’s plan was for the Commissioner to play a key role in recruiting the professionals who would play a part in the Commission’s work, as the Department was now providing it only with administrative support.  Another point to note was that people appointed as staff in the office of the Commission would be public servants, except the Commissioner, who would be a statutory appointment. 

The Chairperson had already provided some guidelines on the field hospital utilisation, and the Department of Health was more appropriate to ng thereof. On the efficiency of the hospitals, the R12m per month paid for the Hospital of Hope at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) was all for operational costs, and no rental at all was being paid to the CTICC. Government had opted for that facility because of all the other infrastructure that it provided, such as dealing with patients, the disposal of medical waste, and its proximity to other medical facilities such as Christian Bernard Hospital. If a normal community centre was taken, they would have had to make sure that all of this these infrastructure was provided, and that would have cost more. This facility was costing the WCG nothing in terms of rental.

Mr Michael Hendrickse, Deputy Director General (DDG): People Management, DotP, said that a service provider, Metropolitan Health, was providing psycho-social support to staff free of charge. Staff and their family members could call in to receive trauma support, financial support and even legal support, as these impacted on them and their families. From March to June, there had been 357 call-ins by staff members and their families for different kinds of psycho-social support.  202 de-briefing sessions due to trauma had been provided.  Most of them had taken place at hospitals and district clinics, and just short of 2 000 staff had attended. During the month of July, over 1 200 staff attended the de-briefing sessions in the Department of Health facilities. These services were advertised and leaflets sent out to staff -- all free of charge. 

Most of the training had been converted from face-to-face to online, and already eight training sessions had been held in partnership with the national government. 

Follow-up questions

The Chairperson asked what the administrative plans between the Department and the office of the Children’s Commissioner were, to ensure that the office functioned optimally. He hoped what had transpired when the office of the Ombudsman was established did not repeat itself in the newly established office of the Children’s Commissioner. Simple matters like securing office space, office telephone lines, the procurement of stationery and the appointment of staff, had hampered the smooth take-off of that office. What was the situation with the new office? Was there a bi-weekly meeting taking place via Zoom, or by other means?

Mr Malila responded that the Children’s Commissioner (CC) was a sub-programme under programme two.  One staff member from the Department had been dedicated to coordinate specifically with that office. In discussions with the CC, over three meetings had taken place with the Premier present, and the CC had been given an open door to the Department. Anything the CC needed could be channelled to the dedicated staff to tend to their needs. The first thing had been to set them up with all the laptops required and official cell phones. Office accommodation had being arranged for them too, as was administrative support for whatever they needed. Even for procurement matters, they knew their first line of support was through that dedicated staff. The next major issue was the appointment of their staff, and in their organisational structure at the moment were two professional staff. Administrative support was provided to the CC internally from the vote of the Department.  The request from the CC at the moment was to appoint their Director.

Mr Marais asked again about the utilisation efficiency of the Hospital of Hope at the CTICC. How much of the infrastructure was being used, and how many beds were vacant?

Ms Philander asked what the standing operating procedures for the paid interns were. Would they be afforded the same opportunities next year?

The Chairperson asked about the interns who had qualified last year had been billed to start on 1 April this year but could not start because of the pandemic. Was there going to be a new process for next year? What was going to happen?

Department’s response

Mr Hendrickse responded that a number of Departments had indicated that they could not take in paid interns this year because of the unavailability of mentors and supervisors, who themselves may be working from home as a result of the pandemic.  The Department of Health, however, had taken in their interns as they were used primarily in the administration space.  The other three departments had also indicated they were willing to take on interns, albeit at a reduced number and over a shortened period of six months.  As it stood, all would-be interns would have to re-apply, depending on the situation with COVID-19 in the next financial year.

The Chairperson asked if any contract had been signed with those interns who were supposed to start in April. Was there any legal obligation, such as a contract of employment, which compelled the government to take them on?

Mr Hendrickse said it was never included in the recruitment process. It was only the Health Department that signed contracts with interns, but in other cases they received letters that stated they had been identified but would be informed later of the processes that would follow. Communication had been sent again, informing them that due the COVID, everything was on hold.

The Chairperson referred to Programme 2 where it was indicated that at least three policy areas had been identified and linked to the PSP and recovery plan, and none was achieved. The corrective action was the application of the methodology in these areas, and would commence post the recovery plan process. Could this be clarified?

The DG responded that why they “zero” was shown was because the indicator said “the number of identified areas with problem solving methodology applied.” The Department had already identified the number of policy areas where they wanted to apply the problem solving methodology, but given the fact that the PSP was being revisited, those key areas would be re-assessed as to whether they remained relevant and should be taken up in the recovery plan. 

Mr Marais asked to what extent the recovery plan was led by economic factors. What could be achieved in the recovery plan that did not need the funds that the Department did not have? Was one talking of a Marshall Plan type of system? What came first, the plan or the money?

Mr Malila said it was a combination. What was being done from a fiscal perspective was an assumption that the allocation in the budget going forward would remain intact. Government was going a bit further, because the economy was under very serious pressure and there was the realisation that it might not get the same funding. However, it still needed to put up a plan that addressed how the economy would recover post pandemic. The economic plan was part of the recovery, because if the economy did not grow, then jobs could not be created.

Committee matters

The minutes of 23 July were adopted without amendments.

Addressing the Committee’s future commitments, the Chairperson said the Premier was reported to have made a public statement with regard to the lifestyle audit which was being conducted by a private company. He requested that the Committee invite both the Premier and the company that would administer the lifestyle audit to appear before it.  A presentation would have to be presented to Committee, focused on the recovery plan.  A full report on the staff requirements of the Children’s Commissioner should also be provided to the Committee. This report should provide administrative requirements, the timelines of when the positions would be advertised and a compilation of all staff seconded to that office, and at what level they were. 

The meeting was adjourned.

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