In its virtual briefing, the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities made submissions to the Committee on the establishment of the National Council for Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (NCGBVF).
The Presidential declaration on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide of 2019 had called for the establishment of the National Council. An operational model similar to the South African National Aids Council (SANAC) had been recommended and adopted. This would allow for the NCGBVF to operate pending completion of the legislative process. It would be an independent structure with an executive board comprising 51% civil society representatives and 49% government representatives. Advertisements had been published to recruit executive board members, who would serve in a voluntary capacity.
National Treasury had allocated R5 million for the Council, but the funds had not yet been used as it had not commenced operations. However, more funds were needed to enable it to pay the salaries of secretariat workers, and to fund the various operational activities of the civil societies.
The Committee said it had expressed several concerns about the establishment of the NCGBVF, but the Department had failed to respond to them. Members criticised the Department for commencing the advertisement process without informing the Committee. It disagreed with the structure of the executive board, as its composition suggested that civil societies were going to take over the mandate of the government. The duplication of government structures was not necessary, and the Committee suggested that current structures should be reinforced instead. It also asked to see the budget of the Council.
The Department assured the Committee that the Council was not taking over its oversight role, and neither was the Department teaming up with civil societies to pass the government’s mandates. All initiatives and strategies were geared towards achieving better cooperation between all actors and ensuring that the objectives of the National Strategic Plan were met.
Chairperson’s introductory remarks
The Chairperson welcomed Members and encouraged them to work hard in the current term to finish all that needed to be done.
Three Bills on gender-based violence (GBV) had been introduced by the Department of Justice during the Committee’s recess period, which Members had reviewed. Researchers would provide the Committee with clarity on the Bills, and advise if submissions needed to be made to the Portfolio Committee of Justice and Correctional Services.
The Minister of Agriculture, Land and Rural Development had made a welcome pronouncement giving people an opportunity to apply for land. It was hoped that women would be prioritised and given an opportunity to access land. Researchers should liaise with the Department of Women to ascertain how many women had benefited.
Joint meetings between all concerned departments on the issue of GBV needed to be convened to allow for account to be taken on all actions implemented on GBV and femicide.
The Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities (DWYPD) had advertised nominations for people to serve on the National Council for Gender Based Violence and Femicide (NCGBVF). The Committee was now getting an opportunity to review the presentations of the Department.
The Chairperson expressed displeasure at the response level of researchers whenever they were needed by the Portfolio Committee to either embark on trips or to provide oversight. Parliament may need to be consulted for them to be removed. The research for the Portfolio Committee had just been forwarded, and the researchers were not reachable on phone to provide clarity.
During the last meeting, concerns had been raised on the composition of the NCGBVF. The presentation would be received by the Committee, even though advertisements have already been sent out.
Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and People with Disabilities, provided a background to the establishment of the NCGBVF.
A national strategic plan (NSP) had been adopted in 1980 following an all-women summit presided over by the President. The NSP had required that an Inter-ministerial Committee (IMC) and a Council be set up. A debate had started to set up a Council which would be similar to the South African National Aids Council (SANAC). However, the Council needed money, foot soldiers, and at least some full-time staff that would handle its administration. The structure of the presidency, the IMC and the Council had already been announced by the President, and the Department had nothing to hide by advertising. The advertisement had been for the executive board, and it had to be done to enable people see that selection was done in a proper, open and transparent way. Waiting to first get a mandate from the Committee would mean that the Council would be able to commence only in January 2021.
Ms N Sharif (DA) said that she had seen an advertisement for the appointment of a Board of Trustees in order to establish the NCGBVF. What would be the functions of the Board of Trustees? She commented that the budget was an issue. Government continually spoke about resourcing for gender-based violence and femicide, so if there was no budget to launch the Council or give remuneration to those on the Council, what would happen? How could the Committee assist the Department in launching this Council?
Ms F Masiko (ANC) said that her concerns on the issue of the Board of Trustees had been covered by Ms Sharif. On the issue of timing, the Committee could still have been provided with a written communication responding to all the questions that had been previously raised, before the advertisements were placed. The Committee needed to be taken into confidence at all times to enable them answer questions from members of the public.
The Chairperson agreed with the points raised by Ms Sharif and Ms Masiko. The Committee had received no information about the advertisement. The Committee had many questions, corrections and additions that should be made, but were concerned because the advertisement had already been placed.
The Committee was not a platform where reports were submitted for rubber stamping. It would always have to scrutinise and engage on whatever was being presented. Issues on GBV were taken seriously by the Committee, and the Department needed to always provide the necessary information and carry the Committee along.
Ms B Maluleke (ANC) apologised for the earlier audio disruption. She expressed her concerns in Xhosa language. The Chairperson also provided her response in Xhosa language at 33:46 minutes. There was no English translation.
Adv Mikateko Maluleke, Director-General (DG), DWYPD, said the Presidential declaration on gender-based violence and femicide of 2019 called for the establishment of a National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (NCGBVF). An operational model that was similar to that of the South African National Aids Council (SANAC) had been recommended and adopted. However, not all SANAC structures would be replicated -- only the plenary and civil society structures would be replicated for now.
NCGBVF would be an independent structure with an executive board, which would be constituted of 13 members, comprising 51% civil society representatives and 49% government representatives. There would be a secretariat unit to provide technical and secretariat support. Its structures would consist of a plenary, an Inter-Ministerial Committee, and an Inter-Ministerial Committee Technical Task Team (IMC-TTT). There would be a replication of the NCGBVF model at the provincial and local level. The Council’s organogram, modeled on that of the SANAC, had two additions -- the Civil Society Forum and the plenary.
The Chairperson paused the presentation, and asked for clarification on the NCGBVF organogram and the legislation which was included in the organogram.
The DG explained that according the national strategic plan on GBV approved by the Cabinet, the Council was supposed to be a statutory board, and legislation was supposed to be developed. However, because of the delays in developing legislation, and the urgency in addressing cases of gender-based violence, the NCGBVF would adopt a process similar to SANAC. While the process of developing legislation was pending, a process similar to SANAC could be followed.
The Chairperson observed that NCGBVF structure was still different from the SANAC structure.
The DG explained that in the presentation, it had been stated that not everything was copied from the SANAC model. One of the differences was that in the NCGBVF, the President would delegate to the Deputy President. Even though he could not sit and chair the plenary, the Minister would represent him in the plenary when he chaired and gave the President weekly reports. However, the executive board, secretariat format and the plenary were copied from SANAC.
In terms of the national strategy plan on GBV approved by Parliament, the Council was supposed to be a statutory board and legislation was supposed to be developed, but because the process of developing legislation could be delayed and GBV needed urgent attention, the Cabinet had decided that a process similar to SANAC should be followed. Legislation would, however, be adopted when the process was completed.
The Chairperson requested that the DG provide an explanation on the SANAC process for the benefit of new Members.
Adv Maluleke described the SANAC structure, referring to page 6 of the presentation. The Minister also referred to page 60 of the GBV strategic plan (GBVSP), and clarified further on the Chairperson’s question. The difference between SANAC and the GBVSP was that GBVSP would slowly work on the legislative process. The legislative process took a minimum of two years, and they could not risk the deaths of many people while waiting for the legislation to be completed. Consequently, while waiting for the legislative process to be completed, the SANAC model would be followed in the interim. She added that a legislative process was also required as a cover to avoid being trumped by civil society organisations.
The Chairperson said that the Committee did not agree with executive board representation, because they did not understand the rationale for civil society to have the majority of representation on the board. This was a case of public participation, and government had a responsibility to access and evaluate all inputs or submissions made by the public. The Committee could not allow civil societies to have more representation than government representatives. Notes would also be compared with other portfolio Committees to see what advice they gave their ministers when they were dealing with issues of GBVF.
She enquired about the status of the funding. Was it still under the vote? If so, the reporting part and accountability reports needed to be received by the Committee.
Ms Maluleke expressed concern about the governments’ constant duplication of structures, and how they neglected to strengthen already existing structures. In respect of the Council, there were already lots of loopholes that the Committee was not happy about. GBV was definitely a concern to everyone, but what was being done to ensure for example that the Departments of Police, Justice and Health were doing their work?
Ms T Masondo (ANC) wanted to know how the NCGBVF linked with the inter-sectoral committee as espoused in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act of 2007. Secondly, who would the NCGBVF account to?
Ms Sharif requested, with the permission of the Chairperson, that the Department present to the Committee the budget of the NCGBVF. This was necessary because the Minister had stated that there was no money. It was necessary to know what was needed, and where the money would come from. The Chairperson had wanted to know the benefit of advertising and appointing a council when there was no budget.
She also asked whether the Department of Justice had set out the powers and functions of the Council, and if the Committee could see it? She commended the provisions of Slide 12 for health professionals and mental health, but they still needed to be able to speak about health professionals and access to the various health mechanisms for women, and for the members of the Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning, intersex and asexual (LGBPIQIA) community. These communities were usually discriminated against.
What was the composition in the provinces and at the local government level? Why should these structures be replicated? What was being done at the national government level to ensure that these structures were replicated at the local government level? The only way to do that was through legislation, so the provinces and local governments could be held accountable to legislation as prescribed by the constitution.
The Department needed to list the current challenges they faced with the establishment of the Council, and what the mitigating factors were that they would be looking at. The Chairperson had previously called for a joint meeting of all departments, but this had not happened. Could another joint meeting be requested so that the Committee could find out what the departments were doing? The National Strategic Plan (NSP) existed, and every department had been given a mandate, so there was a need to know what was being done. Members of the Committee received questions from members of the public, and they were unable to give proper responses due to a lack of information.
Ms M Hlengwa (IFP) was worried that councils after councils were still being created. She wanted to know why the Deputy President was appointing another set of trustees when there was a Portfolio Committee which he needed to strengthen, and which was already reporting directly to the Parliament. Secondly, the consistent use of abbreviations in flyers was causing misunderstanding. Clear and understandable language should be used in presentations, and not abbreviations.
Ms T Mgweba (ANC) enquired about the issue of accountability. Who gave accounts on issues relating to the Council? This question had been asked at the last Committee meeting, and the Department should respond. Secondly, who decided on the evidence-based programmes -- was it the IMC, or the Department, or the Trustees Board? Thirdly, who sets the good standards for the Council? What was the role of the secretariat vis-a-vis the National Council and the Board regarding the resolutions that would emanate from the plenary?
Mr L Mphithi (DA) said he was not clear on the exact functions of the Council, as not enough information had been given by the Department in its presentation. He also commented that the role of the Portfolio Committee had not been fully considered as to how it would interact with a completely different Council that would be set up.
The Committee had identified several issues across the country which had not been addressed. Ms Sharif had mentioned that the Committee had attempted to set up a joint committee with all other departments, and that had still not happened. Why, then, would the Department now want to rush into setting up a council when there were still several issues that portfolio committees had not dealt with? One of the issues that were raised while setting up joint committee meetings had been rape cases in police stations. Too many structures had already been set up, and several issues had been left unattended to at the ground level.
Bringing in civil societies was a good idea, because these societies were in places and communities that the Committee or the departments were unable to reach. However, these civil societies should report to the Portfolio Committee and not to the Council structure. The Portfolio Committee had the responsibility to ensure that the Department was doing its job.
He categorically stated that he was wholeheartedly against an executive board, and the DA would not support it. The slide did not have enough information, but it was evident that attempts were being made to take away the power of the Portfolio Committee and its role of legislative oversight. The Department therefore needed to set out clearly the mandate of the division, and how would it be monitored and evaluated. How did the Portfolio Committee fit into all of this?
Ms Masiko restated the concerns of other Members on the issue of dormant structures. The Committee needed to get a clear picture on the establishment and functionality of this Council, and to ascertain that when it was established, it would be able to operate to its full capacity and fulfil its role.
Valid concerns had already been raised on the composition of the Council. Must the executive board report to the Minister through the Department?
The role of the Portfolio Committee would also need to be considered. Placing Parliament under a legislation function would have an impact on how the Committee would act when waiting for legislation to be passed.
On the budget, it was important that the Committee was provided with the details of the financial implications for the logistics and administrative support needed. It had been observed that the Department had advertised already, and the Committee needed to know how long the advertisement process would take, and who would be responsible for the selection process.
The Chairperson said that the Department had been requested to share with the Committee the strategy that they would use in respect of receiving nominations, selection criteria and short-listing.
Mr S Ngcobo (DA) expressed similar concerns on the establishment of another structure. He also stated that the presentation did not give enough information, and therefore made it difficult for the Committee to understand how the structure would be run. Additional information was also required on how the budget would be sourced.
Ms A Hlongo (ANC) wanted to know what other platforms the Department was using to inform the people, especially those in the rural areas, about the nominations.
Ms N Sonti (EFF) said that her concerns had been covered by the questions raised by other Members.
The Chairperson said that many issues had been raised with the Department at the previous meeting, but it seemed that the concerns of the Committee were being overlooked. The presentation ought to reflect previous comments which the Committee had made and actions taken, with detailed information on how the structure would work. If the Department refused to consider the Committee’s comments, they could write to the Minister or the President for intervention.
Adv Maluleke tendered apologies for the short presentation. She had been informed that the NSP document had been circulated to all Members of Parliament, and had assumed that Members of the Committee would have most of the information, considering that some of the questions asked were addressed in the document.
The 51% to 49% split applied only to the executive board, and refers to the programmes already agreed to in the NSP, and had nothing to do with decisions on the budget of government. The executive board would work on a voluntary basis, and they were going to be nominated by their sectors. The executive board would not decide on programmes, which were already decided by the NSP.
The role of the Council was not that of oversight, but an initiative aimed at getting everyone to work together and coordinate implementation. The role of the Portfolio Committee on the other hand was that of oversight. Civil society complained that they were already providing services wherever they were, so the Council would just aim to consolidate the work they were already doing.
The Department would need money to pay secretariat salaries, and to fund certain programmes. The National Treasury had allocated R5 million for the Council, but the funds had not been used since the Council was not yet in operation. The secretariat would not be established in full this year because the funding was not enough. What had been advertised was not for the secretariat, but for the board, which was on a voluntary basis.
Civil society organisations would organise themselves in order to nominate, based on the requirements that had been outlined for them. They were expected to represent different groups of people. Members who would serve on the board must be people who understood issues of government.
The NSP on GBV outlined the implementation policies, and sets out the programmes and how relationships would be while the legislation was being developed. The Department was aware that without legislation, some of the powers of the division could not be determined. However, the decision to follow the SANAC route in the interim had been made by the Cabinet.
She responded to the question on how the government would monitor implementation when there was no Council, and said government departments had started submitting weekly reports. The Department combined their reports into one and submitted it to the President every Friday by close of work.
Regarding accountability, the national Department, provincial Departments and local governments would report according to the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) processes. All processes would be aligned until they got to Parliament. However, after legislation had been developed and the Council was a statutory body, the legislation would determine how the monitoring process would be implemented.
The Minister and Deputy Minister had noted the comments on the IMC meeting, and would take steps to facilitate the meeting.
On the question of why rush to establish the Council, the President had stated that he had already established the Council, so the Department was under pressure to establish it.
Regarding the relationship between the Committee, the Council and the Department, civil society wanted a structure that would facilitate the implementation and response to GBV in an integrated way. The process was to ensure that everyone’s responsibility in the response to GBV was aligned to the national strategy, and the measures implemented by all actors could be easily determined.
The DG referred to the 51%: 49% split, the organogram and the plenary, and said the logistics and administration costs for the plenary were the costs for the civil society to plan and attend meetings. The aim of the Council was just to coordinate and align the implementation of working together, but services would still be provided by the police and other actors.
There was a current budget of R5 million, but more was needed to fund the secretariat. SANAC received 45 million from the National Treasury, so the secretariat would also receive funding from the Treasury.
Ms Shoki Tshabalala, DDG, DWYPD, responded on the issue of managing the advertisement, and said the Department had appointed a company with human resources (HR) expertise that would receive the applications and package them according to the sectors where they wanted to see more representation. Curricula vitae (CV’s) would be reviewed and aligned according to the competencies required. A maximum of three names would be proposed to the IMC and the Minister for a selection decision on a sector that represented disability, and another sector that represented women.
On the involvement of civil society, civil society had volunteered to be part of the Department, and was structured to belong to pillars which had representation from both the government and civil society. Meetings were organised each week, programmes of action were agreed on, and all actors were ensuring implementation. These reports were added to the reports that were consolidated and submitted to the President. Civil society had also taken up the responsibility of popularising the NSP project and educating everyone about the NSP mandate. This demonstrated their full responsibility in respect to accountability.
The Chairperson observed that the Deputy DG’s response affirmed her earlier statements that the full responsibility of addressing GBV was being given to civil society by the government.
Ms Tshabalala, in response, explained that prior to the adoption of the NSP, the Department had reached out to the provinces, and had visited them with the civil societies under the auspices of the government. However, at the point of the NSP’s adoption and endorsement by Cabinet, civil society had requested an opportunity to take their responsibility further and reach members of civil society organisations across the country where the Department could not reach. The civil society organisations had been obliged, but the governments’ responsibility had not been abandoned.
The Chairperson still maintained that it was the government that should respond in terms of reaching out to the people, and not civil societies.
Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize, Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and People with Disabilities, addressed the concerns raised by the Chairperson. She said that though it may seem that the role of Parliament was being minimised, the mandates of the Committee were always supported and respected by the Department. However, there were instances where the Department would have to take further steps to involve other players.
In respect of the NSP, it was not only civil societies that were being engaged. Various government officials were regularly deployed by the President to test the NSP. The Department’s responsibility, however, was to endeavour to give regular accounts and updates to the Portfolio Committee and be guided by it. The NSP was a big agenda, and the President’s involvement would be very helpful in ensuring better compliance.
The office of the DG should also cultivate a structure in which it would respond timeously to questions from the Portfolio Committee.
The DG added that detailed written responses would also be forwarded to the Committee on all questions that had arisen at the meeting.
Ms Sharif also reminded that the Committee would be looking forward to receiving a written budget of the Council.
Ms Masiko commented that most civil societies that were seen being engaged with were those in urban areas. It was necessary to also involve the civil society organisations in rural areas that were dealing with ordinary women. Handing over the selection process solely to an HR company could result in the neglect of the rural people that also needed to be engaged.
The Chairperson observed that the children’s rights sector had been left out. Children were the ones most affected by GBV, so they should be included.
The DG explained an independent body had been chosen for the selection in order to ensure fairness in the process. She also added that children had already been included in their presentation.
Ms Sonti asked that religious groups be included among the civil societies on the Council.
The meeting was adjourned.
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